The Corner

Nondiscrimination Policies Represent the Secular Creed of the Progressive Church

Over on the homepage I wrote today about the Washington Supreme Court’s dreadful decision imposing personal liability on a florist for refusing to help celebrate a gay wedding. As I wrote, it struck me that the way you think about the case likely depends on how you answer a simple question: Who should control your business? 

If you think that a business fundamentally belongs to a person — and not the state — then you’re more likely to believe that the state can and should restrict your right to operate your business as you see fit only when it has demonstrated concrete, urgent need. Take, for example, the government’s response to the systematic denial of services to black citizens in the South. Confronted with a social, economic, and political system that in a real way re-created the “badges and incidents of slavery,” the government took the serious step of overriding the business-owner’s right to run his store or restaurant to try to rectify the century-old failure of Reconstruction and the imposition of white supremacist rule in the old Confederacy. 

If you think, however, that businesses either ultimately belong to the state — or exist mainly at the pleasure of the state — then government can conscript private businesses in its preferred political crusades, even in the absence of real need or widespread social harm. This is exactly what’s happening with most modern nondiscrimination laws. Rather than argue, for example, that states had to enact sexual orientation nondiscrimination laws because gay people couldn’t find places to eat, drink, or sleep, sexual revolutionaries demand that government take action against “social evil” because businesses must not be permitted to do “wrong” things. 

That, friends, is what you call, “legislating morality.”

The bottom line is that expansive nondiscrimination policies represent something akin to the secular creed of the progressive church. The state is overriding individual liberty to implement a specific world view — without any meaningful evidence that reforms are necessary to address a particular cultural problem. There is no lack of florists, bakers, and photographers eager to help celebrate gay weddings, but it becomes intolerable to the Left that there exists even a single commercially-viable dissenting voice. Churches, after all, won’t let their pulpits be used for heresy. To the modern administrative state every business is a pulpit, and those pulpits must preach the progressive social gospel.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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