03 July 2014

Piggie Park and Hobby Lobby

The following is a bit of rant mixed in with (perhaps unnecessary) background.

You might have glimpsed the following headline posted around Facebook and Twitter yesterday:

SC Restaurant Owner Refuses To Serve Blacks, Cites Religious Beliefs

What drew my attention to the above was the passion with which my FaceBook pals shared the link amidst great outrage: “Oh my God! It’s started!” “We knew this was going to happen!” “Of course it’s the South that starts it!” and so on. In other words, they’d read the headline, reposted the link with commentary, and they did so without reading the actual piece.

The story, credited to Manny Schewitz, primarily reviews the Supreme Court case of Civil Rights Era racist, Maurice Bessinger, who owned and operated six barbecue restaurants called “Piggie Park.” each of these restaurants resisted racial integration despite the Civil Rights Act. According to John Monk of South Carolina newspaper, The State, the case against Bessinger began when, “in 1964, Bessinger . . . . stood in the door of one of his stores to prevent a black minister from entering. Bessinger would allow blacks to buy food to take out, but not to eat in his restaurant. African-Americans, represented by then-civil rights lawyer Matthew Perry, took him to court.” Bessinger’s defense relied on a few key points that may sound familiar. From the SCOTUS transcript:
They asserted that the petitioner had a constitutional right under the Thirteenth Amendment not to be subjected to involuntary servitude and serve persons against his will.

It was the First Amendment religious privilege claim that petitioner asserted that his religion required him to act this way.
The Supreme Court, referencing the 1964 Civil Rights Act, ruled against Bessinger in 1968.

While he’d been forced to integrate his restaurants, Bessinger apparently continued to propel racist ideas that remained entwined with religious belief. His actions gained national attention when The State revealed in 2000 that Bessinger was selling racist tracts in his restaurants. According to a contemporary account in The New York Times,
The [tract] attracting most attention is entitled ''Biblical View of Slavery,'' by John Weaver, a Baptist minister from Fitzgerald, Ga., and argues that slavery is not inherently evil because it is permitted in the Bible.

''Don't let anyone try to load you with guilt and say you need to make reparations for what your forefathers did . . . No! What our forefathers did was not evil in and of itself. That doesn't mean that some of our forefathers did not act evilly, wickedly themselves, and if they did, they are responsible for their own sins.

The pamphlet also argues that many African slaves ''blessed the Lord'' for allowing them to be enslaved, because their life in slavery was better than in Africa.  (Firestone)
The revelation of such tracts led to boycotts by individuals as well as supermarkets, which pulled Bessinger’s barbecue products off their shelves. According to The State's John Monk, “Bessinger later would claim the boycott cost him $20 million.” His beliefs weren’t changed, perhaps, but the notoriety certainly harmed his livelihood . . . and his reputation. He'll forever be identified as a White supremacist who endorsed slavery as Biblical.
Schewitz at ForwardProgressive suggests that a similar response will now meet Hobby Lobby. However, people do seem genuinely divided over the ACA’s contraception mandate, and that issue is enormously different from that of segregation. I understand my Facebook friends' concerns--their very real fears about being silenced, discriminated against, and harmed. However, I don't buy the dire warnings that SCOTUS's decision leads us on a slippery slope--where, for example, religious freedom means women will be banned from management decisions because of Biblical exhortations to female submission, where LBGTQ rights will be overturned, and so on. If such cases are brought, then they may well be opportunities to attack and, eventually, overturn the Hobby Lobby et. al. ruling.

Listen, don’t take my word for it. My area is lit not law. But I do think, overall, we're a nation of moderates, and questionable rulings will be righted.

Schewitz’s original story seems little more than click bait—that’s an awfully sensationalist, and frightening--but he makes a valid point: if people object to the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood outcome, then they’re likely to stop doing business at those places, and if the drop in profits is steep enough, Hobby Lobby may revisit the ACA issue on their own. Unfortunately, that message was lost on my Facebook pals. No. Kneejerk political hysteria isn’t a new phenomenon. People do seem to prefer moments of outrage over learning about or reading an issue or an event, and it’s a tendency that crosses all gender, racial, political, class, and educational lines. Purely anecdotal example: on my FaceBook TL, easily the majority of people who repost inflammatory headlines, expressing anger and indignation without reading what they’re posting, have PhDs. 

Works Cited

Firestone, David. “Sauce Is Boycotted, and Slavery Is the IssueNew York Times. 29 Sep 2000.

     Feb. 2014.

Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 03 July 

     ForwardProgressives.com. 02 July 2014.

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