Jeff Jacoby on freedom of association

This reflects what I posted previously: Sarah Huckabee Sanders should have supported their right to serve whoever they wanted — just like bakers and florists and pharmacists, and …

From Jeff Jacoby’s weekly newsletter Arguable: “Shaming, Shunning and Freedom of Association”:

Stephanie Wilkinson, the owner of Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Va., refused — as a matter of moral conviction — to serve the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, on Friday night. Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Co., refused — as a matter of moral conviction — to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. For his refusal, Phillips paid a serious price: He was prosecuted and penalized by government officials, and subjected to protracted litigation that ultimately went all the way to the US Supreme Court. Should Wilkinson pay a similar price?

My view, as I’ve argued in the past, is that all private vendors — bakeries, restaurant, gyms, sporting-goods stores, golf clubs — should have the same freedom of association that customers have. You can decline to do business with any merchant for any reason, including moral conviction, unreasoning bias, political distaste, and personal preference. By the same token, any merchant should be allowed to turn away your patronage, on virtually any grounds, without running afoul of the law.

In a free society, by my lights, no law should compel businesses to accept customers unwillingly. Masterpiece Cakeshop should never have been hauled into court for saying no to the men who wanted that cake. Red Hen should have unfettered authority to direct Sanders and her party to leave the premises. Like freedom of speech, which doesn’t depend on agreement with the message being expressed, freedom of association ought to be protected regardless of whether you sympathize with the decision to discriminate.

The only exception I would retain is the ban on discrimination on racial grounds. Because American law for so many generations mandated and entrenched racial repression, it seems to me there is a unique obligation to actively prohibit discrimination on the basis of race. But discrimination on any other basis should not be barred by law.