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Commerce and business interests affect all of us. When a religious belief extends into the public sphere it has the power to affect others. This has the potential to lead to discriminatory and biased behaviors toward those outside the fold. Discrimination has no place in commerce in the public sphere.

While one can argue that individual conscience and personal religious belief are protected under our Constitution, it’s more difficult to argue successfully that this is true when the “greater public” is involved.

When an individual or group is doing business, the purpose of which is to turn a profit — to gain from the buying habits or needs of the public at large — then the public is to be protected. It follows that discrimination toward shoppers and clients is suspect.

Religious belief is a personal choice. When one chooses to accept the beliefs and practices of a particular church, it does not extend to coercing others to accept them. Faith is individual in nature; it does not extend to business activities.

A nonbeliever operating a public print shop should not be allowed to turn away customers wanting religious materials produced. An atheist, Buddhist or follower of Islam should not turn away Christians from their bakery when the cake is for a Christian wedding and would feature a cross on the top.

If one enters the public sphere, intending to make a living or otherwise profit from the commerce of the public, one should be held strictly accountable to laws prohibiting discrimination and bias.

There are compelling reasons in a diverse nation, like the United States, to protect the public from discriminatory behaviors and practices. It is not just common sense and practical, it’s also the morally right thing to do.

Harmony is important. Without mutual respect and harmony in the public sphere, we risk more of the social unrest and disorder we have often witnessed.

History is not on the side of those who resist societal changes and seek to pass laws protecting the status quo. So-called “religious freedom laws” fall under this umbrella. People have the freedom to practice their religious views in the privacy of their homes and in their churches with like-minded people. It is unwise and counterproductive to attempt to extend these rights to the public sphere.

Change is the only reality, and generational change is ongoing. In the decades to come, these arguments will be long forgotten or seen as remnants of old and discarded prejudices. The younger generations, including the majority of those considering themselves evangelical Christians, support equal rights, regardless of sexual orientation, race or gender. They represent the future.

One only need listen to Pope Francis’ pronouncements to understand that even very conservative and traditional belief systems, like those of the Roman Catholic Church, are subject to change and evolution of thought. The church authorities often are the last to change, but change they do. Their viability as an institution depends upon it.

The vast majority of Catholics in developed nations support and practice birth control. Reality and the changing societal norms win in the long run. Do you really doubt that the “powers that be” will not follow suit in time? It might seem impossible now, but they will follow suit on the issue of gay marriage, too. This already has begun to occur in many mainstream Protestant churches.

Visit the antiquated views of the past, many of which were supported by Scripture and church laws and proclamations. Many were passed as “laws” in our nation’s states.

  • Forbiddance of interracial marriage.
  • Permission of slavery.
  • Statutes against various sexual practices between consenting adults.
  • Prohibition of alcohol.

One could go on and on naming deeply held convictions that have fallen into disfavor and cast away as antiquated and, indeed, immoral or unconstitutional. Younger generations see this as progress as it is happening. Eventually, all generations shake their heads and wonder how people could have been so foolish and unenlightened years ago.

It is healthier and wiser to adapt to the long-term view, to accept the generational changes that are becoming part of the fabric of our lives. Knowing when to “throw in the towel” is not a sign of weakness. Quite the contrary.

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Mike Dishnow is a member of the La Crosse Area Freethought Society


Digital news editor

Digital news editor

(16) comments


I'm with you Mike!


we could spend at least a semester on business regulatory philosophy to just skim discussions defining when/where/why governments can interfere with businesses. As a guideline, when government (representing all citizens) issues a business license, excluding service to a select group is one of the rules. "Moms Cleaning Service" type businesses generally do not need or have licenses, so do not play by the rules. "Moms" can exercise her freedom not to clean up after heterosexual male sots or all heterosexual male sots. When businesses grow into licensing it implies they have a covenant with government (all the people) to serve the public equally, including sots.


crank, good question. I don't know Bill will say but my opinion is the answer is the printer needs to print what his customer wants. They are paying him for his job, not his personal life. You open a store front you are saying come, come all. So no he doesn't now get to pick who comes in the door.

Bill O'Rights

crank-I support the laws that prohibit businesses from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex.

I believe "sex" should include sexual orientation.

What you described could legally be considered "hate speech" and I believe there is an exemption in the law for it being protected.

Now, please answer the questions I asked.


In a perfect world, we would all get along. Alas, the world is not perfect but we do usually find a way to co-exist even when we cannot get along. Forcing some issues only serves to needlessly antagonize opposing parties and create further rancor.

What if the sign at the business says "Women Only"? Yes, it's been in court and Women Only gyms lost when sued by a few trouble-making men. [shaking my head] Why? Because once upon a time some troublemaking women sued a men only fitness club, I suppose. They had to get even. Illinois and some other states have now passed legislation to permit single-sex gyms for men or women (and co-ed).

The gay wedding cake thing is absurd. If you're a baker, why in hell would you turn away business??? It's weird. Even MORE weird, if you're a gay couple, do you really want someone who has been forced to make your cake to bake your cake??? I wouldn't eat it. Would you? No, really! Remember when Minny made the chocolate pie in The Help?

Bill O'Rights

So, Crank, 2dogs, and Clarification---Please give us clear definitions of how much regulation of businesses should be allowed. (remember that many businesses are actually corporations and as such are not people).

Do you want business owners to claim, based on what they claim are their sincerely held beliefs:
1. should they be able to refuse black-skinned people to enter their premises? If so, what about refusing entry to whites, orientals, native Americans?
2. should they be able to pay female employees less than males for the same work? If so, should they be able to not hire any females?
3. Do you support any government regulation of interstate commerce? Why?


You answer mine first, Bill.

"A homosexual operating a public print shop could be forced to print hateful, anti-gay materials. Shouldn't they be permitted to say, "Sorry, find another print shop."?

Bill O'Rights

crank--I posted my answer in the space above this but here it is again.

crank-I support the laws that prohibit businesses from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex.

I believe "sex" should include sexual orientation.

What you described could legally be considered "hate speech" and I believe there is an exemption in the law for it being protected.

Now, please answer the questions I asked.


There is no exemption in the law for "hate speech" and such expressions are protected by the 1st Amendment. Case law has confirmed there is no such exemption despite your belief. The only exception is when speech promotes imminent violence or would cause a riot.

You did NOT answer my question but I will answer yours.

1. No... (orientals? Really?)
2. Yes. Likewise, they should also be able to pay females more than males if they choose. The presence or absence of a vagina is not the only factor determining compensation.
3. Yes... Given the 1000 character limit of comments and the factious, nonspecific tone of your responses, I expect you have no real interest in what I have to say about interstate commerce.

Will you answer my question now, Bill? You seem to be avoiding it. Would you require a homosexual print shop owner to print anti-gay literature? Be truthful...yes or no.

Bill O'Rights

crank--to answer you again, using terms you may better understand, ""no" if it is hateful and presumably calling on hateful actions against gays (or some other demographic group). "Yes" in cases not calling for hateful actions.


While Mr. Dishnow does make excellent points and I generally agree but the principle of liberty should permit one to make decisions regarding ones business.

Further, the right to refuse service to anyone can be used as a method to express ones views publicly and take a stand just as others are permitted to express theirs publicly. A bakery owner who turns away business from Christians or gays, for example, is putting his own skin in the game because that commitment results in money out of his own pocket. He does so at his own peril as there may be backlash; e.g. boycott. It may also be rewarded, a boon to business from supporters.

If we are to truly "Live and Let Live", a business owner's decision to refuse to produce something or perform a service he finds offensive should be his alone. Under Dishnow's Utopia, a homosexual operating a public print shop could be forced to print hateful, anti-gay materials. Shouldn't they be permitted to say, "Sorry, find another print shop."


You could have reduced the letter by about 90% and still got your point out: "I think religion and religious people are stupid and I don't like them or what they do." I'll take a poll at the warming center and the food pantries and see who agrees.


I thought this was the land of the free? Isn't freedom of association in the constitution? I loose this right when I open a business? Here's how it's suppose to work. If I open a business that doesn't want to serve the gay community, one of two things will happen. Either the community will revolt against my business and my revenue will drop to the point of either I will go out of business, or I will change my business model to maximize profits. Or, the community as a whole will agree with my position, and my business will continue to thrive. If I am a gay person and my community supports the business owners decision not to serve gay people, why would I want to live in that community? I would be free to associate with other like minded people. The idea that we have to run to the federal government to get protected class status for every incident of discrimination is ridiculous. The free market will decide what is acceptable, and what is not.


Good work Dishnow.


Good letter, Mike.


"Deeply held convictions", "sincerely held beliefs".....

It is utterly disturbing how people try to use these phrases in courts of law as a means of defending their positions. Just imagine the chaos and anarchy that would ensue if all of us could use our "sincere beliefs" to legally justify our actions, no matter how immoral or criminal they may be.

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