WE RESERVE THE RIGHT by Rabbi Baruch Cohon

          Remember the sign that once appeared in stores, restaurants, bakeries,
etc…the one that read “We Reserve the Right to Refuse Service to
Anyone”?  Maybe that became illegal before you were born.  But maybe
it’s worth analyzing.  What that sign meant depended largely on the
boss’s attitudes.
          Someone who showed contempt for the merchandise, or suspicions about
the dealer, could very well get ignored if it came to trying on any
          If a customer — at a bar, for example — had one too many and started a
fight?  Out you go, fella.  Many bar owners exercise that right today.
At least they should.
          But also, if a white customer insisted on pushing himself ahead of a
black customer, the boss or an employee had to enforce a standard:
equality, or discrimination.  And discrimination could go either way —
depending whether the store was in Harlem or Atlanta.
          And what about baking wedding cakes?  Did the baker need to inquire
about the identity of the couple?  Or their sexual  preference?
          The recent Colorado case and its Supreme Court sequel might make us
wonder if it could happen back in the days of “We Reserve the Right…”
          An old gag about rights said that “when I walk down the street, I have
a right to swing my arms as much as I want to, but my right to swing
my arms ends where your nose begins.”  The Colorado case brings that
to mind.  If Mr. Philips just bit his lip and baked the cake, no court
case — he just has a banged-up nose.  If he reserved the right and
refused service, the same-sex couple just has to buy a cake somewhere
else.  Which apparently is what they did.  But they made sure to put in a
complaint to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, even though their
same-sex ceremony took place in Massachusetts.
          If anything, Justice Kennedy and his fellow judges — 7 out of the 9
anyway — ruled that equality before the law means that just as one
American has the right to live out a deviant life style, another
American has the right to live by his religious principles.  From the
Biblical point of view, of course, homosexuality is a capital offense.
Leviticus 20:13 commands: “If a man lies with a male as one lies
with a woman, both of them did an abhorrent thing; they must die.
Their bloodguilt is on them.”
          Bear in mind, however, that in the Torah, no accounts of an execution
for this offense appear. In fact we have no record of any such executions
by a Jewish court.  Since, at least in historic times, this kind
of action took place in private, and since Biblical law requires two
eye witnesses who warn the offender in advance, it would be close to
impossible to convict anyone.
          So how does that condition affect the believing baker?  We can
conclude that any violation of sexual law may or may not take place
before the cake is baked.  And we can also recognize that the couple
ordering the cake is about to celebrate their sin.
          They are hiring the baker to help them.
         Anyone think we saw the last case like this?
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