Escape your life for a little while — come play in mine.

Private property versus rights of a business

Posted by Lissa on February 11, 2010

We had some fascinating discussion here about the rights of an individual versus the rights of a business owner versus the rights of a customer.

My basic rule-of-thumb is that my rights end where your rights and property begin.  As long as you are on your own land, and everyone involved is a functional and consenting adult, I’ve no right to tell you what to do or not to do.  (There are obviously some limits I’d like to set there — I don’t care if both parties consent, you shouldn’t be allowed to beat someone else to death — but that’s a post for another day.)

However, it gets more complicated with businesses.  Do we assume that business owners agree to a certain level of duty towards the state when they become incorporated?  Does that stamp of © mean that, for example, you agree to eschew discrimination?

Should it?

Should hair dressers be allowed to specifically cater to one particular demographic?  There are big textural differences between stereotypical “black” hair and, say, my hair.  That’s not racism, that’s just a fact.  (I know this because black friends in college complained how hard it was to find someone local who knew how to style their hair.  If you’re curious.)  Should someone who wants to specialize in styling black people’s hair be forced to also service any white person who walked through their door?  Yeah, probably . . .

Well, what about barber shops?  Should a shop that keeps only clippers and a flowbee be forced to serve me if I come to their door, despite the fact that they manifestly do not have the tools to attack my mane?

Let’s make it even harder, shall we?  How about a Christian photographer sued for refusing to provide services to a lesbian wedding?  Or, hell, how about a conscience exemption to a law requiring provision of emergency contraceptive service?  Or, to go the other way, how about taxi drivers refusing to provide service to blind folks or people carrying alcohol*?

Now, if I were Queen of the Universe, I would decree:

Get the government out of it and let the market and the internet have its way.  The photographer might get some extra business from folks who are opposed to same-sex marriage but lose some business to those who are in favor.  The doctors and nurses who can’t provide the full range of medical services may get paid less than those who can.  The taxi drivers will get driven out of business by other taxi companies that don’t mind puppies and liquor.  Throw in the power of the internet, and it will all happen better and faster, without new laws, bureaucracy or interfering government.  Behold the Queen of the Universe!

And, because I’d be Queen of the Universe, it would all happen exactly like that.  The free market and the goodness of properly informed people would punish and reward exactly as deserved.

Unfortunately, I’m not Queen of the Universe.  And, thus, it’s time for me to get off my winter-fattened rear end and march off to the gym.


What do y’all think?

*When I say “the other way,” I mean it’s because my sympathies flip to the people being denied the service, rather than the providers.  I mean seriously — puppies.  Blind people.  Booze. The only way they’d be more sympathetic would be if they were actively farting rainbows.

8 Responses to “Private property versus rights of a business”

  1. In reading this I start to wonder when etiquette enters the equation. Rights are rights, but it’s etiquette that smooths over their jurisdictions. If you want to carry, or smoke a cigar when you come to my house, it’s your right to do so up to the front door. Then etiquette takes over until we agree upon how each of our rights will line up in order of precedence.

    And it’s etiquette that determines how we will behave after such determinations are made.

    As my mother taught me, “Manners cost nothing, but can buy nearly anything.”

    • Brad K. said

      scotakuamerica, Etiquette is a cultural artifact. What is etiquette to you or I might be an invitation to disaster, a mortal insult to another, and be guaranteed to result in bloodshed.

      The free market is pretty egalitarian, and the Queen of the Universe mostly gets her way there – if we assume that the market we talk about is truly homogenous, no one has ancient or familiar hatreds guiding their hands, and that there is a wide range of options to all involved.

      Suing the photographer for refusing to serve a lesbian wedding seems gratuitous – lashing out legally because eager lawyers and lesbian activists are handy. There are too many friends with cameras, too many other options to take it for mortal harm.

      If the doctors picking and choosing clients – as Michelle Obama did with the University of Chicago medical center, turning away the uninsured poor – and there *aren’t* any alternate choices close enough to save a life, that gets tricky.

      In time, the plaint that no one local can dress black hair properly *should* result in “separate but equal” hair stylists seeing an opportunity to serve the community. Assuming, of course, that there isn’t an agenda to deny licenses to do business with “those people”. Can a shop reach out and establish a black-only clientele? Mostly. They can site their facility in a location that attracts attention mostly from the people they are looking for, for clients, they can advertise where their expected clients will see the ads.

      Back when I was working and had health insurance, I typically looked for a woman family physician when moving to a new area. This started back when women doctors often had trouble finding clients, and still makes a bit of sense. I figure I don’t know the credentials of any of them, so a wild guess is as good as anything. And I figure to keep them in practice working with male patients. My bit of activism. Hey, I am not an adventurous type.

      Should the black hair stylist serve any Asian, Caucasian, Irish, Hungarian, or other racial type that walks in? For my money – it does the stylist good, to experience a broader range of clientele, of possibilities and especially because there are very few black people, including our half-white President, that don’t have a genetic heritage mixed with Irish, Asian, Caucasian, Hungarian, or other racial types.

      I am not sure about forcing the business owner – private or corporate – to serve against their personal beliefs. I am dead certain sure, though, that every public institution from public schools to city council to the Congress and Supreme Court of the United States, including the military and other service arms of the government, *must* act and exist free of prejudice and bigotry. Or no one has a chance.

  2. I have long said that the government needs to get out of the business of racism. I agree that at one time anti-descriminatory laws were needed. In today’s world, I think they are doing more harm than good. The only law that needs to be passed is on that would require businesses that want to exclude a particular group to prominately post at the entrance what groups are not allowed. That way, Racism is out in the open.

    I am a white man. I’m so white that I practically glow. However, if I were to walk up to the door of a business and see a sign that said “no blacks allowed” or “no jews allowed” (or any other group for that matter) I would declair “Today I am a jelly donut!” and turn around and leave (some one, somewhere, is laughing at the donut reference, i assure you). Further, any of my friends who patronised said business would be given strong social pressure from me to not be such a turd, and if they persisted, sadly I would be loosing a friend.

    Some of my friends say that I am way off on this one and warn me that America wouldn’t live up to my standard on this. It makes me sad that anyone would think so poorly of my homeland.


  3. Mike said

    I don’t go into McDonald’s and demand that they serve me a filet mignon–they’re in the business of cooking meat for customers, after all–because that’s not what their business is all about. If I have religious issues with how they prepare their food, I shouldn’t eat there. Asking the government to make them serve all segments and not discriminate doesn’t really do any good.

    That’s the general case, but some of the ones you cited differ. Stylists and taxi drivers–at least in cities where cabs cruise for fares–are almost always granted special cartel power by government licensing programs. The government shouldn’t be involved in this because it’s inefficient and also because it makes everything a government issue. Maybe you don’t want to drive blind people with dogs in your taxi because you find dogs religiously offensive (or they are just dirty and you like to keep your cab clean), but if you are part of the government-backed taxi medallion cartel, the government is going to somtimes tell you how to run your business.

    Competition really only works to solve the problems you mention when the government isn’t outlawing competition.

  4. secretlivesofscientists said

    If a Christian photographer doesn’t want to provide a service to a lesbian wedding, I think it’s his right on the grounds that he is not obligated to provide his services to everyone. It still makes him a bigot, but people have the right to be a bigot if it doesn’t infringe on anyone else’s rights. No one has the right to demand his services.

    I feel differently when it comes to people refusing emergency contraception on moral grounds, but this is definately more complex. I think doctors have the choice in the matter, but if they object on their own moral grounds, I believe firmly that they must keep their own religious or moral beliefs out of the patient-doctor relationship and direct the patient to a doctor who will fill such a prescription. Otherwise, the doctor is (for lack of a better word) inflicting his own personal religious or moral beliefs which have nothing to do with the medical practice on the patient. Now, when it comes to nurses and pharmacists refusing to fill or administer these prescriptions or treatments, my opinion is that their job is follow the instructions of doctors. If a doctor prescribes emergency contraception, I don’t care if a person believes they will go to hell if they do anything that leads to that pill being taken by a patient to prevent a pregnency. It is point-blank *their f***ing job* to follow the instructions of doctors. If they can find someone right away, right then and there, to do it for them, ok. Otherwise, their refusal again infringes upon the rights of the patient not to have someone else’s beliefs imposed on them. This isn’t just limited to contraception, in my opinion. There are plenty of other objectionable treatments, I’m sure. But I think it’s the nurses and pharmacists job to comply with what is written on a prescription, and if they’re not willing to do that and keep their own beliefs and feelings out of someone else’s business, they’re more than free to not be in that line of work. Unlike the photographer instance, they are not their own boss, and the business they work in, the pills they touch and distribute, are not their own property. They do not have a right to withold them from others

  5. Jim said

    Regarding the Christian photographer being sued by the lesbians for refusing to do their wedding on religious grounds. Putting aside the issue that it’s his business and he has the right to refuse service to anyone and anything he wants.

    What would people have said if he was Muslim? They have the same religious objection to same sex marriage? In today’s culture, would the couple have been as eager to sue?

    But, this strikes me as a means to an end. Part of me is willing to believe that the couple didn’t want this guy to shoot their wedding so much as they wanted the drama and notoriety associated with a “hot button” issue as Christians and same sex marriage.

    Really, he could have said, “I’m not available that weekend.” and what would have happened then?

  6. Lissa,

    Interesting that yu mentioned photography…long ago, in my youth (20 years ago or so) I had my own studio in South Jersey. Not a full-time gig, but I did portraits and weddings at night and on the week-ends.

    When someone came in, and I didn’t feel comfortable in servicing them, I would take out my appointment book, flip it open in plain view, look for the day they wanted, and find that it was booked. They even saw that it was booked…

    When a couple came in that I felt comfortable with, I would take out the *real* appointment book, and if the date was open, I would book it.

    Never had a problem…no one got *offended*…and the world kept on spinning, and the sun still came up in the east the next day.

    My point is…never underestimate the creativity of the human spirit when faced with stupid goobermint edicts of how a business *has to* be run.

    There’s a saying that there are so many laws on the books today, both at the state and federal level, that simply walking down the street, you’ve most likely committed a crime of some sort.


  7. Steve said

    The religious freedom point was one of Martha Coakley’s gaffes as I’m sure you recall. Catholic hospitals, I don’t think, provide contraceptive services, emergency or otherwise. That’s been a bone of contention with the devout Catholics whenever Catholic Medical Center in NH has tried to merge with the local secular hospital and now currently with Dartmouh Hitchcock. Since the Catholic Diocese is footing most of the bill for CMC, which does a crapload of free care for the poor, seems to me it’s their call. They aren’t the only game in town, so the denial of care argument goes out the window.

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