Dear Republicans: Everyone Has Rights, Not Just You…

Why do some people have such a problem understanding the concept of rights? It’s really not that difficult. We all have rights. All of us, not just those who think the same as we do. When we interact with each other, all of our rights are always be in balance. That balance is the key to everything.

No one’s rights are absolute; they can’t be. We all live here together, and no individual is more important than all others. While everyone has the right to free speech, the need to protect others’ right to free speech, as well as everyone’s right to peace and tranquility means you need a permit to exercise your rights most places. It also means I am prohibited from standing on your front lawn with a bullhorn and exercising my free speech rights. Likewise, our right to bear arms does not give anyone the right to build a missile silo in the back 40, or the right to walk through the town square, unmolested by police.

Again, this is because everyone has rights, not just you. Your right to free speech doesn’t mean I don’t have the right to ignore you, nor does it require the rest of us to provide you with a forum. Rush Limbaugh and Ed Schultz have the right to free speech; neither has the right to a radio show, if the public doesn’t want them to. And your right to bear arms doesn’t supersede someone else’s right to not be shot for playing music too loud, or for walking where you don’t want him to be.

This same goes for freedom of religion. You have a right to believe whatever you want, even if everyone else thinks it’s nonsense. But there are and always have been limits to the scope of your religious freedom, for the same reason noted above; everyone’s rights matter, not just yours. And all rights are subject to limits, at least as far as practice goes.  For example, if your religion involves human or animal sacrifice, you won’t be allowed to follow through with that. Likewise, if it involves smoking crack cocaine as part of the ceremony, expect law enforcement to try and stop you. If your religion forbids paying taxes, you’re still going to end up in jail at some point.

This is what’s wrong with the Arizona anti-gay bill. It that gives permission to business owners to discriminate against people whom they assume are doing something in violation of their own personal religious beliefs. Specifically, the target is gays, especially those who marry members of the same sex. Specifically, they keep bringing up the baker who wants to refuse to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. Really. As is baking a cake is somehow an endorsement

What’s troubling about this law is the implication that a business owner’s right to wield his right to believe anything he wishes somehow gives him the power to violate the rights of people who walk through his door. Look at what Jan Brewer told CNN about this last Friday, as she decides whether to veto the bill:

“I think anybody that owns a business can choose who they work with or who they don’t work with. But I don’t know that it needs to be statutory. In my life and in my businesses, if I don’t want to do business or if I don’t want to deal with a particular company or person or whatever, I’m not interested. That’s America. That’s freedom.”  (Source)

Well, no, it’s not. I mean, it may be “freedom” for the business owner, but what about the person who wants to do business with them? LGBT is not a protected class now, but frankly, there should be no such thing as “protected classes.” A business license is a contract between the business owner and the public – the entire public – to offer services to anyone who walks through the door, unless they’re naked or breaking the law or a reasonably crafted rule of some kind. Your choice, as a business owner, is to accept all the conditions of doing business, and one condition, according to the 14th Amendment, is to sell products or provide services to anyone, regardless of your personal impression of them. If the customer in question DOES something to get you to refuse service, that’s one thing. But to decide not to serve someone because of your assumptions about their personal life should always be a against the law, because you’re violating their rights. What makes a business owner’s rights more important than the customer’s? The answer, of course, is that they’re not.

If you have a problem with same-sex marriage, then don’t marry a member of the same sex. If you have a problem with abortion, don’t have one, and don’t perform them. Those are your rights. But you don’t get to contract with every member of your city, county or state and then choose which of them are worthy of your goods and services and deny access to the rest. That’s not how the social contract works. If you want to be a pharmacist, but your alleged religious beliefs won’t let you dispense the morning-after pill, your choice is to not become a pharmacist. Having the right to believe whatever you want does not grant you the power to deny someone else the right to believe something different, or the right to decide how they wish to use their own body. Having rights yourself does not give you license to deny rights to others.

And that’s the problem with the Arizona bill, as passed by the state legislature. Everyone in the state already has religious freedom. What they don’t have the right to do is deny others their rights by invoking their personal religious rights.

There’s no way this law would survive a court challenge, because (ironically) the Arizona legislature is essentially violating the First Amendment when they put the rights of business owners ahead of those of their customers. Besides, how far do we take this? Should a Jehovah’s Witness doctor be allowed to refuse to give someone else a necessary blood transfusion? For that matter, should a woman be forced to die because the “Christian” doctors in the ER place the fetus’ life ahead of hers? Should those people who can’t stand alcohol be allowed to refuse to hire anyone who’s ever taken a drink?

We all have rights, not just the self-righteous…

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