Remember When Conscience Was Cool?

by Kellie Fiedorek

Not too long ago, prevailing opinion held that the corporate world had lost its conscience. Businesses seemed to care about nothing but the bottom line. Critics asked, “Why must businesses care only about profit? Why can’t businesses be guided by values and seek the greater good?”

But now values have been given a more prominent place in many corporate cultures. Panera Bread has opened restaurants where customers pay only what they can afford. Stores such as Whole Foods and The Body Shop have given substantial percentages of their profits to charities for several years now. And since both the government and society at large currently deem the values these businesses advance to be acceptable, they are lauded.

But what about the businesses that have the “wrong” values — beliefs that those in power currently view as unpalatable? Just as the Panera Bread or Whole Foods business approach is integral to their larger mission, many other businesses believe their unique values are fundamental to the business models they have built.

Increasingly, however, when businesses’ values are at odds with the prevailing opinion of government officials and leftist activist groups, they suffer persecution.

Just this month, a same-sex couple filed a complaint against a baker in Oregon simply for running her business according to her values and beliefs. For the baker, her religious beliefs inform her position that marriage is between a man and a woman. So rather than compromise her beliefs, she opted to be true to herself and her faith and decline to participate in the celebration of a same-sex wedding.

Mind you, she was not refusing to do business with customers who identify themselves as homosexual; she would happily have baked a cake for them for other occasions, but endorsing a same-sex wedding is simply not something she can do in good conscience, even if a heterosexual person had placed the order for the occasion. And even though the couple found another baker, this baker is nonetheless being persecuted for adhering to values some people don’t like.

The baker in Oregon is just one of many in the increasing pattern and practice of government discrimination toward business owners who don’t want to leave their values back at home. From persecuting a photographer who could not in good conscience use her expressive talents to promote a same-sex ceremony . . . 

 . . . to hauling into court a 68-year-old woman who runs a flower shop that has served and employed those who identify as homosexual for years but is now being sued by one of them for declining to make creative flower arrangements for their same-sex ceremony . . . 

 . . . to expelling a young African-American counselor who referred a woman seeking help with a same-sex relationship to another counselor . . . 

 . . . to forcing family businesses across the country to provide insurance coverage that includes abortion-inducing drugs . . . 

 . . . the government is attempting to force out the values of those individuals and businesses which it finds inconvenient or with which it does not agree. It refuses to leave room for everyone in the marketplace.

Consider what our country would look like if everyone had to run their business in precisely the same way. Where would places like Starbucks, the Humane Society, and Susan G. Komen be if they weren’t able to formulate their priorities and values and conduct their affairs according to these principles?

No business should be forced to espouse a value or facilitate an event against their conscience. Yet the government and others seem eager to rid our country of the rich, palpable color and pluralism that comes from a diverse marketplace. Robbing passion and censoring actions and speech, the government is telling many of our fellow Americans to either comply with its values, or get out of commerce

But contrary to the mantra that businesses can’t adhere to their religious beliefs, the Constitution protects every business’s freedom to abide by its conscience. And multiple federal courts have recognized this just recently.

While we may not all agree with every company’s purpose, mission, or beliefs, we can at least value every American’s freedom to think and express their beliefs according to their own convictions.

Moreover, if we don’t agree with the policies of business “A,” we vote with our feet and walk down the sidewalk to business “B.” That is quintessentially American; government coercion is not.

Today, some might not mind if the government says, as New Mexico’s supreme court just did, that a photographer must participate in a same-sex ceremony even though plenty of other photographers were around to do the job — and did. But do supporters of such coercion and intolerance really want this logic to stand? In the same state not long ago, a hairstylist refused to cut the hair of New Mexico’s governor because she does not favor redefining marriage. That’s his right, and it should be the right of every American to act according to his or her conscience.
— Kellie Fiedorek is litigation counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.

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