What do you do when you disagree with a business’s policies? Pay no heed? Boycott the business? Or, use the power of government to utterly crush the business and close its doors forever?
I’m a fan of the first two options. When a local chain was rumored to fund Democratic candidates, for example, I ignored the allegations; the Reuben sandwiches were simply too good. However, when the country’s largest book retailer decided to stop carrying a book at the behest of politicians and activists, it was a little too Fahrenheit 451, minus the carbon emissions. I canceled my Prime and Audible accounts and encouraged others to divest.
Amazon carries all kinds of books I find offensive: Mein Kampf, antivaccine screeds, salacious Hollywood tell-alls, nausea-inducing romances, formulaic self-help books, poorly researched “nonfiction” and hate-filled polemic as well as movies and music that glorify violence and objectify women. I don’t buy those products but I don’t care if others do.
Engaging in politics and paybacks is another matter, however. A month ago, Ryan T. Anderson, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center publically criticized the Equality Act as a threat to women’s rights and rights of conscience in an opinion editorial. Amazon summarily canceled his book, “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment,” which the online retailer had carried for the past three years. The book explores scientific, legal, medical, and philosophical views on transgenderism. It has been praised by scholars at Harvard, Princeton, and Oxford. Never mind, it’s at odds with the political agenda in the Equality Act.
I’m not going to demand Amazon carry the book. Retailers have a right to carry whatever books they please for whatever reason. I am, however, going to patronize another bookstore that isn’t taking sides on the gender debate. To each his own.
The cancel crowd doesn’t see it that way. When they disagree with a business’s policies, it’s not enough to take their money elsewhere; they target the business for destruction. Case in point: two weeks ago, Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, found himself back in court defending his rights. Phillips serves all customers but does not make custom cakes that violate his faith. He has refused to make cakes for Halloween, cakes that contain racist, sexually explicit or demeaning messages, and custom cakes for same-sex weddings.
Nearly a decade ago, Phillips refused to make a same-sex wedding cake and the couple lodged a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission alleging Phillips violated the state’s nondiscrimination laws. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. A majority of the justices ruled that the commission had demonstrated anti-religious bias when pursuing Phillips.
Before the justices issued their ruling, however, another disgruntled customer lodged a complaint with the commission. Autumn Scardina contacted the cake shop to request three cakes, one to celebrate transgender surgery, one with Satan smoking a joint, and one with Satan with a sex toy. Phillips declined in each case.
After Scardina lodged the complaint, Phillips countersued and the commission agreed to drop the case. Scardina is now pursuing the case in state court on the grounds that Phillips violated the Colorado Anti-discrimination Act by refusing service based on sexual orientation. Denver District Court Judge A. Bruce Jones will issue a ruling at some point.
Sadly, it may not be the last time Phillips faces legal harassment. There’s a debate within our culture over the meaning of sex and gender. Some of us want to respectfully discuss differing viewpoints. Others seek an end of discussion by silencing their critics one way or the other.
Krista L. Kafer is a weekly Denver Post columnist. Follow her on Twitter: @kristakafer