SOCIAL MEDIA: A great antidote to bigotry

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THE number of people using social media runs into the billions, with information now being shared faster and more widely than anyone could possibly be imagined a few years ago.

This means that people with intolerant views who set out to make life a misery for those they disapprove of can instantly be identified and publicly shamed. And rightly so, as was the case recently of a woman who runs a tax consultancy office in Russianville, Indiana.

Nancy Fivecoate, of Carter Tax Service, told a recently-married lesbian couple to sling their hook when they asked her to prepare a joint tax return. Her reason for turning Bailey and Samantha Brazzel away was that same-sex marriage ran contrary to her religious beliefs.

Normally a case like this would wind up in court, but in this part of the world there are no legal protections for gay people, thanks to the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act which allows business owners to cite their faith as a reason to discriminate against LGBT people.

Because they had no legal redress, the couple used Facebook to expose Fivecoate, and were promptly inundated with offers from consultants offering to do their tax return free of charge.

Steve Sanders, an associate professor of law at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law, applauded the couple’s action, saying ‘The only recourse is good-old fashioned shaming – going on Facebook and telling their friends this is a discriminatory business that people might want to think twice about visiting.’

Ms Fivecoate is now claiming that she’s the victim, and in a statement asked: ‘Why are they trying to destroy my business? I have made no comment on social media. Where is their respect for me and my beliefs?’

That’s the way it always plays out when bigots attract unwanted attention. They automatically shriek ‘persecution!’.

In 2015, Jonathan Brennan suffered similar bigotry when a print shop in Drogheda, Ireland – Beulah Print and Design – refused to print invitations for his upcoming same-sex union with his partner John Kierans, because it too disapproved of gay marriage. It’s no surprise that in this case, the store owners argued that they were being persecuted for their religious beliefs.

Fortunately, Ireland does not allow discrimination of this sort, and the owners of business were ordered this month to pay Brennan damages of €2,500 by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).

I’m delighted that, in addition to the fine, Beulah Print and Design were exposed to criticism on social media. On its Facebook page, which attracted many angry comments, the outfit had the temerity to say: “We are absolutely clear, and have maintained from the outset, that we did not discriminate against our customer in turning down the designing and printing of a same sex wedding invitation. Therefore, we reject the findings of the WRC …”

Feel free to disagree with me, but I firmly believe that if people set out to make a living by providing a public service, that’s precisely what they should do. And if they feel that some of their customers are unworthy of receiving equal treatment, perhaps they should find alternative vocations that don’t bring them into contact with the general public. Becoming nomadic goat-herders in a remote region of Namibia may suit them better.

Barry Duke

Editor

The Freethinker

‘Faith is to the human what sand is to the ostrich” – Lenny Bruce

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