Editorial Roundup: Civil rights don’t stop at a business person’s door

Published 5:59 pm Wednesday, October 4, 2017

People don’t forfeit their right to freedom of speech when they launch a new company. Plenty of businesses feature religious symbols and even Bible verses on their business cards, websites and brochures, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that practice.

But when a company makes a point of telling potential customers that it will refuse service to people because of their race, religious beliefs, gender or sexual orientation, then a line is crossed.

That’s why we strongly agree with the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, which last week ruled against Angel and Carl Larsen, a Minnesota couple that wanted to expand their media production company to include the filming of weddings — but only heterosexual weddings.

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This is what they wanted to put on their company’s website: “Telescope Media Group exists to glorify God through top-quality media production. Because of TMG’s owners’ religious beliefs and expressive purposes, it cannot make films promoting any conception of marriage that contradicts its religious beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman, including films celebrating same-sex marriages.”

The problem is, the Minnesota Human Rights Act prohibits companies from refusing to do business based on sexual orientation, and the district court rightly ruled that such a statement on a website would be “akin to a ‘White Applicants Only’ sign.”

Chief U.S. District Judge John Tunheim wrote, “Posting language on a website telling potential customers that a business will discriminate based on sexual orientation is part of the act of sexual discrimination itself. As conduct carried out through language, this act is not protected by the First Amendment.”

The Larsens, who are represented by the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian nonprofit organization, say they will appeal the court’s ruling.

We suspect that they will be wasting their time. Consider:

Can a business owner who is Jewish refuse to serve someone with a tattoo? Of course not.

Can a Mormon refuse service to someone who is carrying a cup of coffee, or wearing a Jack Daniels T-shirt? Certainly not.

But let’s take this to another level: Can a devout Christian doctor refuse to deliver the baby of a drug-addicted, HIV-positive mother? Can a police officer who is a teetotaler refuse to help a drunken driver who has crashed and is bleeding?

Or, even more to the point: Can a day care provider reject a child because he or she has two mothers and no fathers? Or because the child’s parents are Muslim?

Of course not. Such refusals wouldn’t be freedom of speech — they would be discrimination, and in some cases out-and-out professional misconduct.

The bottom line is that no one is forcing the Larsens — or anyone else — to create a business or enter a particular profession. They are doing so of their own free will. Nor can the Larsens be prevented from declaring their conservative Christian beliefs on every document, business card, brochure and website related to their wedding-filming business. That’s their right, and exercising it will probably drive most same-sex couples to look elsewhere for wedding videographers.

But no business can refuse to serve someone on the basis of race, gender, age or sexual orientation — and those who can’t accept this truism should either close their businesses or be prepared for the day when they will have to smile through gritted teeth and say “Yes, we’d be happy to help you.”

— Rochester Post-Bulletin, Sept. 28

About Editorial Roundup

Editorials from newspapers around the state of Minnesota.

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