It is a sad day already when “religious freedom” becomes a euphemism for “right to bigotry,” but that does not begin to explain why people are so horrified by Indiana’s new right-to-bigotry law. It is the effort to extend the right to bigotry to businesses that is at the heart of the law. The law as stated allows any business to work actively to chip away at the standing of gays, Muslims, or any other arbitrarily selected group or category of people, as a publicly declared objective of the business. It is a more corrosive effect than it might seem at first.
Consider the specific scenario mentioned most often by the law’s supporters, which is that florists and bakers shouldn’t be forced to sell their products to customers who might be planning a gay wedding. There is an obvious problem with this scenario: how does a business know what their customer’s event is? Even if the customer has a detailed story, the business is just taking the customer’s word for it. And if the customer doesn’t have much to say about their upcoming event, and is a man who “looks gay,” is this enough of an excuse for a florist to turn a customer away? Will there be florists who refuse to sell their larger floral arrangements to any man at all, lest they be secretly planning a gay wedding? It sounds ludicrous, yet if we are to take them at their word, this is exactly the scene that the most outspoken supporters of the Indiana right-to-bigotry law seem to be talking about when they say businesses shouldn’t have to answer for acts of discrimination.
It get worse. Now that businesses are allowed to advertise that they discriminate, how many religious extremists will look for these statements when they choose a supplier? Will extremist groups organize boycotts of businesses that refuse to take a vow of discrimination? In fact, we have seen boycotts just like this within the last year, so it is not so far-fetched to imagine extremist groups threatening whole towns with anti-gay or other equally arbitrary boycotts. It’s easy to see why most businesses say they don’t want to the “right to bigotry.”
All this trouble just because you start drawing lines between one kind of person and another? Well, yes, it is almost as simple as that. You can’t start to discriminate without also isolating yourself as part of the same process. The governor of Indiana, who as the leader of the state is obliged to stand up in public and defend his state’s new notion of the right to bigotry, must be feeling very isolated right now.