Off-Topic Ramblings … Way, Way, Waaaay Off-Topic

I’ve spent some time thinking about whether or not I wanted to throw myself into one particular briar patch, but in the end that long bit of thinking that did convince me.  The briar patch in question?  The “Masterpiece Cake Shop” case before the Supreme Court.

This post is, by the way, going to be a long one…and far drier, not to mention less snarky, than I usually shoot for.

Now, first off, a few pieces of backstory and exposition:

A) I live in Colorado, and have for fifteen years.  This case received a great deal of local coverage here, so it is not something new to me.  Hell, there are details and specifics to it that seldom, if ever, get mentioned by the national media.   Most of that coverage, in fact, is pretty damned shallow and simplistic…not to mention designed to reinforce whatever preconceived conclusions a particular reporter/outfit is carrying into the fray.

B) I’m a straight, white guy, with all of the life experience that entails.  It also means I don’t really have a personal dog in the fight…just a socio-cultural one.

C) I am also, as I’ve mentioned before, pretty damned libertarian.  Now, part of that is my own Golden Rule of “leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone”, but another part is a belief — within limits — in the philosophy of “that government is best which governs least”.

I am not, but the way, going to list here the specifics here of the case itself.  Anyone interested already knows, and anyone not interested has probably stopped reading by now…

No, what I want to get to is my take on the whole thing…and that take is: it’s complicated.

Really, the whole thing is fucking complicated…far more so than the “easy answers” on both sides like to pretend.  There is right and wrong aplenty in this case, and in the situation that gave rise to it. And the outcomes?  Yeah, that gets even more complicated…and even more “right and wrong”.

My thinking on this whole thing has also evolved over time. Several years ago, when it first arose as a simple story in the Denver Post, I was one of those “easy answer” folks.  I thought I knew the whole story, so I made my “decision” and ignored everything else about the issue.

But the case got bigger, and I learned more facts.

And I thought more.

You know what?  That changed things for me…and changed my opinion.

This case really is bigger than a simple dispute between a baker and his (potential) customers.  There is more than enough legitimate fear — and threat — on both sides to warrant a case before the Supreme Court.

By the way, it is NOT a case about the legality of the baker’s refusal: his actions were in clear violation of state law.  What it IS a case about is whether or not that particular law is constitutional.

In one sense, it is also a case about compelled speech: the plaintiffs argue that the baker has a legal duty to fulfill their order, regardless of his personal beliefs and convictions.  The defense, on the other hand, contends that such compulsion uses the power of the State to force a man to violate his conscience, and his deeply held beliefs.

From that particular (limited) perspective, it is pretty easy to pick a winner…and this is where my initial opinion on the whole thing started years ago.

But it ain’t that easy.

When I write freelance, I get to pick and choose my clients as well as the work I create.  I don’t write for Penthouse Forum, nor for the Aryan Nation, nor the Socialist Worker…not, in fact, for anything or anyone that I find repugnant and antithetical to my own beliefs and views.*

*So says the guy whose current protagonist is an alcoholic thief…and whose other main character is a teen-aged, gay prostitute.  I think we can safely say that puritanical morality ain’t exactly my thing…

What about my photography? Should I have to accept a client that wants me to shoot porn?  Or BDSM?  Or cats?  Shouldn’t someone else, I’ve asked myself, have the same freedom as I do?  Especially another artist?

Again, that was where my thinking started…and where my opinion stood for a long time.

But it still ain’t that easy.

First of all, I don’t have a store.  I don’t operate any form of public, physical location where I am open and available for folks to simply walk in and hire me. Not even a link on the web.  I initiate any and all work I perform, either by working purely on spec, or by prior personal agreement with a client to whom I have been referred (or has been referred to me).

Having a store changes things.  It’s called “public accommodation”, and it does in fact come with obligations and requirements.  One of those is that you have to accept your customers as they are…you cannot pick and choose based on who you want them to be.

Let me use a case from a few years ago to illustrate: a group of friends went out drinking, then stopped at a liquor store so they could continue the party at home.  No problem, so far — they were all of legal age, and were well within their rights.  The cab driver they hailed, however, did not approve of alcohol.  More than that, he was devout in his religion and was opposed to alcohol in all forms.  He refused to allow the group into the cab that he owned…and was fined heavily by the regulatory agency because of the incident.

Was he within his rights to refuse service? Again, the customers broke no law…they were simply “immoral” according to the driver’s beliefs.

Although he did appeal, there was no outcry, and certainly no Supreme Court case…

The two cases are not so far apart. There are differences, yes: the driver was neither “speaking”, nor artistically creating…but he was offering a service to the public.  In the case of the cake maker, he also was offering a service to the public: his talents as a baker and designer.

Could he — can he — selectively withhold his publicly available services simply because he finds a potential client to be immoral?  Not illegal, mind you, just immoral according to his religion.

If he can withhold his services, why could not the cab driver?  Does it change things if you learn the cabbie was a devout Muslim, rather than a fundamentalist Christian (as was the baker)?  Can one’s beliefs and views on morality be held more, or less, acceptable simply because of the religion one chooses to follow?

Again, remember the concept of “public accommodation”: when you offer your services openly to the public, you do surrender some freedom.  But does that apply to your freedom of conscience?  What if matters of conscience differ, as they often do? Whose is of more value?

Is your right to avoid alcohol more important than my right to stumble drunkenly into your cab?

Is one man’s right to reject homosexuality more important than another man’s right (in this case, a couple’s right) to avail himself of a public service?

The simple fact of the matter is, as I’ve said before, your morality is none of my business…and mine is none of yours.  When the question is one simply of morality, you have no right to decide for someone else.  In our private lives that is easy an thing to decide: I can’t tell you to go get drunk, and you can’t tell me to stop with the one-night stands.  Live and let live.

Even in business, that “easiness” can apply: if you are a private entity who offers services solely on a private basis — a consultant, say, or a writer — you can pick and choose your clients and partners based on whatever criteria floats your boat.  Even on the basis of morality…or beer preference…or hair style…

But…but…BUT….

But, if you choose to publicly offer your skills and services as a business, it is no longer a question of private, personal choice.  Yes, that means you do surrender some of your freedom.  You made the choice to do so when you decided to open a public business — that partial-surrender of freedom came in exchange for the privilege of operating an open, established business.

That does not mean you surrender your private, personal freedom of conscience.  That personal freedom is pretty damned simple: if you don’t approve of homosexuals, don’t befriend or become one.  If you don’t approve of alcohol, don’t drink or allow others to drink in your home. If you don’t like (evil, evil) cats, don’t get one.  You can, quite simply, be just as committed and devout in your personal life as you ever were.

But your private morality has no place in your public business.  You cannot pick and choose your public clients based on private beliefs and morality.

And now even I can come up with all the questions and unintended consequences and what about-isms…

But what about a graphic artist asked to make a flyer for a neo-nazi rally?

But what about a liberal architect asked to design the Trump Presidential Library?

But what about a conservative sculptor asked to make a bust of Hillary Clinton?

But what about…

Like I said, it’s complicated.

I’m really really glad I’m not a Supreme Court justice.

You Morality Is None Of My Business…

…and mine is none of yours.

Look, to reword and rework a tired, old phrase: morality begins at home. Morals and belief systems, as well as the personal behaviors to which they lead, are…well…personal. They are — and should be! — the intimate, immediate decisions only of the individual involved.

No one else need have input. Hell, no one else should have input. My morality — or the occasional lack thereof — is none of your business, thank you very much.

And that “no one else” goes double — goes ten freaking times — for the government! It is no business of the government’s what, or who, I do. Or how…or why…etc… Fill in your own damned blanks on that one.

Okay, let me back away from the confrontational and shoot for the rational…

I am a pretty moral guy. Yes, I drink too much. Yes, I cuss too much. Yes, I’m a cynical asshole. But…I don’t do drugs (anymore), I don’t steal, I don’t lie (much…and no, those pants DON’T make your butt look big!), nor do I rape, pillage or otherwise live a pirate’s life.

My stories aside, I’m actually pretty fucking normal.*

*My definition of “normal” may differ pretty significantly from yours, but…no harm, no foul.

But I live that “normal” life from choice, not because someone told me to. Hell, just about every time someone TOLD me to do something, I did pretty much the exact opposite. I’m not, it should be said, a terribly good follower.

I choose to be good, to be — in most senses of the word — moral. I make a choice to which I am neither commanded nor compelled. I CHOOSE TO.

And that makes a difference.

Every time a government — any government, take your pick from history — has tried to legislate morality, it has failed spectacularly. And it always will fail because normal, everyday people know and understand just what the limits should be, and those limits do not include telling us what we should and should not do.

Now, what got me to thinking about this?

Yep, you guessed it: more Roy Fucking Moore (again).

Beyond his need to grope teen-age girls, that asshole — judge or not — threw aside any semblance of legality and liberty with his statement that homosexuality should be illegal. He went so far as to imply that gays and lesbians should, beyond just jail, potentially face the death penalty.

What are we, Saudi Arabia?

Look, I’m a straight white guy: I have nothing to fear from people like Moore. But, many, many friends (and relatives) DO have things to fear from people that want to deny them their rights and their liberties. Hell, people that want to deny them their lives.

From a religious point-of-view I get it, I really do. Religious folks, especially Evangelicals, have very real problems and reservations in this area.* Fine, no problem. Your beliefs, like my morals, are your business. BUT, when you decide to start inflicting those beliefs on other people, THEN we have a problem…a very real, and very serious, problem.

*I understand these — I don’t agree with them in even the smallest way, but I do understand.

Then again, those folks seem to have all kinds of problems that they want to “help” with, things like: drinking, dancing, listening to music, watching movies/TV, science, history, education, the list goes on and on.

Honestly, I am NOT attacking these folks. I have far too many friends and family members to whom the label “Evangelical” applies to condemn them, just like I have far too many LGBT friends and relatives to condemn THEM. All I ask is that both sides let the other live in peace.

That, in the end, is the bottom line of my libertarianism: you leave me alone, and I’ll leave you alone. Call it the Revised Golden Rule for the Truly Cynical.

Now, that does cut both ways: when the LGBT folks attack those Christians who do not toe the line, it can be just as bad as what the Evangelicals want to do to them. Neve forget that tolerance is NOT the same thing as approval, and it never should be.

To put another spin on it: I’m a slut. I’ll sleep with any girl that will give me the time of day. My relationships have all ended as major disasters anyway, so why bother with the whole “get to know you” thing? Now, I don’t ask anyone to approve of my lifestyle — hell, I’m not sure I approve of it! — but I damn well do expect you to tolerate it.

See the difference?

Evangelicals: you don’t have to approve of anyone else’s lifestyle, of the “sinners”, but you damn well DO have to tolerate other individuals’ right to live the way they choose.

“Sinners”: YOU don’t have to approve of the Evangelicals, but you DO damn well have to respect TREIR right to live and believe what and how they choose.

It’s called Freedom of Conscience, folks…and it means a great deal.

Folks who have been reading this blog for a while know I have a real problem with how regular folks lack voices and input into society today. To be blunt, about the only control we do have is in our own lives, and how we choose to live is far too important to let someone else — anyone else — dictate and control.  That applies to other individuals just as much as to governments.

Focus on your own choices, and your own life, and let everyone else live theirs.* That is the foundation of a free and just society.

*And, no, I am not an absolutist in any sense of the word — there IS right and wrong in the world. Rape, violence, and the corruption of power (power of all stripes) ARE immoral and wrong from ANY perspective.

Bonus Post: Character Matters

I’ll probably regret this, but…

…but I’m not very good at keeping my mouth shut, even when I should. Given the timing and nature of this post — and the topic which spurred me to write it — I have decided not to put it in the queue for Monday morning.  Nope, if I’m gonna tackle something timely, I might as well be…timely.

Keep in mind, this is a writing blog, not one focused on politics or religion or culture. Okay, well, that’s not exactly true: this is a writing blog, and writing is very much about those things.

Okay, so where am I going with such a roundabout start?

Roy Moore.

Roy Fucking Moore.

A few days ago the man was nothing more than a repugnant candidate for a short-term stint as junior senator from a state I have no intention of ever again visiting (once was enough). Honestly, I could never understand folks’ passion or support for the guy, but the whole thing was worth nothing more than a shrug.

Things changed.

Ladies and gentlemen, I shouldn’t have to say it…but apparently I do: CHARACTER MATTERS!

Support for the guy, and his regressive & repressive views, was at least semi-understandable a few days ago. But now? How could you? No, really: how the fuck could you?!

And not just support, but actively promote. Not just support, but bastardize your own faith to defend.

Even though I have said I try to keep my personal politics behind the curtain, I am pretty open about being a libertarian. It is a bit more than that, however: I am a recovering conservative.

Lest my Republican family and friends think I am just going off the political deep-end, let me point to a few folks who are still firmly in the conservative Republican camp…

The conservative, political view from Jonah Goldberg:

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve written about the unfolding corruption of conservatism these last few years, but the events of the last 24 hours have shocked me about how deep the rot goes. Forget the people who refuse to even give the heavily sourced and corroborated Washington Post account a fair reading on the tired and predictable pretense that inconvenient facts are simply proof of the conspiracy against them. What galls and astounds me are the supposedly conservative public figures arguing that even if it’s true that Moore molested a 14-year-old girl, it doesn’t matter because, well, because the Bible said it was okay or Democrats are eeeeevil or it was a long time ago. At least Roy Moore admits that the allegation is serious and has denied it.

Bless my heart, I assumed that people who are so much more sanctimonious and preachy than I am would be able to draw a line at plying 14-year-old girls with booze and molesting them, particularly when the guy they’re defending won’t even defend the behavior himself. You’d think this would be the Colonel Nicholson moment where, like Alec Guinness in Bridge on the River Kwai, they would mutter to themselves, “My God, what have I done?” and collapse to the ground.

Now, my formal, personal faith may have lapsed, but I am still a…well, I suppose you would have to call me a deist. Somewhere deep down I am still a believer, in spite of the hypocrisy of hate and intolerance that drove me from the church. With that in mind, let me give a view from that corner of the ring, as well.

The evangelical, religious view from David French:

Consider the challenge here: A king is told to shun a military alliance with a pagan power and to face death and destruction alone, trusting solely in God’s deliverance. I never forgot the lesson. I remembered the admonitions of Sunday-school teachers, my Bible professors at college, and my pastors: Christians, never forget, our ultimate hope is in the Lord. Be wary of an alliance with evil, even when the need seems overwhelming.

Obviously, these fools didn’t understand the importance of electing a junior senator from Alabama to fill out a partial term of office. Sure, Hezekiah faced the Assyrians, but by golly we face Doug Jones. We’ve got no choice but to ally with a dangerous, unfit man — a man who proclaims Christianity while systematically violating the law, seeks to deny the most basic civil rights to his fellow citizens, and now faces heavily sourced and corroborated claims of past sexual misconduct with minors.

I keep hearing these words from Evangelicals: We’ve got no choice. The Democrats are after our liberties. They’re seeking to destroy our way of life. Some even go so far as to say that even if the allegations against Moore are true, they’ll still hold their nose and put him in office to keep Jones from serving three years in the Senate.

I’m sorry Evangelicals, but your lack of faith is far more dangerous to the Church than any senator, any president, or any justice of the Supreme Court. Do you really have so little trust in God that you believe it’s justifiable — no, necessary — to ally with, defend, and even embrace corrupt men if it you think it will save the Church?

I’m beginning to realize that countless older Christians misled their kids and grandkids. They said that moral character matters in politicians. They said they were building a movement based around ideas and principles, not power and party. They said those things right up until the moment when holding firm to their convictions risked handing Hillary Clinton the presidency, and at that point the dam broke. Now, they’re willing to sell out for a lousy Alabama Senate seat.

The bottom line? Through word and deed they chose to trust bad men and not a holy God. Some apply double standards, granting the benefit of the doubt to ideological allies even as they condemn their opponents. Others distort biblical stories to rationalize their alliances. It was bad enough to see Donald Trump compared to King David. Now we have to endure an Alabama official’s comparison of Roy Moore to Joseph.

Who represents us, who we vote for, matters. It matters a great deal.

I don’t care how committed a Republican you are, there is simply no defensible way to put party over person and still maintain your integrity. If you are willing to support and vote for Roy Moore because you believe in him — in the entirety of him, mind you! — then that is your choice. It’s not one I can agree with, but I do understand.

On the other hand, if you are willing to sacrifice honor and morals to vote for the “lesser of two evils” simply because he is on your “team”, then you are a very, very big part of the problem.