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Editorial: Who can pick their customers? Depends who you ask
Same freedom to choose should apply evenly to gun makers, cake bakers
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Gary Ramey, center right, president of Honor Defense, a Gainesville-based pistol manufacturer, speaks during a press conference in Gainesville, on Tuesday, June 19, 2018. Honor Defense was dropped by its payment processing services, Stripe and Intuit, due to the company's involvement in the firearms industry. - photo by David Barnes

Here’s a riddle on free markets, free choice and how the rule of law applies to charges of discrimination:

Company A makes a conscious decision not to do business with Party B on ideological grounds. Party B claims discrimination, saying its legal activity shouldn’t be punished by such a refusal. Company A says it retains the right to choose with whom to conduct business.

Which side is right? Apparently, that view depends on which side of the political fence one grazes. Two recent cases, similar at their root despite differences, have sparked conflicting reactions.

Here are the stories that fit the scenario. The first was the case of the Colorado baker sued by a same-sex couple when he chose not to make their wedding cake because their nuptials clashed with his religious beliefs. The case made it to the Supreme Court and the justices ruled in his favor, mostly because they felt a state agency acted unfairly toward him while hearing his case.

The second scenario occurred this week in Gainesville, where  gun manufacturer Honor Defense was dropped by two companies managing its credit card accounts, damaging its ability to conduct online sales. The companies offered varied explanations, one saying the policy wasn’t based on an anti-gun philosophy but on all industries heavily regulated by the government. Yet according to local gun dealers, such practice has become widespread among businesses seeking to distance themselves from the makers and sellers of firearms, including banks, PayPal and Facebook.

Despite the similar threads to these cases, they apparently look quite different through the prism of politics. While many social conservatives rallied to the cause of the baker and his right to turn down a job that conflicted with his faith, they oppose rejection of the gun maker by financial service firms. Similarly, those on the left aghast at the ruling in the Colorado case likely applaud stonewalling gun suppliers. 

As the sun follows the moon, it’s the yin and yang of the times.

Georgia’s Republican candidates for governor, Casey Cagle and Brian Kemp, in their ongoing attempt to outflank each other over Second Amendment protections, sided with Honor Defense against the payment processors by promising to strengthen an existing state law, or pass a new one, to prohibit discriminatory actions against those who trade in weapons.

Cagle decried a “social agenda” against firearms businesses. That may be true, but is it against the law? Or should a business be required to violate its principles and accept customers it doesn’t want, the very reason both Cagle and Kemp applauded the baker decision? 

Is a conscientious objection only allowed if it’s based on faith and not other deeply held beliefs?

To us, this seems to be a “good for the goose, good for the gander” equation. Either a business has the right to select its customers or it doesn’t. While laws prohibit discrimination for race, nationality or other characteristics of identity — meaning anyone should be able to buy a chicken sandwich, regardless of who they are — the freedom of a business owner to shy away from customers whose ideals it does not endorse falls into the grayest of gray areas. 

For instance, if a neo-Nazi group wants to purchase air time on a local TV station to broadcast its views, can that station not turn it down? Where is the line drawn?

In the Colorado case, the conflict was over the baker’s religious liberty versus the couple’s freedom from discrimination. But in a practical sense, one bake shop denying a couple a cake doesn’t limit their ability to buy a cake elsewhere. Businesses of all kinds turn down customers for various reasons, and few such cases end up in court. Most times, those who can’t buy something in one place will spend their money elsewhere and no harm is done.

The gun maker case is a bit more involved in that both weapons makers and financial payment providers are heavily regulated by the government. But the core principle remains the same: Do the payment processors have to serve a business they prefer to avoid?

From a legal standpoint, it’s a murky area and requires thoughtful consideration from jurists on how to apply the Constitution fairly to all parties. The court appeared to do so in the Colorado case, by a 7-2 vote that crossed ideological lines.

But when it comes to politics,  the formula is much simpler. If the main goal in a GOP primary race is to appeal to voters based on social conservative positions that are pro-Second Amendment and pro-religious liberty, it’s a no-brainer to side with both the gun maker and the wedding cake baker, even if those positions clash. Lawyers making a case in court need to apply the law through clear facts, but nothing so logical factors into candidates’ quest for votes.

We believe in free enterprise and its ability to adjust to supply and demand when left on its own. Same-sex couples who are denied services by those who object to their union likely will find a new cottage industry of bakers, florists and wedding planners eager to earn their business. No one should have to compromise their ideals when such a remedy is a win-win for everyone.

Likewise, if certain financial services seek to distance themselves from weapons companies, new ventures likely will step up to fill that role and earn those customers. If there’s a need, someone will fill it. That’s how the free market works.

If only politics were nearly as rational.

Share your thoughts on this or any other topic in a letter to the editor; you can use this form or send email to The Times editorial board includes General Manager Norman Baggs, Executive Editor Keith Albertson and Director of Content Shannon Casas, plus community members Susan DeCrescenzo, Cathy Drerup and Brent Hoffman.

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