The Liberty of Discrimination

A couple weeks ago, Governor Mike Pence of Indiana signed into law the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).  Shortly after, public opinion flared and the law was labeled discriminatory.  The public also assumed that it instantly gave businesses the right to discriminate against gay or lesbian customers due to religious freedom.

In 1993, Bill Clinton signed an extremely similar bill called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which gave way for 19 other states to soon draft their own version of the RFRA. So what’s the difference? While I will talk more about the economic and liberty aspect of this legislation, you can read about the history and the confusion on whether the bill should only apply between certain parties in this article, written by Josh Blackman called “Is Indiana Protecting Discrimination”.

In a free and civilized society, only if BOTH parties want to engage in an exchange does the exchange take place. Simply meaning, the government shouldn’t and doesn’t have the right to force an individual  to make an exchange with another if either of the individuals do not consent. Property rights and the freedom to associate are fundamental human rights that should not be infringed upon by the government. An individual who does not want to associate with another group or individual  shouldn’t be forced to, regardless of whether or not it’s on the streets, a shopping center, in the neighborhood, etc. as long as the individual doesn’t act in aggression towards others.

That being said, there will be consequences in that person’s personal life that will reflect his or her actions. And just like there are consequences for discrimination and limited association in the everyday world, there are consequences for discrimination in the business world. A business owner who discriminates against a certain group of people will only lose in the long run, whether it be due to a boycott, lack of service, or lower profit margins. While a business owner has the right to discriminate towards others due to freedom of association and property rights, will a business owner be that foolish? With 21st century technology, any act of discrimination will have the Internet, social media, and activists lining up at your headquarters ready to bite down on your business in the same way the public, corporations, and other entities bit down on Mike Pence after signing the RFRA. Any small business that decides to discriminate against a certain group could also end up on national spotlight along with local protests and boycotts.

Though in plain sight, forcing a party to exchange with another party which doesn’t wish to do so may not seem like such a big deal, it has many unintended consequences. Denying property rights and freedom of association when it comes to a party offering a service ultimately paves the way for more government intervention in the private sector. Our problems do not stem from the lack of “quotas” or “set asides” and the like; they stem from the presumption that government should be monitoring “discrimination” in the first place. Government causes reverse discrimination which means that an employer or a business purposely hires for example, a member of a minority group over a more qualified candidate JUST because it has to follow certain government regulations.

Courts surprisingly take the easiest path when it comes to approving discrimination laws. To prove discrimination, courts will look for “disproportionate effects” and “disparate impact”, in other words “you’re guilty because you did not hire enough women or minorities.” As an employer, it would be foolish to hire a less efficient worker due to gender, sexual orientation, or race. And if an employer were to do that, again, it would be at their loss. This is just one of the many ways government discrimination laws hurt, rather than progress society.

I do not agree with discrimination, and if I were a business owner I would not discriminate against anybody. But that doesn’t change the fact that as a business owner, your establishment is still your private property. When we were kids we were raised to understand that if a person didn’t  want to play with you, or be with you, they didn’t have to. If a business owner, or any individual, values bigotry or intolerance over a client’s service, then so be it. It is however, still their right, and the free market will correct this and ensure the best ideas prosper without the use of coercive force.


Sources and additional information

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