questions on discrimination and principle

I’m always cautious about wading into to some ‘hot topics’ on this blog, because it’s not part of its purpose.  Having said that, sometimes I do feel the need to float ideas and more importantly to pose questions that arise out of an issue.

Hence, I am going to pose a question on the topic surrounding the recent B&B ruling, although it is not in reference to this case specifically (I did appreciate the gentle manner of Mrs Bull’s response, however).  In my readings of the many opinions on this topic, I frequently come across the suggestion that because B&B owners are offering a public service, it should therefore be open to all members of the public and their practices, regardless of the personal religious belief of the owners of said public service.  Please correct me if that’s a bad summary.  In some cases people have said that if they do not accept homosexual or pre-marital sex in general under their roof, they should not be in the business of offering hospitality (and by that I mean literal business, not just a general welcoming-ness).

My question is this:  for those B&B owners who do hold these deep beliefs which mean they are incredibly uncomfortable with the practice of certain things in their own home, are we then saying they should give up their business?  For those who have long-standing businesses, a sense of calling to this kind of hospitality wherein it is important to offer a lovely holiday to others, but cannot in all personal conscience accept, for example, homosexual practice in their homes?  Do we suggest that someone cannot start such a business unless they do so?

Where do we draw the line here?  It’s a bad analogy, but I’ll use it briefly – prior to the smoking ban, there were B&B owners who did not allow the practice of smoking in their establishment.  Now, you may quite rightly say – well, that’s to do with health factors, the air quality, and how it affects other guests.  I did say it was a bad analogy, but surely for some owners it was a personal preference.  Likewise some B&Bs  did not personally want people bringing their pets into their establishment, not just for the sake of other guests but because it was their home.

My point, however badly made, is that decisions are made on personal principles all the time, including in the hospitality business.  My question, I suppose, is are we to consider that personal beliefs and preferences are unimportant in these areas and even unacceptable?  That we can no longer officially do things on moral principle?  That the private should never influence the public? Because frankly, we do not all hold the same principles and no group, religion or government will ever be able to force us to do so.  And I wonder if deliberate discrimination and personal principle are occasionally getting mixed up, when I don’t think they are necessarily the same thing.

These are my current ponderings and I am not submitting an argument or an answer.  Neither am I commenting on legality and law.  But I can’t get rid of the questions – hence I’m throwing them out here out of genuine interest in peoples’ response.  I’m interested by the relationship of the private and the public, of belief and practice, of how we deal with personal principle – these things are abstract, but they impact our thinking on such issues.  Again, these questions are not particularly specific to the most recent case, but neither would I necessarily apply them to other areas.

Feel free to disagree – but please be respectful and remember I am asking a genuine question, rather than delivering an argument.

5 thoughts on “questions on discrimination and principle

  1. Amanda Jones says:

    Having just re-watched the video, I feel I have to say that I DO question one thing this particular lady said. She was quick to point out that their rule was fairly applied to unmarried heterosexual AND homosexual couples. However, how far did they go to prove that the heterosexual couples were indeed married? Did you have to show your marriage certificate at the door? Or was in taken on face value that Mr & Mrs Smith, really were Mr & Mrs? I can see that it would be somewhat easier to determine people weren't married if they were of the same sex :)OK, so on the subject of bad analogies and from a purely objective point of view, (I hope this doesn't rock the boat too much) I think one has to question one's own beliefs a little when thinking about this situation. If a suicide bomber kills a bus full of children in the name of his faith, because he so strongly believes in his religious principle, does that make it legal? I think most people would answer NO. Is it right? But the ones who hold that belief would surely say yes. Blurring the line a little more, if a mother murders the man who murdered her daughter, does that make it legal? No. But is it 'right'? Who can really say? So, is being in a same-sex relationship legal? Yes. Is it 'right' in the views of some religions? No. So I think looking at the broader picture gives ME an answer. In the eyes of the law, everyone is equal. I can't discriminate against gay men or black women or wheelchair users every day when I go to work, regardless of my religious beliefs. Why should that change if I decide to open a B&B? I guess everyone has to come to their own conclusion :)Thanks for some interesting food for thought this morning!


  2. Fr David Cloake says:

    I take a pragmatic view, that to some may seem cold. Smokers were asked to take their habit away – it was about the cigarettes. Smokers could stay, just not smoke.In the case of this news piece, these were people being sent away, not just their 'habit'. The whole case is replete with judgement about a lifestyle, intolerance to differences – however sincerely and nobly held. If we wish to practice our Christian principals in public, we should withdraw from service industries. A Muslim bus driver is required to let everyone on to his bus, for example. If he didn't, similar action would befall him, and in an even more vociferous way than this.I tire of Christians expecting the world to swallow their principals in this way. We need to live our principals, not impose them. I can only guess how the 'discovery' conversation came about: Mr & Mrs Smith – what, the same bed? Right principals, wrong industry (though I should state here that I disagree with homophobic practice on any front)


  3. Lucy says:

    @Amanda – good points. I suppose now, if a religious couple were thinking of opening a B&B, they would have to think through how they would react in this situation, particularly in terms of law. They would go into it knowing the issues that would arise for them and have to work out how to tally their personal faith with the legal requirements. For those already running an establishment, it may be more of an issue because they haven't had to deal with it in such a high profile, or legal, way before.Another issue that makes it so personal is that the division between work and home is much more blurry. A hotel owner doesn't usually live in the hotel, for example. The lines between personal and public are more clearly drawn, hence the issues are not so complex perhaps.


  4. Lucy says:

    @Fr David: I was replying to Amanda's comment while you were posting yours – in case you felt left out 🙂 Again, good points; I appreciate pragmatism. The bus driver is a good example. Thanks! Your thoughts have been really helpful in ordering my own thinking.


  5. Kathryn says:

    In the US, in most cases, individual businesses are allowed to do some personal preference/discrimination. It is the government or government subsidized businesses (or institutions such as schools that are allowed some gov't money) that are not allowed to do discrimination. I'm of mixed feelings here I don't think that as Christians we should be required to remove our own values to interact in the world. BUT i do have a real problem with Christians trying to impose "Christian behavior" on folks who do not share their faith. I think part of the reason that we've confusion on who is really a Christian (in the US, at least) is that we've imposed the morals of Christian behavior on all people. I have heard people say, "Of course i'm a Christian, i was born in the USA, wasn't i?" When we can't differentiate a relationship with Christ from "behaving in a Christian manner" the boundaries get confused.I don't have an answer to this question and i'm not trying to support one view over another. I sometimes have problems with Christians expecting certain behaviors from people who do not share their beliefs. I don't think i'm saying this well.


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