We have another example of a clash between a business owner’s faith and anti-discrimination or public accommodation laws meant to protect LGBTQ+ people.
What if we lived in a world where people of faith could uphold their beliefs and LGBTQ+ people still thrived?
A Fort Worth business, Roots Markets, recently disinvited a vendor from its weekly craft fair on Magnolia Avenue. The vendor, Carlie Alaniz, was initially approved, but Root Markets’ owners revoked an invitation once they discovered Alaniz’s support of LGBTQ+ rights.
“Our values are biblically based, we do not have the same values as LGBTQ+,” Roots Markets business owners wrote to Alaniz. She posted online about being shut out of the event, and Roots Markets has received backlash on social media.
Some of the controversy is understandable: No one likes to be disinvited or told they are unwelcome, or especially that their identity is deemed unacceptable by others. On the other hand, people of faith have held their values for centuries. It’s unlikely to turn into anything more than an online spat, but it represents larger questions the country — and the Supreme Court — have been grappling with for years.
Federal law says that discriminating against a person based on sexual orientation, a protected category, is illegal. But technically, Texas has no state law that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The e-mail from Roots Markets to the banished vendor is interesting: Is Roots Markets discriminating based on the message of the LGBTQ+ community support or against Alaniz as a person because she identifies as queer (as stated on her social media profile)? Roots Markets’ language about values is a significant key. The thing that made Jack Phillips’ case unique during the long-running Masterpiece Cakeshop case is that he sold his custom cakes to anyone, including gay people, but he declined to create a custom cake that would be used to celebrate a message with which he disagreed. And the state of Colorado tried to punish him for that, citing its anti-discrimination laws.
The Supreme Court decided that Colorado couldn’t use its anti-discrimination law to bludgeon Phillips into creating the cake.
There are legal questions and there are practical ones, but this should remain paramount: In America, both the LGBTQ+ community and people of faith have equal rights under the law. The rights of one group should not supersede the rights of another. How this plays out in everyday life can get murky.
Do business owners with religious beliefs have a right to allow only vendors with similar beliefs or even to disallow vendors with opposing beliefs from their marketplace? To say it another way, is it discriminatory to hold to one’s deeply held beliefs in the public square?
Religious freedom and freedom of conscience are vital. So far, there hasn’t been any litigation or attempt to force the faith-based business owner to allow the artist to sell at their marketplace, and there really shouldn’t be. Consider the reverse: What if a conservative Christian wanted to sell Bibles in the middle of a Pride festival where tickets were required to attend and was told no? Would it be ethical for the Christian to claim, due to public accommodation laws, that Pride leaders who operate the festival must allow the person in and to sue if they didn’t? Forcing either party to violate their conscience is a problem. Keeping free speech paramount protects both parties.
That said, imagine a world where, when a gay person asks if they can sell their wares at a marketplace that Christians have created, and the answer is yes. That doesn’t mean the person isn’t abiding by their conscience or trying to avoid being discriminatory — it’s often a difficult, personal decision. But such an act would probably be viewed as one of kindness, a common grace we should all have available, not an endorsement, or “giving in.”
Either way, the government shouldn’t use laws to force people to act against their religious beliefs, and the LGBTQ+ community should stop using local and federal public accommodation laws against people of faith, turning age-old beliefs on their head and calling them bigoted rather than traditional, discriminatory rather than orthodox. Admittedly, that hasn’t quite happened here yet, but it did in Masterpiece.
Issues like this will keep coming up, at the Supreme Court, in Texas, and perhaps even again on Magnolia Avenue. Our fundamental rights as Americans don’t give us the right to be treated as special, or above anyone else, but nor should we use those rights to hurt others.