Monday, June 10, 2013

Thought Experiment

     Try this one on for size:  A hypothetical couple of citizens -- let's call them Howie and Fatima Ali, devout Muslims from Kansas City, sponsors of a Little League team and a Cub Scout den -- have an ice cream shop.  A skinny kid wearing a T-shirt and jeans, hair in a kind of bowl-cut, sits down at the counter and orders a banana split.

     Howie starts to make one, then turns around and has a closer look.  "Hey!  You're a girl!"

     "Umm, yeah.  So what?"

     "We don't serve unescorted females here."


     "It's offensive to our religion."

     She leaves in a huff and Howie's peeved, too.  She files a lawsuit under her state's Public Accomodation laws.

    Howie and Fatima go to the press, talking about how this lawsuit and the Public Accommodation law itself are part and parcel of the ongoing assault against their religion.  Look at all the good things they do!  Besides, they point out, theirs is not the only soda fountain in town.  She could've gone to another one.

*  *  *

     Are Howie and Fatima wanting their religion pandered to?  Is the refused customer a jerk to sue over a dessert?  Should the law require businesses open to the public to refrain from discriminating for anything except sanitation and safety?

     Personally, I'm not too comfy with such laws -- though the older ones, which use sweeping language calling for the same goods and services to be made equally available to every customer, are not without merit  -- but I'm totally against nasty surprises; if you aren't going to serve dogs, Irishmen or Unitarians, you should damned well hang a sign on the door and accept the lost customers, organized boycotts and occasional sidewalk picketer as the price of following your inner light[1] or religious strictures[2].  Nevertheless, as long as such laws are on the books, I'm opposed to handing out special exemptions to them for prejudiced behavior, even when motivated by religion.

     This is of slightly more than academic interest to me.  Blue-eyed blonde that I am, I'm the result of a mixed marriage.  There's no way to be sure just what "race" the 19th-Century ancestor was who gave my dad jet-black hair, dark hazel eyes and an olive-to-red/bronze complexion, though Native American and African-American are about equally likely.  (He resembled Saddam Hussein!)  Growing up, when we went on vacation, there were places where my very fair mother and very not-fair dad got sidelong looks and substandard service, businesses that were "just closing" at odd times when we walked in the door.  That kind of thing sucks and even a little of it leaves a mark. (And, BTW, if you have a problem with my more-than-one-drop?  Get lost.  Now.)

     Comments are off.  The only debate that needs to be had is the one you have with yourself.  How would you handle it, were you Howie and Fatima or their customer? What if you were an onlooker?
1. However dim it might be.
2. Ditto.