Muller: Arizona should not treat businesses like people


Yoni Muller, Columnist

I’m not sure exactly when it happened. I know it wasn’t always this way, but I can’t pinpoint when the change took place. It was introduced gently and carefully, so as not to raise awareness. Surely the public would not advocate for the change taking place just under our noses, but the transition was so deliberately gradual that nobody even noticed until it was too late to raise objections.

I’m talking about the morphed definition of what a business is in America. Somehow, somewhere along the long arc of American history, businesses stopped becoming businesses and started becoming people. Mitt Romney was kind enough to say this so explicitly during his most recent presidential campaign. Even before that, the Supreme Court went out of its way to grant businesses First Amendment rights in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

But businesses aren’t people, no matter who says so or how subtly they try to make it so. Businesses are run by people, they employ people, they benefit people and are a creative outlet of people, but they themselves are not people.

Now, in Arizona, people are trying to further equate the two with a bill intended to grant businesses religious freedoms. S.B. 1062 just passed the Arizona state legislature and, if signed into law, it will allow business owners to refuse to conduct business with people if they feel it violates their religious beliefs in a substantial way.

Of course, the bill is a wholly transparent and shameful way of allowing business to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals. That is a colossal problem all its own, and the most obvious and immediate reason the bill should be vetoed. However, it provides an all-too-vivid example of the outrageous and unacceptable consequences of treating corporations as people.

A person is entitled to an immense number of civil liberties. Most important to this specific legislation is that they can harbor any prejudices they want or express any racist, sexist, homophobic or generally intolerant beliefs they have. Those beliefs today are seen overwhelmingly as wrong, vile and shameful, but one can freely express them without any legal consequence. Corporations, at least for now, can’t do that. But if we keep attempting to protect individual rights of business owners through the firms they own, that might change. Under those circumstances, it becomes much too easy to imagine a world where businesses can refuse service to not only LGBTQ individuals, but Muslims or blacks or literally anyone the owner chooses. Rachel Maddow and Rand Paul discussed this exact situation not too long ago.

It’s easy to look at these examples and argue them. It becomes all too easy to say, “I think people should get to do what they want, but I would never discriminate against anyone,” or, “A discriminatory business ultimately only hurts itself and loses out on additional profits,” but those arguments miss the point. Society only functions when each of its components can interact — when no person is denied a good or service because of who they are. I realize there are nuances to this point — it may be acceptable, for example, for a restaurant to ban loud children — but generally a business cannot be used however its owner sees fit.

Running a business takes sacrifice; this is a quintessential mantra preached by American businesspeople. Typically they mean that you have to sacrifice time, vacations, free time with your children and money early on. However, that’s not to say there aren’t other sacrifices. Perhaps that should require sacrificing the ability to use profits from the company directly to contribute to political campaigns; it should certainly require you to deal with people that you privately may not agree with or like.

The United States is home to hundreds of different religious beliefs, almost all of which have a principle or tenet that others would vehemently oppose. However, S.B. 1062 would allow individuals to express those beliefs as they saw fit through their business operations. When individuals choose not to associate with specific kinds of people, that’s disappointing but legal. When businesses choose the same thing, that’s institutional discrimination, it’s criminal and none of the hundreds of religions being “freed” in S.B. 1062 should stand for it.

Yoni Muller is a Weinberg junior. He can be reached at [email protected]If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].