Top 10 Reasons Businesses Shouldn’t Use Religious Beliefs to Deny Service to Customers
Religious discrimination is a hot topic in the United States. Claims of discrimination based on someone’s religious beliefs have continued to rise dramatically since 2013. Between the legalization of gay marriage and a new influx of Islamophobia in the country, there are now more business owners who believe that they should protect their religious rights by denying service to certain groups of customers.
Many of these businesses cite freedom of religion as its legal leg to stand on. Unfortunately, the line between freedom of religion and religious discrimination is often blurry. The lack of clear and defined legal legislation on the matter only compounds the issue.
When combined with the level of emotion involved, the right to deny service based on one’s religious beliefs tends to skew people’s beliefs between right and wrong. Too often, this leads to a violation of someone’s civil rights. This is something that America cannot tolerate as a free nation that prides itself on civil rights.
To avoid the infringement of civil rights and their continuation, American business owners need to leave their religion out of the mix entirely. The data overwhelmingly suggests that denying service to customers based on the owner’s religious beliefs is ultimately bad for the business.
Here are the top 10 reasons businesses should not use religious beliefs to deny service to customers.
Freedom of Religion Does Not Mean What People Think It Means
The First Amendment features two different provisions on freedom of religion.
In the Establishment Clause, the American government is prohibited from “establishing” a national religion. While the actual meaning of this clause in unclear, it is generally treated as the clause that prevents America from having an official, national religion.
The second provision, the Free Exercise Clause, is what trips up many Americans. The clause allows you to practice whatever religion you want in whatever way you choose. However, you cannot use your religion to disrupt public morals or get in the way of public safety.
For example, in the Supreme Court Case Prince v. Massachusetts, the court ruled that Massachusetts could vaccinate a child against the parents’ will, even if vaccination clashes with the parents’ religious beliefs. The ruling allows the government to vaccinate children because there is a greater interest in public health because vaccination prevents the return of diseases like polio.
What this means is that parents are within their rights to believe that vaccination is wrong. However, a decline in vaccinations incurs the risk of the return of dangerous disease from oblivion. Thus, parents are not allowed to practice this belief in a public manner.
Businesses must approach this freedom of religion in the same manner. It is acceptable for a business to tell a customer that they do not agree with who they are or what their lifestyle is. However, denying service to that customer based on this belief is against public and governmental interests because it encourages discrimination.
Targeting People Based on Religious Beliefs Promotes Hate Crimes
Discriminating against people based on one’s own religious beliefs can become physically dangerous. Thus, it cannot be tolerated in any form. Whether you are discriminating politically or economically, saying no to customers based on your religion can ultimately pave the way for physically violent movements.
For example, the genocides rarely begin with death camps or horrible marches through the desert. They often begin with small economic sanctions that alienate individuals or groups of people from certain parts of society. They make it hard for people to get jobs, go to school or even buy products from businesses purely because that group has been deemed a threat.
Then, as this becomes more comfortable, the conditions grow worse. People are then pushed further and further into the fringes of society until all of a sudden, it becomes acceptable to hurt and even kill them.
Although it may seem like self-protection for business owners to refuse service to people they disagree with, they are actually propping up the validity of things like genocide by doing so. Refusal of service supports the belief that a certain group should be alienated from that part of society. It also suggests that they should be punished for being who they are or believing what they believe.
There is a shockingly short ideological distance to go from economically punishing a group of people to then finding it morally acceptable to physically punish a person in some form. When an individual or group of individuals take it upon themselves to hurt another person or their property based on religious beliefs in America, this is what the government calls a hate crime.
A hate crime is a criminal act that is perpetrated because of the victim’s race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender or disability. Hate crimes are not acceptable in any modern society. In fact, they are often at the heart of what the worst of society has to offer.
By choosing to accept all customers regardless of personal religious beliefs, businesses can set a foundation of peace that does not lead to further escalation of social, economic or physical violence.
They Risk Alienating Customers Who Disagree with Their Practices
From a business perspective, it is bad business sense to refuse to serve certain customers based on religious beliefs. This is because these businesses do not just risk alienating the customers it is targeting. It also risks alienating any other customer who disagrees with these actions.
Businesses tend to treat the refusal of service to customers as a private transaction. However, this transaction is far from private. When someone is hurt, there is no social contract that suggests that the hurt party will keep the event to themselves.
These transactions now become public quickly. When this happens, the business forces each and every one of its customers to make a choice. These customers have to choose whether or not they agree with what the business did. They then have to decide whether they feel that they can continue to do business there.
This is the ultimatum that a business forces its customers into whether it intends to or not. The problem is that forcing these customers into an ultimatum alienates customers who decide that they disagree with the act. Every time a customer considers doing business there, they must reaffirm the choice in their head. This can drive down customer lifetime value significantly.
The repercussions of this often mean that the business needs to spend more on marketing and advertising in order to make up the deficit in the customer base. This means that there is more capital leaving the business during a time when the business often cannot afford to spend this money.
It Risks Discriminating Against Important Customers
Most businesses follow the 80:20 rule. This means that 80% of the revenue comes from only 20% of the customers. This is not just a random piece of wisdom. It has a name. Dubbed Pareto’s Principle, it is an economic principle often used by businesses to help structure sales teams and drive revenue.
Unfortunately, Pareto’s Principle can also work against a business. It is fine to lose customers a business never had. However, losing even a small number of that crucial 20% of customers can cause serious financial damage to a business.
When a business discriminates against customers, it risks eliminating some of its most valuable customers. The customer may dislike the practice. The customer may also relate to the person being discriminated against. It may even be that the customer does not want to be associated with the business because of all the bad press involved.
The bottom line is that while a business owner can risk losing some customers, there are customers that it cannot survive without. Because it is often hard to know who those customers are, it is best not to risk it at all.
Discrimination Is Personal, and Personal Decisions Ruin Businesses
A business that discriminates against people based on religion is going to suffer a lot whether it intends to or not. Activists and citizens do not sit down and take religious discrimination lightly. They fight for their right to be served. The press is more than happy to help. Once the issue reaches the press, there is no control of how it affects the business.
Refusing service to customers on the basis of religion is bad for business because it forces the business to give up all control.
It does not matter how noble the intentions were or how pious the business owner is. This kind of event eats into profits, alienates customers and creates bad press and ill will. A good business person will recognize that before choosing to deny service. A good business person will choose to remain in control of their business.
Because the effects of denying service are so harsh, people who care about the success and reputation of their business do not allow this kind of thing to happen. When they do, they are not thinking about their business anymore. They are thinking personally.
People who think personally about their business are ruined from the moment they open their doors. They cannot make logical decisions and too often, they will try to fix their own feelings about the business.
Protesters Leave a Digital Scar on the Business
Millions of Americans support the right of a person to be served by a business regardless of their religion, sexual orientation, nationality or any other personal information. This means that there are going to be a significant number of people willing to protest the business. It also means that those protesters might outnumber the people who support the business.
This is not because the entire community will pick up pitchforks and turn on the business. It is because a lot of protesting is now done not on site, but online. This allows protesters to gather huge groups of people together to virtually protest the business. Since no one is restricted by geographical boundaries or time, the number of people protesting can easily jump from hundreds to hundreds of thousands overnight.
This is a big problem for any business. Protests do not look good for anyone. However, the root of the problem is that the protest pages will leave a digital footprint that is hard to avoid. When people do searches for the business in the future, much of the content that comes up will often be negative.
Even if the business has many supporters, it is often the protest pages that will turn up when a customer searches for the business. It takes years to move past bad press in the digital world. Most businesses cannot withstand it.
In the digital world, it does not matter if people are for you or against you. As long as they continue to talk about the issue, it remains out there for anyone to see long past the business’s own expiration date.
You Are Undermining Civil Rights for Yourself
Civil rights in America may feel well established. However, it is still a relatively new thing for a significant portion of the population. It is only in the last hundred years that the population as a whole has been able to take control of its political destiny.
Unless you come from a long line of ultra-wealthy, land-owning white men, you probably did not have a gross amount of civil rights until recently, even regardless of your race or religion. That is because only rich, literate landowners on the eastern seaboard had any real control over their political destiny for most of America’s history.
Because it is new and because it is so important, it is imperative that all Americans hold up not only their own civil rights but those of others. Refusing service to someone because you don’t believe in their decisions, or even who they are, denies their rights to freedom.
By taking away someone else’s right to appear in public unashamed of who they are, you are simultaneously eroding your own civil rights. You are setting a precedent that it is okay for people to economically discriminate against people they disagree with. When that precedent is set, it can be turned and used against you or anyone else you know whom someone might disagree with for any reason, religious or otherwise. This is incredibly dangerous not only for minorities but for everyone.
If America wants to continue to be a world leader in civil rights, it needs to remove the precedent that its citizens can discriminate against each other in anyway. If you don’t want to government or anyone else to discriminate against you, you cannot use your own economic power to discriminate against others.
Businesses Risk Being Sued in a Civil Court and Losing Personal Property
Most Americans are not willing to put up with having their civil rights trampled upon. In fact, they won’t just walk away with their head in their hands because a business won’t serve them. People who have been discriminated against turn their hurt into empowerment. Thus, they are willing to sue businesses that discriminate against them.
For example, Laurel and Rachel Bowman-Cryer went to Sweet Cakes by Melissa to order a wedding cake for their 2013 wedding. The Portland bakery they visited denied to serve them. The bakery said that their Christian beliefs prevented them from making a cake to celebrate the marriage of a gay couple.
The couple filed a civil suit against the bakery. They sought $150,000 in damages in personal property from the bakery owners. The bakery owners then tried to raise money for the damages on GoFundMe. However, the site shut the page down because they had violated the site’s terms of service.
Ultimately, the judge on the case ruled that the bakery owners should pay $135,000 to the couple. The check was made out to the couple for $136,927.07 which included the initial fee plus interest.
All of this happened despite protests from the bakery that the settlement would not only ruin the business but hurt the owners personally.
Businesses must realize that when someone personally insults a customer for personal reasons, things tend to get personal. Thus, should it come to a civil lawsuit, plaintiffs and courts do not mind going after the business owner’s personal assets.
Discriminating Against Customers Means Businesses Risk Violating the State’s Anti-Discrimination Act
Civil cases have a tendency to be successful because the case often violates at least one of the state’s anti-discrimination laws. Whether the business owner disagrees with the customer’s gender, religion or sexual orientation, the state will often protect the customer in some form.
This is because minorities are considered to be vulnerable because they have traditionally been easy to target. However, thanks to those new civil rights, it is not easy to systematically target another group, whatever one’s reason for doing so.
These laws came to light in the previously mentioned lawsuit filed against Sweet Cakes by Melissa.
In the realm of LGBT rights, 17 American states have explicit, state-wide legislation that prevents discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as of early 2016. Oregon is one of these states. This is what allowed the judge to award damages to the gay couple who were denied service.
In Oregon, it is illegal for any person to deny accommodation, advantages, facilities and privileges to anyone based on race, color, religion, sexual orientation, sex, nationality, marital status or age.
This means that if the bakery denied the cake to Muslims, elderly people, Greeks, two men, two women, a transgender couple or a mixed race couple, it would still have likely paid damages.
The state is not looking out for people who want to impart their feelings on others. It certainly isn’t looking out for those who want to economically discriminate against others. It is looking out for the people who are vulnerable and who have traditionally been discriminated against.
The state will rule to protect vulnerable people over those who are trying to exert power over them. In many cases, it is simply impossible to win.
What Is the Point? It Won’t Change Anything
People have tried to change things that they are uncomfortable with for a very long time. For example, there have been a number of efforts to subject people who identify as homosexuals to therapy in order to force them to fit within sexual norms. Some therapies include: psychological treatments, hormonal treatments, aversion therapies and even surgical treatments.
The result? People still identify as homosexual or within another type of sexuality that is not heterosexual. It is still not a perfect time to identify as someone who lives outside of society’s norm. However, it has gotten better and people can live more freely.
This freedom means that despite other people’s disapproval or discomfort, people will still choose to be who they are. It means that not only will a gay couple still choose to get married, they will also give their business to a competitor who runs a professional business.
So, if economically sanctioning a person will not change them and only hurt the business, what is the point? The truth is, there isn’t one.
The refusal to serve a customer based on the business owner’s religion is no longer seen as a freedom. It is now discrimination. Although it is not yet clearly defined as unlawful in all 50 states, it almost certainly will be soon.
The usefulness of this action as a tool of dissent is opaque at best. It leads to economic ruin, lawsuits and bad press for the business that commits it. It even goes against the initial intention of the business owner and creates a wider dialogue about the rights and freedoms of minorities.
At the end of the day, the law of the land is that there is to be a separation of church and state. It is what makes the United States a safe and prosperous place to live. However, it is not just up to the government to uphold it. It is up to the citizens, too. Without the support of religious freedom for everyone, Americans will erode their precious civil liberties for themselves and for others.
Ultimately, American business owners should abide the following advice: You can preach your own gospel, but you have to serve the law.