Monday, June 25, 2018
Over the weekend, the President’s press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, was asked to leave a Virginia restaurant by the owner after employees voted to refuse service based on the press secretary’s behavior defending the President’s policies. There are reasons to be concerned with this and similar incidents. The Red Hen’s owner explained, “We just felt there are moments in time when people need to live their convictions. This appeared to be one.”
I’m all for moral agency in the commercial sphere, but I need some clarity about the moral claims at issue here. A question for the Red Hen owner: what conviction – moral? political? culinary? -- would have been implicated, much less violated, by serving a meal to Sanders and her family? The Red Hen was not asked to cater a Trump rally or administration meeting. If our moral convictions expand to encompass a guilt-by-association mindset applicable to all aspects of officials’ private lives, our era promises to become even more corrosive to political discourse and meaningful respect for rights of conscience, properly understood.
Would a Catholic restaurant owner be justified in refusing service to a late-term abortion provider, for example? I don’t think so. What would be the objective of that exclusion? What is the risk of scandal being avoided? What edifying moral claim is being presented to the community?
Note that I’m not arguing that the Catholic restaurant owner or Red Hen owner should be legally prohibited from denying service based on a person's political views or practices – just that denying service for those reasons would not be morally justified. (Even on the moral dimension, I don't think there is much helpful insight to draw from the Masterpiece Cakeshop case -- refusing service because you are morally opposed to what a person stands for is different than refusing to participate in an act that you believe is immoral.)
A broader point about emerging strains of “resistance” in American politics. The Church teaches that “[r]esistance to authority is meant to attest to the validity of a different way of looking at things.” (Compendium para. 400) Resistance, understood in this light, is not about public shaming, virtue signaling, or the intentional destruction of lives and reputations. It is not the all-consuming “No!” It is, in the end, about the “Yes”—articulating and living out of an alternative vision of what can be. Denying someone service in a place of public accommodation based on who they are or what they have done might feel good, but it is not resistance.