Freedom to Discriminate

Anirudh asked:

What about a hospital that denies treatment to a person based on their race/religion? What about a hospital that agrees to treatment or waive off the bill, subject to the condition that the customer convert to their religion?

That was in response to my post on “Anti-discrimination Laws” where I stated my position on the matter  —

I have two, and only two, rules with regards to discrimination: First is that every entity (individual and collective) should have the freedom to discriminate to its heart’s content without interference from third parties. The second is that the government must be strictly forbidden to discriminate against any person or group.

I address Anirudh’s hypothetical cases using those two rules. Hospitals and their clients are free to engage in trade. Third parties, including the government, have no legitimate excuse to interfere.

Laws that force service providers to engage in trade must not be permitted. If a bakery refuses to sell cake to someone it should be free to do so. This case happened in the US.

The Supreme Court on Monday threw out a ruling against two Oregon bakers who refused to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple.

The couple, Melissa and Aaron Klein, cited religious beliefs as their reason for not providing services for a gay wedding. This touched off the latest in a series of such cases making headlines in recent years. During the court’s last term, justices ruled in favor of a Colorado baker in a similar situation, stating that a state body demonstrated improper hostility toward the baker’s religion in finding that he violated a state anti-discrimination law. [Source.]

I agree with the Supreme Court ruling. Not something that I usually do.

I see the freedom to choose one’s religion as a natural right. In a free society, a person’s beliefs are his business, nobody else’s. And so also, it’s a person’s right to  refuse to do business with people based on their religion.

What I would object to is when a person’s religious beliefs impinge on people’s property rights. Cat Stevens converted and became Yusuf Islam. No problem. The problem is that he then endorsed the killing of Salman Rushdie. Muslims must be free to do their namaz — but only on their property.

What I object to is government discriminating for or against people based on their religion. This happens in India. The government hands out stuff to people of certain religions and denies that to other people. The astounding fact is that the public accepts this without any protest. The conclusion that I draw is that in general Indians don’t care about decency, fairness and justice.

There is a reason that I fully support the right of private parties to discriminate against whomever they wish, and I am irreconcilably opposed to the government discriminating among citizens based on caste, sex, religion, ethnicity, etc. The reason simply is that private citizens are not allowed to impose their will on others at the point of a gun, while the government uses guns to impose every one of its innumerable demands on people.

Thanks to Anirudh for the questions that motivated these two pieces.

Post Script: While I was writing this, I note that Ghost of Hamlet has posted a comment. I agree. Thanks.

Author: Atanu Dey

Economist.

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