I’m writing to respond to Jon Alexander’s column, “The right to be awful.” I usually agree with Jon Alexander and even in this column, I agree with most of what he says. Where I disagree is his contention that a proprietor has the right to refuse service to anyone. I know that’s posted in some businesses and while I don’t think it’s legislated anywhere, I believe it usually refers to people who disturb the peace or don’t pay their bill or risk the public health. If it referred to classes of people, I think we would still be burdened with, as Rabbi Karp recalled, signs in front windows proclaiming “Whites only” or “No colored allowed”.
Jack Phillips opened a business as a bakery. He was solicited to bake a cake. Using words like “artist," “create” and “custom” is like putting lipstick on a pig. It doesn’t change anything. He bakes cakes and it shouldn’t matter who they are for. Sure, some of those may be hard to swallow, but that's one of the costs of doing business. It shouldn’t matter whether Mr. Phillips’ customers are gay, Jewish, African-American, female, Aryan, Irish, pro-choice, or they don’t brush their teeth twice a day. Baking a cake for any of them does not prevent him from practicing his religion. He can still go to church or Temple or the mosque, he can still pray, he can still sing in the choir, he can still tithe. He’s not prevented from doing anything he did before he sold the cake. If selling cakes to the public offends his conscience, he shouldn’t sell cakes.
I don’t think we want to return to the mid-century days of signs in the windows listing those who will or will not be allowed to patronize the establishment. If you’re going to open a business, serve everyone. If you’re not going to serve everyone, don’t serve anyone.