Racial discrimination is in today’s news after the shooting of teenager Antwon Rose in East Pittsburgh. Religious discrimination has been in the news with the recent Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court ruling.
Gender-based discrimination has been much-discussed with Saudi Arabia’s recent decision to allow women to drive. Socioeconomic discrimination is a fact of life in many cultures around the world.
Now there’s a new kind of discrimination in the news.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders has served as President Trump’s press secretary since July 2017. She made headlines over the weekend when she was refused service by a restaurant in Lexington, Virginia.
The issue was not her race, her religious commitments, her gender, or her social or economic status. It had to do with her political positions. In her job, she explains and defends the president’s beliefs and actions on various issues.
Sanders was asked to leave the Red Hen specifically because the owner and some of her employees disagreed with some of these political positions.
Is political discrimination legal?
Disparaging people on the basis of their political beliefs happens routinely on late-night television and in the news. For instance, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and White House senior advisor Stephen Miller were recently heckled at restaurants by protesters objecting to the administration’s “zero tolerance” border policy.
But they were not refused service by the restaurants’ owners.
This is not the first example of political discrimination in the news. An internet marketing company announced after the 2016 election that it would “no longer do business with any person that is a registered Republican or supports Donald Trump.”
In April, a judge rejected a lawsuit brought by a man who claimed he was refused service in a New York City bar because he was wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat. The judge stated that the law doesn’t protect against political discrimination.
The ACLU claims that the First Amendment “does not give a commercial business license to offer services to the general public and then–in violation of a state’s public accommodation law–refuse to provide . . . services to particular customers based on their race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, age, disability, or any other characteristic” (my emphasis).
However, I could find almost no legal prohibition against such prejudice.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination by privately owned businesses on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin. It does not include political beliefs or affiliations. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lists various types of prohibited discrimination, including age, disability, religion, and sex. Political affiliation and/or beliefs is not on the list.
A former attorney writing for CNN states that “from a legal point of view, a person can be asked to leave a privately owned establishment because of their political views.”
Will political discrimination against Christians escalate?
My purpose this morning is not partisan. I would write the same article if a business had refused service because a customer espoused Democratic Party positions.
Rather, I am writing to alert Christians to the possibility that we may face prejudice from businesses who cite our political beliefs but are actually discriminating against our religious convictions. So long as religious discrimination is illegal but political discrimination is legal, it is plausible that a business owner would use the latter to accomplish the former.
For example, I am an evangelical Christian whose religious beliefs lead me to oppose the Supreme Court’s decisions legalizing same-sex marriage and abortion. Could a business owner who supports gay marriage or abortion refuse to serve me on the basis of my political positions on these issues?
Of course, the converse is plausible as well. For instance, could an evangelical Christian refuse to serve an atheist who supports legalized euthanasia? The owner’s stated objection could be political when his or her actual motivation is religious.
Here’s the bottom line: political discrimination against customers is likely to escalate in the US. And Christians who apply their religious beliefs to political issues are especially likely to face such prejudice.
“We are the sermons the world is heeding”
We could respond by segregating our faith from our political engagement. However, since the Bible speaks to every dimension of life, this would force us to ignore much of God’s word or to reject our Lord’s call to speak his truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
A better approach is to speak truth to culture whatever the cost. Such courage stands in the tradition of Moses before Pharaoh, Nathan before King David, Daniel before Darius, and Peter before the Sanhedrin.
Every person we know deserves to know the word and will of God on the issues of our day. Billy Graham, no stranger to criticism from our post-Christian culture, reminded us: “We are the Bibles the world is reading; we are the creeds the world is needing; we are the sermons the world is heeding.”