Where does America draw the line on discrimination vs. freedom of conscience?
The First Amendment is in a battle with the Fourteenth, and this week SCOTUS heard arguments in the major case of a Colorado cake baker who was punished for refusing to make a cake for a gay wedding due to his religious beliefs. Americans have chosen sides, and many have tried to make this a case about civil rights and equal protection — but in doing so, has anyone considered the actual impact of taking away a business owner’s ability to say “no” based on what they feel is right or wrong?
Just this week, conservative commentator Ben Shapiro poised a very important question those on the opposing side of the baker should consider:
“Let’s say that you are a speechwriter for Barack Obama. Can I walk into your business tomorrow and say I now need you to write speeches for President Trump? And it doesn’t matter if you don’t like President Trump, the fact is, I have an equal access to your services, and you should be able to use your artistry for President Trump otherwise you are discriminating. If you don’t like that idea, you shouldn’t like the idea of forcing a religious baker to violate his principles and violate his free speech in order to please you.”
Similarly, what if a home owners/renters insurance company decided it wouldn’t insure people who don’t own a gun, because they believed it was irresponsible to own a home and not provide any defense of it? After all, there are several counties in America where this is an existing law. On the contrary, what if an insurance company discriminated against gun owners based on their beliefs about the dangers of owning firearms and Americans who own multiple firearms?
One of these situations is already happening.
Following the horrific Las Vegas shooting, Lemonade Insurance company sent an email to its customers with the subject line: “We’re Taking a Stand.” (Full disclosure: I am one of Lemonade’s customers.)
Lemonade is a new home owners and renters insurance startup “for urban dwellers” — and no, it’s not owned by Beyoncé. Lemonade also provides “extra coverage” for personal property. Their homepage states:
“Lemonade Insurance Company is a property and casualty insurance company that is transforming the very business model of insurance. By injecting technology and transparency into an industry that often lacks both, we’re creating an insurance experience that is fast, affordable and hassle free. Unlike any other insurance company, we gain nothing by delaying or denying claims (we take a flat fee!), so we handle and pay most claims instantly.”
Lemonade is also self-described as being, “designed for social impact,” as a public benefit corporation by donating unclaimed money to the charity of the a customer’s choosing. Essentially, instead of sending customers a “safe driving bonus check” the way Allstate does, they donate that money to charity. Not a horrible idea at all, and very appealing to their likely millennial-adult customers.
Because of Lemonade’s social-impact mission, an email like the one they recently sent to their customer’s wouldn’t be surprising.
The email explains that Lemonade plans to change its policy on firearm coverage to “take a stand,” and directs customers to a longer blog post in Lemonade’s Ethics of Insurance Series titled, “Guns, And Why Lemonade Is Taking A Stand.”
“’Guns’ is a polarizing topic, which is why most companies avoid it at all costs. But Lemonade was founded to make insurance into a social good. That requires being upfront about what we think ‘good’ is, and is not. When it comes to the Second Amendment, therefore, we can’t take the Fifth. After the awful massacre in Las Vegas, we’re not sure anyone should.
When it comes to the Second Amendment, therefore, we can’t take the Fifth.”
You can read the full blog post here, but here are their main points/policy changes:
- Lemonade will still not cover illegal guns OR illegal gun use.
- Lemonade will only pay out $2,500 for damage or theft of firearms, noting “If you own more than $2,500-worth of firearms, we recommend trying one of our competitors. They seem to all offer additional coverage. We don’t.”
- “We will exclude assault rifles altogether.” Although the company fails to specify what their policy labels an assault rifle in the post, the blog does note their reasoning for this change: “We simply don’t understand why civilians need military-grade weapons, and we prefer not to insure them.”
- Lemonade will add requirements for how firearms are stored securely and used responsibly. If a customer fails to comply, their coverage is void. “Reasonable people,” Lemonade says, “we believe, can agree on that.”
- “We’ll continue crafting our policies for the vigilant gun owner, not the vigilante gun owner. The former are welcome, and will find our policies cover them fully; the latter aren’t, and won’t.”
In case you missed that, every civilian who owns over $2,500 worth of guns was just labeled a “vigilante.” $2,500 is hardly as arsenal for anyone who owns a hunting rifle or has acquired more than one gun over their lifetime.
And, while most homeowners insurance policies limit coverage for firearms to $1,000 to $2,500, what makes Lemonade’s statement different is that they’re refusing to let customers buy extra coverage for firearms. So if you’re a collector, an avid hunter or have more than one expensive gun, you’re likely not going to be able to purchase the coverage you need.
Lemonade also failed to highlight any impact their new policy will have on gun violence or irresponsible gun use. They also have not underscored any business purpose for the decision. They have simply stated that their policy will discriminate coverage from those who fall into their “too many guns” or “wrong type of guns” categories based on their feelings towards guns.
Essentially, Lemonade is an insurance company refusing to provide insurance to a select group based on their moral conscience and beliefs — not based on their bottom line. They went out of their way to note that they will recommend you go to another insurance company if you own more than $2,500 worth of guns. Similarly, the Colorado baker offered to help the couple find a baker who would bake a cake for their ceremony.
In light of the SCOTUS case, where will we draw the line on the freedom of conscience vs. discrimination?
While these cases make us feel differently based on who and why these people are being refused service, are they really all that different in the eyes of the law?
Should Lemonade be forced to insure guns for customers they don’t want to? Should they get to choose which types of legal guns customers can insure?
Should Jack Phillips have to put aside his religion and bake a cake for a ceremony that violates his conscience? Phillips has repeatedly stated that this is not about the customers, just the ceremony, and that he has no problem with serving gay customers.
At the end of the day, should the government have the power to force any person or customer to do what they feel in their heart is wrong? If customers find their actions offensive, go to their competitor.
Let’s not lose even more of our ability to simply agree to disagree.