In response to North Carolina’s new law regarding bathroom usage, the NBA announced that they will be removing their 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte. Fine, good for them. If they feel that the law is bigoted in nature, or unfair to certain groups of people, the NBA is perfectly within their rights to protest and take action to dissociate themselves with the state and their law.
There has been a lot of commentary on sports media pertaining to this decision. One particularly insightful take on the situation went something like this:
The commentator was lauding the NBA’s decision, and went on to say that this is the power that exists when a non-violent injustice is perceived. Obviously, the NBA doesn’t have all that much power to actually change the law in the short term, but what they do have the power to do is hurt the state financially. Taking the All-Star Game out of North Carolina will undoubtedly eliminate a potential economic windfall for the state. Perhaps this, along with the temptation of being able to hold the game again in 2019 “provided there is an appropriate resolution to this matter,” will persuade the state to change its laws.
The commentator is exactly right, and this analysis could be applied in the same way to bigoted business owners. Rights, by definition, must apply equally to all people. Freedom of association and the right to choose with whom you interact and do business belongs to business owners just as much as it does anyone else.
This freedom of association is a fundamental human right. People must have the right to choose freely with whom they will or will not do business, enter into relationships, or simply interact with. If this freedom is not upheld, and people are forced to associate with others against their will, it is not too large of a stretch for this use of force to be likened to slavery. In most cases, this freedom exists. The problem is that it does not exist equally across the board.
In the recent past, when bakers have made the choice to not associate and engage in transactions with homosexual couples, they have been threatened with jail time, and forced to bake cakes against their will. Often, they’ve also been fined and therefore forced to pay for the privilege of doing business with people that they otherwise would have chosen not to.
Regardless of a person’s reasoning for not wanting to associate with another, freedom of association mandates that this choice must remain with the individual. Of course, bigoted reasoning for not wanting to associate with someone is deplorable, but that doesn’t eliminate a person’s right to make that choice.
All relationships, economic relationships included, in order to be morally just, must be entered into voluntarily by all parties involved. Bigots are assholes, but they are not criminals. Using force to make a bigot associate with people he does not want to gives him the moral high ground. Though he has refused to engage in exchange with someone, he has not aggressed against that person. Aggressing against him in retaliation for what is nothing more than a personal choice turns an otherwise contemptible person into a victim.
In the case of the baker, he has simply indicated that he does not wish to make a cake for the homosexual couple. Sure, this makes the baker an asshole, but it is his right to be an asshole. It is also the right of those who are slighted by the baker to protest, picket, write damning reviews / letters to local media outlets, boycott, and urge others to boycott. Doing this, the baker is hit where damage can be done – his wallet and his reputation.
Unfortunately, in today’s world of immediate gratification, this route is often viewed as not producing quick enough change. Too many people would rather run to the government, have them threaten violence against the baker, and force him to make the cake. The clear problem with this is the use of force. Those who are angry with the bigoted baker are so because they perceive his discrimination against homosexual couples as immoral. But what’s so moral about forcing him to act against his will?
The use of force may result in quicker results, but it does nothing to change hearts and minds. If anything, the baker will become more steadfast in his bigoted beliefs. A far better approach is that which is described above. Making an issue out of the problem, starting a conversation, and causing him financial pain are the proper modes of reproach. If people aren’t willing to wait for this method to yield fruit, and instead choose to resort to the immoral use of force, then how are they any different than the immoral discriminator?
Though the actions of North Carolina and of the homophobic baker can be rightly viewed as discrimination, the way to change both cannot morally involve the use of force. The NBA did exactly what they are capable of – hit the state in their pocketbook and bring attention to a perceived injustice. The correct lesson to be learned from this incident is that the power to affect change lies in the consumer’s ability to vote with their dollars. Using physical power, force, and violence is not the way of a moral and peaceful person.