A sequel to yesterday’s Reuters poll. Again, the most politically salient question, whether Christian business owners should be able to deny service for gay weddings specifically, is conspicuously left out of this survey. (You get three guesses why and the first two don’t count.) But then, RFRA laws aren’t limited to gay weddings either. Theoretically they provide a religious defense to any discrimination lawsuit, not just one involving marriage. What’s useful about these polls is seeing which side the public thinks should prevail in those lawsuits, at least in cases involving a total denial of service to a particular group. (Not only are there no cases like that out there right now, no RFRA statute has ever been used successfully as a defense to discrimination.) Verdict: Even the “very religious” say antidiscrimination laws should trump religious liberty when it comes to turning an entire group away categorically:
There’s the old paradox at work — Americans broadly support the right of business owners to refuse service for any reason, but once you specify that the reason might involve some personal objection to a historically disfavored group, the numbers flip. Interestingly, when asked whether eliminating discrimination or protecting religious liberty is more important to them, 59 percent of “very religious” voters say the latter versus just 35 percent who say the former. In theory, they want the business owner’s religious liberty right to trump the gay customer’s right to be served. But not in practice, when you ask them about that specific scenario.
Needless to say, the “you can’t refuse service to someone because of who they are” rule doesn’t apply to every group. Here’s what happened when YouGov asked whether a religious business owner should be able to turn away a member of a hate group like the KKK. Top line is “should,” second line is “should not,” third is “not sure”:
The groups most supportive of the business owner’s right to tell the Klansman, “Hit the bricks, scumbag”: Conservatives and Republicans, whom the media would have you believe belong to a party that is itself one big klavern. Democrats can’t even get to 50 percent support and liberals actually oppose the right to deny service here on balance. (Other groups with pluralities who oppose kicking the Klan out: Northeasterners, Latinos, and people who make more than $100,000 per year, although some of those subsamples could be dodgy due to high margins of error.) I assume that’s slippery-slope logic at work. Liberals could argue that it’s okay to deny service to the KKK but not to gays and lesbians because of the exceptional immorality of the first group, but codifying an “exceptional immorality” exemption to discrimination laws would be hard. They could fall back on the argument that, moral distinctions aside, joining the Klan is a choice while being gay is not, but of course not everyone agrees with the latter so that argument wouldn’t get them far. They could argue that gays have been historically disempowered until recently and therefore, like racial and religious minorities, deserve special protection from antidiscrimination laws that political groups don’t. But that argument will become increasingly hard to maintain as gays grow more powerful politically. After all, as I write this, we’re probably less than three months away from the Supreme Court granting gay-marriage supporters supreme victory. Evidently, in the interest of avoiding all those tangles and limiting exemptions to antidiscrimination laws as strictly as possible, liberals would force Memories Pizza to plate a slice of deep dish for the local Grand Dragon rather than grant them the right to turn him — and thus, potentially, some more sympathetic customer — away.