In his lead column in the April 30 issue of WORLD Magazine Joel Belz, the magazine’s founder, takes to task Dan Schulman, CEO of PayPal, for his decision to cancel plans to build a global operations center in Charlotte, NC. Schulman’s decision was made in response to the passage of a law in North Carolina that, according to the Washington Times, was “decried by activists as being among the most extreme anti-LGBT measures in the country.” The law was passed by the North Carolina legislature, and signed by the governor, in response to an ordinance passed by the Charlotte city government to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals from being discriminated against by businesses. The state law, which of course supersedes the local law, prohibits local governments from putting in place such measures on their own. Accordingly, transgender individuals may not use restrooms according to the gender identity but must, instead, use restrooms according to their gender at birth.
This is an issue which has received plenty of attention elsewhere, including in this blog, so I am not going to go there. Instead, I want to talk about Belz’s charge that Shulman and PayPal are behaving like “neighborhood bullies” by “throwing their weight around.” Belz says the decision is a prime example of “argumentum ad baculum – or an appeal to force.” He goes on to say that “almost every time you sense that it’s happening, you should sound the alarm and note that somebody’s changed the subject and is trying to win the day using an argument where force, coercion–or, more typically, the threat of force–is its main justification.”
In other words, Belz says that Shulman and PayPal are playing unfair, using their power to withhold a proposed new project that would inject millions of dollars into the North Carolina economy and provide an estimated 400 jobs. Belz uses rather strong language to cry foul. For example, he writes:
In the current high-profile debate over the rights and privileges society should extend to people in the so-called LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) segment of our population, it would be one thing to arrive at tolerable conclusions through traditional discussion and debate–in the appropriate legislative settings, and in the political processes through which those legislative settings are staffed. … It is something altogether different, though, to have to reckon with the clumsy demands of corporate entities that have no accountability in the various settings where they have become so intrusive and noisy. Who is PayPal–and who are their corporate colleagues? How do we know what these companies’ policies are? When they come thundering in to tell us which of our policies are OK with them and which ones aren’t, what redress do we have? If they have the right to shape our future so profoundly, do we have any reciprocal rights to shape their futures as well?
Belz goes on to say that he does not deny the freedom of such companies to intrude because “that’s the price tag of liberty sometimes.” Yet, he also concludes, “neither do we have to pretend they are being anything close to helpful citizens.”
This is where I have to question the premise of Mr. Belz. Why is it being a neighborhood bully when PayPal decides not to locate a major portion of its business in a state with laws it disagrees with, but it is fine for Christians (and others) to boycott businesses with policies or practices or products they disagree with? How can we argue PayPal is being unfair by not locating an office in North Carolina yet also argue that businesses should be allowed to refuse service to those whose lifestyles they believe are sinful? Why should it be an appropriate exercise of individual liberty or religious protection for a bakery owner to refuse to make a cake for a gay wedding or for a farm to refuse to host a lesbian wedding, but it’s “throwing their weight around” when PayPal says, “because we disagree with this law, we will not locate our business in your state”? After all, PayPal did not say they would close all locations they already have in North Carolina. They did not say they will no longer provide services to North Carolina clients or residents.
If the multitudinous posts I have seen on Facebook about the number of people who have pledged not to shop at Target because of their new policy on bathroom usage are to be believed then there are hundreds of thousands of people–perhaps even a million–who say they will no longer shop at Target. Now I am just as unhappy about the Target policy as anyone else I know. I think it is a foolish policy. To the point Mr. Belz made, I suspect that Target’s policies may change if their bottom line is adversely impacted by an effective boycott. But how is it not using force for one million people to say they will no longer shop at Target because of it’s policy, but it is force for PayPal to not open a new office in North Carolina and employ 400 people there? Mr. Belz and others who are bothered or offended by the PayPal decision could certainly choose to boycott PayPal as well if they would like.
No doubt many suggest that it is not the same thing. A few people–even a whole bunch of people–cannot carry the same weight or have the same impact as a powerful multinational corporation. I don’t know, though. The use of boycotts have been quite successful in the past when there were wrongs that, through sheer numbers, were eventually righted. The Montgomery bus boycott may be among the most famous examples, but there have been boycotts throughout history. The colonists boycotted British tea and other goods during the colonial era. The United States and other nations have boycotted the Olympics as a sign of protest at different times. I canceled a subscription to a magazine in the late 1990s because it included an advertisement that was explicitly targeted at a gay audience, or at generating support for the gay lifestyle, and it offended me. The power of the purse is an effective and influential one. It is contradictory and silly, however, to suggest that it is okay for individuals to boycott businesses but not for businesses to boycott (or choose not to locate in) states with laws they do not like. It is ridiculous to support boycotts of Target but get up in arms over boycotts of Chick-fil-A. That’s the trouble with free speech–to protect your right to free speech, you have to protect the right of those who disagree with you to have their say, too. After all, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.