In view of the Oregon case in which a baker faces prosecution for refusing to make a wedding cake for a homosexual couple, it seemed like a good idea to re-post this. The original context was the challenge that there’s no good way to defend, from natural law, the freedom of a hotel owner to restrict the use of his property from those who intend to use it to violate the moral (natural) law.
The other side of this question, however, is the matter of civil freedom, which the post addresses. Is there such a thing as private property and if so, on what basis is the use of that property limited by the state? What is the nature of freedom relative to the magistrate?
Darryl Hart has written a provocative post at OLTS on “The Bureau of Weaker Siblings.” The intent of his post is to reply to those who argue that, on a two-kingdoms view, there being no such thing as a “Christian” hotel, a Christian hotel owner would be bound to allow renters who intended to use the hotel room to commit fornication.
You should read the post for yourself, but I wish to kibitz and suggest some revisions to his arguments. As I understand it, his argument is that the objection is silly because it is selective. The Christian hotel owner who won’t rent to fornicators is a weaker brother who has more trouble with some sins than others. Perhaps I am a weaker brother (who knows? Does the weaker brother know he is one?) but I would rather respond by saying that there is a solid, natural-law-based, 2 kingdom approach to this problem.
Darryl mentions a natural law approach to resisting fornication (that the act of fornication is contrary to the creational intent of sex for procreation). This view seems to concede the Romanist view of sex. We should rather say that fornication is contrary to creational intent because, by definition, it entails sex outside of marriage. I’m not ready to concede the case that birth control is sinful. He also suggests that the hotel owner might not have “access” to natural law. I doubt this. Who doesn’t have access to natural law? To whom has natural law not been revealed? Isn’t one of the points of NL that it is universal? (Rom 1-2)?
There is a natural, creational, law argument could be made against renting rooms to fornicators. First, remember that when I say “natural law” I mean a divinely revealed moral law that is embedded into the fabric of creation. It is known because it is revealed by God in nature and in the human conscience. Contrary to the sheer assumption by some critics of natural law, it is not a form of ethical “neutrality.” Further, the natural or creational law is universally known by all humans, in all places, at all times. If you’re not familiar with the idea of natural or creational law, please take a moment to read this basic essay. Contrary to the published representations given by some writers hostile to the very idea of natural, creational, law it is not some novelty invented by neutrality-believing, antinomians who don’t believe in, teach, or confess the sovereignty of God over every area of life. The question is not whether God is sovereign. Rather, the question is how has God chosen to administer his sovereign authority over the various spheres of human existence and endeavor.
Second, we should not concede that, relative to civil life, all sins are equal. They may all be equally heinous before God and in the assemblies of the church, but civil life is a covenant of works. We don’t expect nor do we want the civil magistrate to regulate sins of the heart. We do rightly expect the civil magistrate to regulate the sins of the body, however, that have the effect of destroying common social life.
Gluttony is manifestly harmful. Go to the mall. Watch the ever fatter American posterior struggle up the escalator. It’s not a pretty sight and it’s wearing on the health care system (and on health workers who have to lift fat Americans!). Nevertheless, gluttony does not have the same effect of on the social fabric as fornication. Families, neighborhoods, and communities are not necessarily torn apart by gluttony. For now anyway, there is plenty of food to go around (two or three times). The same is not true relative to fornication or adultery. Paul says that these sins are against one’s own body. Indeed, but as a matter of civil policy, they are also against other people. As we’ve seen with the recent economic collapse, trust is essential. If banks cannot trust borrowers, they do not loan (even if they’re holding public money). If savers do not trust banks, they do not put their money in banks. In the absence of trust, economic relations quickly grind to a halt. Fornication and other abuses of the family destroy the trust essential to any society.
Civil society has an inherent interest in a fixed definition of “family” and in regulating sexual conduct so that it occurs within creationally-mandated heterosexual confines and further, because sex often leads to procreation, society has a natural right to insist that it occur within the confines of creationally-mandated social contracts or marriage.
I concede the premise that there’s no such thing as a Christian hotel, but I doubt the premise that the Christian hotel owner has no real right to restrict admission to his property to those who intend to use that property to commit a crime against nature or society, even if that society foolishly no longer publicly recognizes such behavior as a crime.
Obviously, if one refused to rent rooms to sinners, then one could not operate a hotel for lack of customers. Let us establish that a hotel owner could reasonably, on natural law grounds, restrict admission to some class of persons. If a hotel owner reasonably believed that a potential renter intended to use the hotel to commit mass murder, he would be within his rights to refuse service. Can anyone disagree with this? Is it only because the civil magistrate has a law against murder or is there is a more profound reason to refuse to admit the murderer? Of course there is. Murder is a violation of the moral-natural-creational law, which law is written on the conscience of every human.
What about more venial sins? It’s true that the hotel owner could probably not refuse service to a liar, but he could refuse service to a con-artist who has the intent of using the room to commit a crime. Both are liars, but the latter intends to do something which the public has a natural interest in restricting.
If a hotel could refuse service to a con-artist, then why couldn’t a hotel refuse service to those who cannot give reasonable evidence that they are married? It wasn’t very long ago that people had to sign hotel registers. I remember doing it in my life time. Weren’t those registers part of social controls on the use of public accommodations?
A related but politically incorrect matter is the question of whether one has a natural right to restrict his business from those who wish to use the property/facilities to commit crimes against nature and society. The problem is not so much with the hotel owner who refuses service as it is public policies that no longer recognize the nature of private property. As much as one favors the civil rights act of 1964, one of the unintended consequences was the loss of civil liberty for those who conduct business. Racism is stupid, bad business, and immoral but should have been made a criminal offense? Or, should public policy, in pursuing the goal of eliminating racism, tie the hands of a business owner who provides some public accommodation? Cannot a business owner assert a prior right to refuse to provide service to anyone?
Nevertheless, it is one thing for the magistrate to require a business to serve all races. It is another thing to require a business owner to serve those who are intent upon committing a crime against nature. Simply because one conducts a commercial enterprise, it is not obvious that anyone and everyone has a right to enter and to do whatever he will.
I doubt we need a bureau of weaker siblings. What we need is a stronger doctrine of natural law.
[This post was published first on the HB on 11 April, 2009]