The Red Hen situation in which Sarah Huckabee Sanders was politely asked to leave the Red Hen restaurant and politely left, raises ethical concerns about such behavior. The response by Sander’s supporters also raises moral concerns. There was a surge of rage against other restaurants that happened to have the same name. As is typical of outrage, people who were apparently angry at the way Sanders was treated responded in awful ways, including phoned in threats. There is considerable irony in that this response to a perceived injustice is so disproportionate and that in many cases no effort is even made to determine which Red Hen is the correct restaurant. And, of course, there is the matter of the ethics of Maxine Waters’ call to the public to harass members of the Trump administration. These will be addressed in upcoming essays, but for now I will focus on the matter of ethics and business.
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Since the Red Hen is a business, one ethical question is whether a business has the moral right to refuse to serve someone on political grounds. This can be widened into the more general issue of refusing service based on values. Because of debates over businesses refusing to provide products and services to same-sex couples for their marriages, this matter has been extensively addressed, but it worth discussing more in this context.
A private business owner enjoys numerous rights and protections that are provided by society (that is, they are not in the state of nature). Since these defend business from people doing whatever they want to them, businesses cannot claim a right to do whatever they want regarding refusing services to customers. This is because society has the right to impose on businesses on the same grounds that it has the right to impose on those who would harm businesses. To illustrate, just as society has the right to compel me to not violate a business’ trademarks, society has the right to compel businesses to provide services to the public. The question is, as with all impositions, the extent to which the impositions are warranted.
On the one hand, it is tempting to side with the business owner: they should have the right to not engage in compelled labor and this entails that they should have the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason. As such, the Red Hen was acting in a morally acceptable way when Sanders was asked to leave. Retaliation against Red Hen would thus be unjustified—Red Hen did nothing wrong. Those who think that businesses should be allowed to refuse to provide goods and services to same-sex couples who are should agree with this position. After all, someone who wants to refuse service to Sanders could appeal to deeply held religious convictions regarding lying. The injunction against bearing false witness is, after all, in the Ten Commandments.
On the other hand, it is also tempting to argue that a business is under an obligation to provide its services to customers unless there is a legitimate reason to refuse service. For example, a business would obviously have the right to refuse service to someone who does not pay or to ask customers engaged in disruptive behavior to leave. That is, the refusal of service should be based on some harm the business would suffer. This would allow a business to refuse to provide goods and services to people because of their values in some cases. For example, if providing services to a terrible person would damage the reputation of the business, then they could make a solid moral case for refusing service. In the case at hand, if Sanders’ presence would have damaged Red Hen, then they would be justified in asking her to leave.
Those who think that businesses do not have the right to refuse to provide goods and services to same-sex couples would also need to accept that business cannot refuse to provide goods and services to people based on their values or behavior (if they do not harm the business). On this view (that business cannot discriminate based on values), Sanders should have been permitted to finish her meal at the Red Hen.
In the next essay, I’ll turn to the remaining moral issues.
The high road.
“Once Sarah and her family left — and of course Sarah was asked to please vacate, Sarah and her husband just went home. They had sort of had enough. But the rest of her family went across the street to a different restaurant,” Huckabee said on “The Laura Ingraham Show.” “The owner of the Red Hen — nobody’s told this — then followed them across the street, called people and organized a protest yelling and screaming at them from outside the other restaurant and creating this scene.”
US politics has descended into hooliganism.
Michael LaBossiere says
It has been worse; such as the time one congressman beat another with a stick.
That said, I’d like to see more dueling among politicians.
That caning was just before the Civil War. When the politician from SC returned home he was greeted with parades and gifts of golden canes. The people up north were very unhappy about it.
Speaking of ethics, has anyone found even one verifiable instance of an attack on or harassment of (notice there is a difference in the meaning of these two words) this or any other Red Hen establishment that is traceable to a specific human being whose identity and motives we can trace? I keep seeing references to email and phone calls and, yes an egging, but all of these attacks are faceless/anonymous. We don’t know who those people are. I would be quite surprised if NONE of them were Trump supporters, but is it not unethical to presume that all or even a significant majority of these harassers are indeed Trump supporters? You know, lacking any real evidence and all that jazz.
Maybe someone who actually teaches ethics could address this question. Anyone know someone like that? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
Evidence? Surely you jest. Are you suggesting that Dems might engage in a false flag operation to make Trump supporters look bad?
Well, I was thinking Russians…or maybe Canadians…but now that you mention it…
It could be the Russians. Do you think Mueller will investigate, or are all his resources tied up with Stormy Daniels?
“…it is also tempting to argue that a business is under an obligation to provide its services to customers unless there is a legitimate reason to refuse service. “
I disagree here. In fact, it’s my main point regarding your post. In terms of “business ethics”, I don’t think there is an argument in this situation. If this were a publicly held corporation, the main ethical obligation on the part of management would be to maximize return for the shareholders. In a private company, the obligation would extend to partners and creditors and anyone else who has a financial stake in the business. This whole discussion can broaden, of course, if we want to talk about “mission” and “brand perception”, but generally it revolves around investors and owners. If, for example, this were a franchise with a brand identity like Starbucks, and Wilkinson’s actions resulted in a net loss for business, I think this would be an example of a breach of business ethics. If it were a public company and the result were a decline in stock value, same. Since Wilkinson is a sole proprietor (I think), none of this applies.
If you are going to side with the Anti-Romney left and ridicule those who claim that businesses are people, you have to conclude then that as an inanimate, empty, corporate entities, we bear no moral or ethical obligation to them. Wilkinson has no ethical obligation to The Red Hen. She can drive it into the ground for all anyone cares – or serve rat-meat to her customers and drive them all away. As long as she is not in breach of an implicit obligation to maximize shareholder return, she’s fine.
On the other hand, if you concede that Romney was correct (only if you actually listen to his point), that corporations are made up of people – then an ethical obligation emerges. While it is called “Business Ethics”, the responsibility is to the people who make up that business and have a vested interest in its success.
The other major violation of business ethics would be in cheating the customer – using substandard ingredients while promising the best fresh ones, for example, or not pointing out errors with a check.
An attorney receives a large check from a client in payment of services rendered. When entering this on the books, he realizes that the client overpaid by $500. His ethical dilemma – should he tell his partner?”
Refusing to serve someone – anyone, for any reason (unless that person is a protected class) is perfectly legal in this country, with a small handful of local exceptions.
“if providing services to a terrible person would damage the reputation of the business, then they could make a solid moral case for refusing service.
Maybe – but I don’t think this is really “Business Ethics” unless, as I pointed out above, there are others involved who will be affected by your actions. Wilkinson, as a sole proprietor, can make decisions based on her own moral compass without regard to how it might affect business – or she can place one or the other higher in her moral decision-tree. It’s a personal matter.
…”Those who think that businesses should be allowed to refuse to provide goods and services to same-sex couples who are should agree with this position.”
I suppose as a general rule this might bear some discussion, but that concept would be more about the morality and/or ethics of having “Protected Classes” in the first place. I suspect that with all other things being equal, had Sanders been gay we’d be seeing a completely different reaction. Wilkinson would be under a lot of pressure to prove that her actions were based on policy decisions and not gender-identity, and the PC crowd would not be likely to buy any argument.
Also, like most on the left, you are grossly misrepresenting the cases that you are alluding to. The bakers who have been driven out of business for not baking cakes for same-sex weddings have been stridently clear in their cause, their purpose, and their action. They have said unequivocally that they will (and do) serve anyone, and do not discriminate against people for their gender, gender identity, race, origin, or anything else. However, the cake as a symbolic centerpiece of a union to which the baker had a religious and/or moral objection was something he just could not provide. I doubt the same anger would arise if a Jewish woodcarver refused to sculpt a representation of Christ on the cross for a church, especially if that woodworker was fine with constructing a pulpit and pews for the same church.
Sadly, we have gotten to a point in this country where there are really only two sides – “Trump Supporters” and “Everyone Else”. There is no middle ground. One cannot praise tax cuts or inroads into diplomacy with North Korea without being painted with a broad brush – even if you oppose immigration policy or decry his personal failings.
Interestingly, and on a somewhat unrelated topic, the first step taken with Kim Jong Un is, at least on the surface, huge. We shall see how it all evolves, but for the first time after many decades the two sides have agreed to at least talk to each other. This is something we cannot seem to accomplish in our own country.
After Preston Brooks beat Charles Sumner nearly to death with his cane (Sumner suffered severe head injuries in the attack, and intense chronic pain for three years afterward; his condition included what we now know to be Traumatic Brain Injury and PTSD), the two factions retreated to their own tribes and refused to budge, just as we do today. William Cullen Bryant, the publisher of the New York Evening post wrote,
“Has it come to this, that we must speak with bated breath in the presence of our Southern masters?… Are we to be chastised as they chastise their slaves? Are we too, slaves, slaves for life, a target for their brutal blows, when we do not comport ourselves to please them?”
All we need do is swap out a few words and we are talking about the intolerant PC crowd who would have people driven out of business for their religious beliefs, or fired from their jobs and publicly shamed for the use of a word.
Preston Brooks’ attack on Charles Sumner happened in 1856; four years later the country erupted into the Civil War. Ironic, actually, that the Civil War was caused by our own incivility.
Bryant, previously a bastion of liberalism, became a virulent abolitionist and, as such, joined ranks with the “Radical Republicans”.
We should take a page out of Kim Jong Un’s current playbook and start talking to our “enemies”, lest we ourselves end up in 2022 like we did in 1860.
Very well said. Thank you for that. An interesting discussion would be on the concept of “Protected Classes”, the justification of a temporary vs. permanent need for such to overcome a specific social problem, the dangers of going down that road without an exit strategy, etc. Personally, I don’t think we should be so afraid of incivility that we retreat to separate camps, however. Stifle incivility and you stifle communication. Which leads to an inbreeding of ideas. Yes, we should deal with the incivility as well, but by engaging in a logical, rational manner and not in a way that dehumanizes the (perceived) uncivil party, which is itself a form of passive-aggressive incivility.