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Brock: Legislating morality is better left alone

I was taught and believe that rule No. 1 in business is the customer is always right, and rule No. 2 is to see rule No. 1. That being said, there are some folks you can’t afford to have as customers. I’ve often seen signs on a cash register that often will say, “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone,” and I always assumed the sign was there to keep unruly customers along with those customers who they just couldn’t afford to please away from their business. Customers mean more money in a business owner’s pocket, and so there has to be a pretty good reason why any business would refuse a customer’s money.

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This week Arizona governor vetoed Senate Bill 1062 the bill, passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature last week that would have allowed business owners to claim their religious beliefs as legal justification for refusing to serve same-sex couples or any other prospective customer. Arizona isn’t the only state considering this type of legislation — a handful of other states including our neighbor South Dakota.

Mixing business and religion is never a good thing for neither business nor religion. Years ago the comic strip “For Better or Worse” did a series about a young man who was wondering if he was gay. A group of pastors got together and threatened to urge their parishioners to stop their subscriptions to the paper I worked at unless they pulled the comic strip. The paper cowed and did just that, only to find out that their biggest advertiser was gay and threatened to stop advertising if it wasn’t put back in the paper — which, of course, the paper did and sent a clear message to both sides that it really came down to money.

I hope our North Dakota legislators are smart enough not to follow South Dakota’s lead when they go into session next year. Religious freedom is a sticky proposition, but so is creating laws to allow discrimination based on those beliefs. People will discriminate no matter if there are laws to protect them or not. While I’ve never seen a sign that says, “We reserve the right to refuse service to customers based on sexual preference,” I do remember seeing signs on television as a kid saying, “We don’t serve colored,” at lunch counters and other places in the south.

The reason lunch counters in the south started serving blacks was not because of a law passed in the legislature but because blacks and sympathetic whites boycotted businesses that discriminated and it cost them money. People have used their pocketbooks to punish or support businesses that mirror their beliefs for as long as there has been and will be commerce and smart government doesn’t interfere.

Brock is the publisher of The Dickinson Press.

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