business news in context, analysis with attitude

Responding to some of the stories we've run about the intersection of politics and business, specifically some of the negative reactions that Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank got when he said positive things about the Trump administration's business agenda, one MNB reader wrote:

Did you even see the CEO of Under Armour's comment? He only said Trumps pro business polices will help his business - he didn't say a damn word about supporting Trump. Get your facts straight - and just an FYI most people that buy stuff in the USA with hard earned money voted Trump so it may help his business far more then some liberal cry babies warping what he said to try to get people to hate him and his company.

Yes, I saw his initial comments ...and in fact wrote about them here. I noted that he described Trump as "a real asset" to the country, that he got a lot of blowback from athletes with which he does business, and that the Baltimore-based company eventually had to release a statement saying, "We engage in policy, not politics. We believe in advocating for fair trade, an inclusive immigration policy that welcomes the best and the brightest and those seeking opportunity in the great tradition of our country, and tax reform that drives hiring to help create new jobs globally, across America and in Baltimore."

My broad point continues to be that you can't engage in policy these days without engaging in politics, and that this is something all business leaders have to think about to an extent they never had to in the past. I think that's fair.

Now, I suppose we can argue whether Plank originally was supporting Trump or just supporting specific pro-business policies. Either way, I think it is fair to say that executives have to think about these statements before they make them, and the impact that they will have on customers, employees, and stakeholders.

So I think I got my facts straight. Speaking of facts, by the way - most people who buy products in the US with their hard-earned money actually voted for Clinton. I'm pretty sure that's what the popular vote showed. I am not suggesting that Trump is an illegitimate president ... just that if you want to argue about facts, let's get them straight.

It is a far more subjective discussion if we are going to talk about whether people opposing Trump are "liberal cry babies" or not. My feeling generally is that if we're going to have a civilized discourse, it is important to take other people's opinions and feelings seriously, rather than minimize their legitimacy.

On Friday, MNB took note of a New York Times report that the Washington State Supreme Court has ruled that "a florist who refused to sell flowers for a same-sex wedding cannot claim religious belief as a defense under the state’s anti-discrimination laws." Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the ruling made the point that “sexual orientation is a protected class — just like race, just like religion.”

The lawyer representing the florist said the case would be appealed to the US Supreme Court. Kristen Waggoner said that "because a flower arrangement is an artistic expression, the court effectively ruled that the state could regulate, with punitive government authority, what artists may sell. 'All creative professional expression is at risk,” she said.

I commented, in part:

I have to be honest here. While I agree that sexual orientation should be a protected class, like race and religion, I do sort of wish that somehow this conflict could have been avoided. The gay couple could've gone to a different, more tolerant florist, or the florist could've taken the position that providing flowers to the event did not mean endorsing it.

But we don't live in that kind of world right now. Conflict is the name of the game these days.

The level of the conflict can be seen in the following two emails.

MNB reader Tom Herman wrote:

Your depiction of the florist as intolerant is completely off the mark. The whole story is a different than you may believe.  The florist in question and the gay man that brought the lawsuit had an excellent relationship prior to this.  They both claim that she clearly knew he was gay, yet she gladly served him dozens of times and they became very friendly.  At some point he asked her to help celebrate his wedding by providing the flowers for the event.  She lovingly explained her religious beliefs and even recommended another florist that would gladly help celebrate their wedding.  These facts are not in dispute by either party.  If someone has sincere deeply held religious beliefs that are in conflict with someone else’s sexual preferences, does that make them intolerant? 
The gay individual in this case was not deprived of his constitutional rights, his right to have a gay marriage, his floral options, nor was he treated poorly by this individual.  In other words, where is the harm?  Did it hurt his feelings that a florist that he previously really liked has religious beliefs that are in conflict with his sexual orientation?   To use the force of the state to deprive this florist of her deeply religious beliefs, the business that she has built up over the years and now hold her financially responsible for both civil and criminal penalties is both illiberal and wrong.  I believe that tolerance goes both ways and that religion freedom holds a unique constitutional protection against the power of the state.
Where will this end?  It will end when truly liberal gay men and women stand up and say “that although I disagree with your deeply held religious beliefs, I defend your right to hold them.”  “I am so confident in my own sexuality that I will no longer use the power of the state to punish decent men and women to whom I disagree.”

There are real bigots and racists among us that should be marginalized in a polite society.  We don’t need the power of the state to do this.  This florist, Barronelle Stutzman is not one of them.  She is a decent and loving Evangelical Christian women with deeply held religious beliefs that you may disagree with.

For the record, my original story included the fact that the florist and gay couple were friendly before any of this stuff took place.

MNB reader Shelley des Islets wrote:

Regarding the court's judgment in the case of the Richland, Washington florist, you commented, in part:

I have to be honest here. While I agree that sexual orientation should be a protected class, like race and religion, I do sort of wish that somehow this conflict could have been avoided. The gay couple could've gone to a different, more tolerant florist, or the florist could've taken the position that providing flowers to the event did not mean endorsing it.

"Can't we all just get along?"  Let me walk this out a little bit--perhaps those SNCC protesters in the South during the Civil Rights movement could have gone to a more tolerant lunch counter?  Rosa found a more tolerant bus driver and passengers?  I think the two men in question--and their attorneys--saw it was time to challenge an act that is based, however kindly or justified by however deeply held a religious belief, on intolerance.

I do think your second option may be more tenable, though it comes with conflicts, too.  Suppose the florist says, 'I love you guys, I'll provide you flowers for your ceremony, but I cannot support a marriage between two men."  How does that translate to other protected groups?  "I love you two, but I cannot support the marriage of a white man to a colored woman."  "I love you two, but I can't support your marriage, because I believe Catholics aren't real Christians."  "I love you two, and I'll serve you a sandwich, but I cannot support black people eating with white people."

I'm just thinking there's a time when 'getting along' needs to be flushed in favor of recognizing that we are all, regardless of these features that appear to divide us, just people wanting to live happily, wholly, with the same access to the same opportunities, health care, education, and safety as everyone else (have the ball bounce equally as Nike's ad suggests). 

Sometimes our laws allow space for some folks to come to understand these otherwise self-evident truths when their environment might not promote their understanding sooner.  Does it mean we all have to provide flowers to everyone?  Only if we sell our goods publicly.  If she had refused to provide flowers to a mixed-race couple (which actually still happens now and then in some parts), no one would have even thought the lower court's opinion needed challenging.

That pretty much describes the problem. One person's religious belief is another person's intolerance. America 2017, and the debate goes on.
KC's View: