The list of businesses, governments, and famous people boycotting the state of Indiana over Gov. Mike Pence's decision to sign the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is still growing. Now even Nick Offerman—the comedian and actor who played libertarian hero Ron Swanson on NBC's Parks and Recreation—has cancelled his upcoming Indiana comedy tour dates. Ashton Kutcher, Larry King, Charles Barkley, and a host of other celebrities have made similar declarations, as have several companies, cities, and Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy—even though Connecticut has had RFRA in place for the last 20 years. For a complete list of boycotters, see The Washington Post.
I should stress that there is nothing explicitly un-libertarian about this boycott. People, especially private actors, have every right to refuse to engage in commerce with others, for any reason.
Even so, I have a hard time understanding why the citizens of Indiana—the overwhelming majority of whom would not discriminate against gay people regardless of whether they had the legal right to do so—should be punished because their governor signed RFRA. "There's absolutely no likelihood that any significant number of Indiana businesses are just waiting for an excuse to discriminate against gay people," observed Reason's Scott Shackford yesterday.
Yes, I understand that the aim of the boycott is not to hurt the Hoosiers, but to inspire Pence to change his mind (a tactic that did prevent Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer from signing a similar law). Still, I'm troubled by the idea that every aspect of life should be politicized—that people are not worthy of engagement or commercial exchange unless they and their government represent a perfect reflection of one's own views. As Reason's Brian Doherty wrote about the Duck Dynasty controversy, "The idea that people should be punished with boycotts or losing their jobs over having wrong beliefs hobbles the flowering of tolerant classical liberal market cosmopolitanism."
That rings true to me, regardless of the specific ideology of the boycotters. Indeed, many social conservatives expressing irritation that their religious freedom law has produced a boycott would themselves be boycotting if the causes were reversed. As Reason editor Nick Gillespie pointed out:
Just this morning, I received an email from the Media Research and the Family Research Council denouncing Disney/ABC Television for developing a show based on the life of foul-mouthed, Christian-bashing advice columnist Dan Savage (whose latest media stunt was to tell Ben Carson to "suck my dick" to show that homosexuality is not a learned behavior). "If you choose to go forward," warn L. Brent Bozell and Tony Perkins, "it is very likely you will be creating an immediate national scandal for yourself."
Sounds like a threat to boycott, doesn't it? …
Social liberals, for their part, should recall that they once vigorously supported RFRAs (as did virtually everybody else) when the laws were understood to be necessary for the protection of peyote-ingesting Native Americans and Sikh haircuts. It's hard not to agree with Baylor University Professor of Humanities Alan Jacobs, who wrote on Twitter: "When you look at the people who have been protected by religious liberty laws, the liberal opposition to them is a straightforward abandonment of principle in hopes of winning a victory against the 'repugnant cultural other'."
When it comes to religious freedom, boycotts, and the culture wars, there is clearly a lot of hypocrisy to go around. I do wish both sides would leave the common folk of Indiana out of it, though.