When can you say "no"?

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When can you say "no"?

Postby Rian » Fri Jan 08, 2016 11:08 pm

An issue that came up during the gay/traditional marriage debate was a photographer and a baker refusing to contract their services to gay couples wishing to marry/solemnize their unions, and it made me wonder about the broader question - what reason/reasons (if any) are valid for a business person to refuse their services to someone?

I certainly don't think that a doctor or restaurant owner, for example, should refuse services to people on the basis of their beliefs, but I hesitate to extend that to the more artistic/personal fields like photography and decorative food (as opposed to just a restaurant that puts out uniform food items). I feel that a baker who has had bad experiences with drinking would be within his rights for refusing to decorate cakes for a frat party if he was asked by the frat boys to put various drinking phrases on it. I also feel that a photographer would be justified in refusing to photograph a wedding between a barely-legal-age girl and a much older man if he feels it's not a good thing.

What do you guys think? Should businesses that involve some level of artistic involvement (IOW, a piece of the artist, in a sense) be able to turn down requests merely because they don't think the issue involved is a good one?
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Re: When can you say "no"?

Postby Og3 » Sun Jan 10, 2016 2:31 am

To clarify -- the baker in question in the much-publicized article had baked many goods for the couple who wanted the cake; she drew the line only at a wedding cake with two women on it. That DID violate her beliefs; A generic wedding cake with no symbols or writing would not have.

Take, for example, the demand made by a KKK group in the 1970s, that they be permitted to hold a parade in Skokie, Ill., a town that was predominantly Jewish. Did the KKK have the first amendment right to demand that the City Council give them a permit for a parade, even though the messages expressed by that parade were anathema to the town's citizens, and even though the permit would imply the city council's tacit approval of those messages? The parade DID violate the town's beliefs, and the parade was permitted. But was that the right decision?

In my opinion, you (plural, i.e. all of you) have the right to hold any opinion you choose, however abhorrent I find that opinion. You have the right to express that opinion. You do not, however, have the right to involve me in that opinion, or to imply that I approve or condone your opinion. You do not have the right to demand that I participate in your expression of your opinions.

You can send a letter to the editor; It's the editor's right to print them or refuse them. You can offer a contract to have books printed; it is the printer's right to refuse to print them. That's my opinion, you understand; where the law stands on the issue is someone else's concern.

But for my part, I would have the editor print the letters. I would have the printer print the books. I would have all ideas set forth upon a level field, and to permit the public to choose those ideas that they best like -- hopefully, the ideas which are the more logical and the more forceful. Despite the foolishness of individuals, there does tend to be a wisdom in crowds in some areas. Let people vote with their feet.

Let all ideas fight it out, and damned be he that first cries "Hold, Enough!"
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Re: When can you say "no"?

Postby Particles » Tue Jan 12, 2016 5:49 pm

Og3 wrote:To clarify -- the baker in question in the much-publicized article had baked many goods for the couple who wanted the cake; she drew the line only at a wedding cake with two women on it. That DID violate her beliefs; A generic wedding cake with no symbols or writing would not have.


If you're referring to the Oregon case, that's not true. There was no request for symbols or writing before the woman was refused. The woman came in for a cake tasting and as soon as the proprietor found out she was marrying another woman, he told her they wouldn't do it.
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Re: When can you say "no"?

Postby Og3 » Tue Jan 12, 2016 11:03 pm

Particles wrote:
Og3 wrote:To clarify -- the baker in question in the much-publicized article had baked many goods for the couple who wanted the cake; she drew the line only at a wedding cake with two women on it. That DID violate her beliefs; A generic wedding cake with no symbols or writing would not have.

If you're referring to the Oregon case, that's not true. There was no request for symbols or writing before the woman was refused. The woman came in for a cake tasting and as soon as the proprietor found out she was marrying another woman, he told her they wouldn't do it.

In that case the question would be whether a person may randomly refuse business.

Am I compelled to sell a car that I have offered for sale to any person who comes to me with the asking price?

Am I compelled to act as the defense attorney for any person who offers to pay my hourly rate?

Am I compelled to perform any surgery on any patient, regardless of health or other conditions, who can pay my hourly rates?

And I compelled to [insert-transaction] for anyone who can pay for it?
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Re: When can you say "no"?

Postby Rian » Thu Jan 14, 2016 12:06 am

Particles wrote:
Og3 wrote:To clarify -- the baker in question in the much-publicized article had baked many goods for the couple who wanted the cake; she drew the line only at a wedding cake with two women on it. That DID violate her beliefs; A generic wedding cake with no symbols or writing would not have.


If you're referring to the Oregon case, that's not true. There was no request for symbols or writing before the woman was refused. The woman came in for a cake tasting and as soon as the proprietor found out she was marrying another woman, he told her they wouldn't do it.
Just to be accurate - do you know that for sure? Do you know that there wasn't an understanding that it would involve custom decoration?

Anyway, I don't have a firm opinion on it; that's why I'm thinking it through "out loud" here. I imagine that bakers have turned down cake decoration suggestions before. I was trying to think of examples of where personal artistry isn't involved, and I finally came up with one - where a dinner catering service would be asked for, say, a wedding dinner for a wedding between a barely-legal-age girl and a much, much older man where there appears to be undue coercion involved. A baker doing a custom cake or a photographer include part of themselves with their artistry, and I can see how they would refuse it. However, just a simple dinner catering doesn't involve personal artistry, yet I can see the restauranteur refusing to cater the event.

That just made the issue more complex, because I was thinking that it hinged on artistry and how it involves the artist ...

Anyway, thinking out loud ...
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Re: When can you say "no"?

Postby Particles » Thu Jan 14, 2016 1:29 am

Rian wrote:
Particles wrote:
Og3 wrote:To clarify -- the baker in question in the much-publicized article had baked many goods for the couple who wanted the cake; she drew the line only at a wedding cake with two women on it. That DID violate her beliefs; A generic wedding cake with no symbols or writing would not have.


If you're referring to the Oregon case, that's not true. There was no request for symbols or writing before the woman was refused. The woman came in for a cake tasting and as soon as the proprietor found out she was marrying another woman, he told her they wouldn't do it.
Just to be accurate - do you know that for sure? Do you
know that there wasn't an understanding that it would involve custom decoration?


Yes. Both sides agree on the basic facts of what happened when the woman came in for the tasting. Most wedding cakes don't even have writing anyway. I don't know of any case where a business in the US was legally sanctioned for not writing something. See for example, Christian print shop wins discrimination case

I personally do agree businesses shouldn't be compelled to produce items with expressions that they don't condone, but if it's something they already willingly provide to customers, they shouldn't be allowed to refuse the same service to others just because of who they are.

Anyway, I don't have a firm opinion on it; that's why I'm thinking it through "out loud" here. I imagine that bakers have turned down cake decoration suggestions before. I was trying to think of examples of where rsonal artistry isn't involved, and I finally came up with one - where a dinner catering service would be asked for, say, a wedding dinner for a wedding betwepeen a barely-legal-age girl and a much, much older man where there appears to be undue coercion involved. A baker doing a custom cake or a photographer include part of themselves with their artistry, and I can see how they would refuse it. However, just a simple dinner catering doesn't involve personal artistry, yet I can see the restauranteur refusing to cater the event.

That just made the issue more complex, because I was thinking that it hinged on artistry and how it involves the artist ...

Anyway, thinking out loud ...


I also don't think a business should be forced to actively participate on the scene of any social event outside their business premises.
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Re: When can you say "no"?

Postby Patrick Star » Thu Jan 14, 2016 8:02 pm

This is an extremely delicate and tricky question because there is no clear boundary for when such refusal can/should end. There are some reasonable expectations that could be defended. Let's say a gay couple wants to hold a totally nude wedding and insists a certain minister/photographer/caterer do their wedding. Clearly there should be no legal expectation of participating in such an event. But on the opposite side of the spectrum, let's say Minnie May runs a quaint little tea shop and a few obvious lesbians come in with expectations of having a wonderful time drinking tea, eating scones and chatting it up. Even most strong conservatives would not argue that they should be turned away even though Minnie May would not approve of their lifestyle and would prefer never to see them again. So where should the line be drawn? I would argue that it should be drawn where the proprietor's actual principles are realistically challenged by providing the service.

So how do some of these events measure up. A baker who is baking a typical wedding cake puts all the same ingredients in it as they do all their other cakes. There are no outward messages condoning or supporting same sex marriage except for the two brides atop the cake. That can be placed there by the couple after the cake is delivered. So in my opinion, this service does not challenge someone's principles at all.

What about a Southern Baptist minister who is asked to perform a wedding of two men. In this case, most (all) such ministers would be breaking a deeply held belief that this service is in direct violation of their religious beliefs, so I would support the minister's refusal to perform such a service even though I still have almost no respect for his intolerant beliefs.

What about a photographer asked to photograph a couple such as Rian described, an old man and a "barely legal" girl. I think in this case the key issue is legality, regardless of how "barely" it is. One can't be barely pregnant and one can't be barely of age; they are both discrete states; you either are or you are not. So regardless of whether the photographer approves of the arrangement, I don't think it's reasonable grounds for him to refuse.

But what if a photographer is asked to photograph the wedding of his ex-wife and his ex-best friend (hint hint)? In this case there's nothing regarding is personal principles at stake, but there is his own discomfort because of the personal nature of the circumstances, so I would support him for declining, although if it were me I think I would accept and produce the absolute worst set of wedding photos the world had ever seen. :wink:

Now, having said all that, I do think there's a lot to be said for having a good relationship with people, so if it were clear to me that someone was uncomfortable providing a service to me for any reason, as long as they were respectful about it, I would probably just seek out someone who was more comfortable with it. But I might just spread the word around about their bigotry as well.
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Re: When can you say "no"?

Postby Rian » Fri Jan 15, 2016 5:11 pm

Patrick Star wrote:This is an extremely delicate and tricky question because there is no clear boundary for when such refusal can/should end.

Yes, and it involves people's rights on both sides of the question. The legal issues are complex, because the US is so strong on personal freedom, but also very strong on equality.

(and another related issue - things like men's clubs and women's clubs. Often women, historically the disadvantaged party, wish to have women's clubs, but informal business was being done in men's clubs, to which they did not have access. Should, then, women be allowed in men's clubs, but not the other way around?)

There are some reasonable expectations that could be defended. Let's say a gay couple wants to hold a totally nude wedding and insists a certain minister/photographer/caterer do their wedding. Clearly there should be no legal expectation of participating in such an event. But on the opposite side of the spectrum, let's say Minnie May runs a quaint little tea shop and a few obvious lesbians come in with expectations of having a wonderful time drinking tea, eating scones and chatting it up. Even most strong conservatives would not argue that they should be turned away even though Minnie May would not approve of their lifestyle and would prefer never to see them again. So where should the line be drawn? I would argue that it should be drawn where the proprietor's actual principles are realistically challenged by providing the service.
That sounds reasonable, but the problem is in the definition - the proprietor would say it's in one place, while the customer would say it's in another. Being the engineer that I am, this lack of a precise definition is frustrating!

So how do some of these events measure up. A baker who is baking a typical wedding cake puts all the same ingredients in it as they do all their other cakes. There are no outward messages condoning or supporting same sex marriage except for the two brides atop the cake. That can be placed there by the couple after the cake is delivered. So in my opinion, this service does not challenge someone's principles at all.
I would say that if it's a standard cake, then yes, I agree. But if it's a custom cake, that's where it gets into a grey area, IMO, because it's personally involving the baker.

What about a Southern Baptist minister who is asked to perform a wedding of two men. In this case, most (all) such ministers would be breaking a deeply held belief that this service is in direct violation of their religious beliefs, so I would support the minister's refusal to perform such a service even though I still have almost no respect for his intolerant beliefs.

I think that as long as the church was consistent and said that they only perform ceremonies for people that agree with their beliefs, then I'm good with that.

What about a photographer asked to photograph a couple such as Rian described, an old man and a "barely legal" girl. I think in this case the key issue is legality, regardless of how "barely" it is. One can't be barely pregnant and one can't be barely of age; they are both discrete states; you either are or you are not. So regardless of whether the photographer approves of the arrangement, I don't think it's reasonable grounds for him to refuse.
Yes, you're either of legal age or not, but the point (that I didn't make clearly) was that that age is different in different states, meaning that people have different opinions about what it SHOULD be. So it's not a matter of legality in the mind of the photographer; it's a matter of his supporting something that he doesn't think is right. I wonder if this has happened, and what would happen if it did?

But what if a photographer is asked to photograph the wedding of his ex-wife and his ex-best friend (hint hint)? In this case there's nothing regarding is personal principles at stake, but there is his own discomfort because of the personal nature of the circumstances, so I would support him for declining ...

I hadn't thought of that example - that's a good one. It's a different angle on the question.

... although if it were me I think I would accept and produce the absolute worst set of wedding photos the world had ever seen. :wink:

LOL! :D

Now, having said all that, I do think there's a lot to be said for having a good relationship with people, so if it were clear to me that someone was uncomfortable providing a service to me for any reason, as long as they were respectful about it, I would probably just seek out someone who was more comfortable with it. But I might just spread the word around about their bigotry as well.
I think that's how I would handle it.

Thanks for your input and examples!
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Re: When can you say "no"?

Postby Patrick Star » Sun Jan 17, 2016 9:41 am

Rian wrote:(and another related issue - things like men's clubs and women's clubs. Often women, historically the disadvantaged party, wish to have women's clubs, but informal business was being done in men's clubs, to which they did not have access. Should, then, women be allowed in men's clubs, but not the other way around?)


That's an interesting aside. I had no idea women had proposed "women's clubs" and I admit I'm pretty ignorant on the whole concept of "men's clubs". I was under the impression that they were a product of a bygone era. As an idea, I find them ridiculous. As they relate to the business world, I find the idea that men can congregate in a forum that restricts women's access and do business, thus effectively blocking access to women to compete, to be sexist and illegal, but that's my opinion. I'm something of an extremist when it comes to equality and I feel there should be nearly no boundary whatsoever between what women and men can do. In fact, I'm so ridiculous that I see no reason to deny men and women to directly compete in sports. It's not a clean and neat position but it's my position.

That sounds reasonable, but the problem is in the definition - the proprietor would say it's in one place, while the customer would say it's in another. Being the engineer that I am, this lack of a precise definition is frustrating!


Actually I think determining that can be pretty simple. Each side will obviously present their argument to favor themselves but it's usually easy to determine the real intention of someone's actions in a case like this. I read where a very popular pizza restaurant owner stated publicly that he would never cater a homosexual wedding. This case is easy. Supplying pizza to anyone, regardless of their sexuality, does not present a real challenge to your religious beliefs. The owner is just using his business as a platform for expressing his intolerance of one class of people. He could just as easily say this about anyone with middle eastern heritage or anyone who earns less than $50,000 a year. Providing pizza is exactly the same regardless. So you have to consider what the service actually requires. Does the activity involve the person's actual principles in any way? Let's say a person is a misuse and they are asked to give a massage to a homosexual man. Is this man's flesh any different than anyone else? No. You should continue that line of thinking until you reach a point at which the service requires the person to do something that actually conflicts with their values or beliefs, like the minister example I offered. That one is real and I would fully support his refusal.

I would say that if it's a standard cake, then yes, I agree. But if it's a custom cake, that's where it gets into a grey area, IMO, because it's personally involving the baker.


Sure, if the cake was expected to be an obvious celebration of homosexuality, then I would agree, that crosses the line. That would be like asking a painter who is a Christian to paint a portrait of Jesus sucking another man's penis. No way can you ask that. But what if you are just asking him to paint a portrait of a female couple who happen to be lesbians? Nothing explicit, just a nice portrait.

I think that as long as the church was consistent and said that they only perform ceremonies for people that agree with their beliefs, then I'm good with that.


I agree and that's typically what churches and ministers do. If a different kind of ceremony is needed, there are plenty of alternatives. But, as you say, if suddenly we discover that the minister is performing other ceremonies that conflict with his beliefs then clearly there's something wrong.

What about a photographer asked to photograph a couple such as Rian described, an old man and a "barely legal" girl. I think in this case the key issue is legality, regardless of how "barely" it is. One can't be barely pregnant and one can't be barely of age; they are both discrete states; you either are or you are not. So regardless of whether the photographer approves of the arrangement, I don't think it's reasonable grounds for him to refuse.


Yes, you're either of legal age or not, but the point (that I didn't make clearly) was that that age is different in different states, meaning that people have different opinions about what it SHOULD be. So it's not a matter of legality in the mind of the photographer; it's a matter of his supporting something that he doesn't think is right. I wonder if this has happened, and what would happen if it did?


Taking the state variations out of it, just consider Massachusetts. Believe it or not, 12 is the lower age limit with parental or judicial consent for women (girls). Ok, I find that to be objectionable. But it is legal, so there's no legal leg to stand on and there's no principle to stand on either because the photographer is not providing any service or action that is against his beliefs. Taking pictures is not against his beliefs; he just objects to this age thing (as I would). So I don't think he has any legal justification for refusal. If they asked him to take nude pictures of the couple, that could cross the line because his beliefs of nudity and pornography would come into play. Now he also has the option to express his own opinions about the matter and the 1st amendment protects him in that. He is free to expound all he wants about how wrong this is and his objections might have some results because it could bring the issue to the public awareness and we might find that more people object to this, so before you know it the law could change.

Oh, and btw, why are the age limits different for men and women in many states? That seems like an antiquated law.

Thanks for your input and examples!


You're quite welcome.
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