By Bryan Fulwider
Unless you’ve been living in a subterranean cavern totally cut off from all contact with society, you’ve heard how President Donald Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, was refused service at a restaurant in the little town of Lexington, Va.
Conservatives are making a big deal of it. And so they should. Because such refusal is indeed a big deal.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no fan of the Huckabee brand. When Sarah was a youth in Little Rock, Ark., and her father was governor of the state, and I was a pastor there, I spent a lot of time in front of the governor’s mansion and at the state Capitol inveighing against an array of decisions her father made that I felt were contrary to both the gospel of Jesus Christ and the principles on which our great nation was founded.
And Sanders’ own public performance suggests that the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree. Not only does she unflinchingly back a presidential agenda that’s routinely at odds with the very essence of what made the United States of America great in the first place, but her inability to tell the truth is truly mind-boggling.
However — and this is a truth that liberals and conservatives, Christians and atheists, and those of every other label need to grasp: No matter how much I may disagree with Sanders’ ideology, disapprove of her behavior and dislike what I feel she and her ilk are doing to the very fabric of American society, if I’m a business owner, I still should serve her. Just as Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, should have made a cake for his would-be clients who were gay.
Certainly, the United States is deeply committed to the rights of the individual. As individuals, we’re free to think what we will. And to a great degree, we’re free to act on our thinking. But when it comes to basic civil rights, individual liberties must become subservient to larger societal concerns and values. One person’s individual freedoms must not impinge unduly on the individual freedoms (i.e. rights) of others.
Society is a web of interconnectedness and interdependence. And because we’re so intertwined, we have certain reasonable expectations of all businesses.
The reality is that tax dollars contributed by citizens play a role in making businesses viable. Tax dollars provide much infrastructure, without which commerce would be difficult if not impossible. Tax dollars often fund low-interest loans so businesses can get started or continue to thrive.
And since, in varying degrees, most of us subscribe to the adage that the one who pays the piper calls the tune, we’re not willing to see businesses that we “subsidize” allowed to discriminate against specific individuals or groups — whether it’s happening at the Red Hen restaurant or Masterpiece Cakeshop.
It’s truly hypocritical if I as a liberal decry the refusal of a cake designer to serve a gay couple because he truly believes that gays are headed to hell, if I in turn am unwilling to provide service to a public figure who I feel just as strongly is helping to drag all of us into a figurative hell.
In the Bible — which seems to be quoted a lot of late — I read these words from Jesus: “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
The Rev. Bryan Fulwider, one of The Three Wise Guys one the radio program “Friends Talking Faith,” is chair of the executive committee of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.