When Should Discrimination be Allowed?

When our first reaction is to bring in government, we stop asking the hard questions.
The hubbub over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) has reached a fevered pitch. As is often the case with debates like these, the law is horribly misunderstood, there’s a lot of unnecessary shouting, and, in the end, everyone is just signaling their tribal allegiances.
Maybe we can learn something from this signaling war. RFRA is being attacked for allegedly allowing religiously motivated discrimination based on sexual orientation, and libertarians often get bludgeoned with questions about discrimination.
So let me bludgeon with a question of my own: Under what circumstances should people be allowed to discriminate? What traits should people be allowed to discriminate against (or for)? In what situations should discrimination be allowed? It seems like there are some cases where we’re fine with people discriminating, so it can’t be that discrimination of any kind is in itself wrong.
For example, if I hold a dinner party and politely request “no long hair, blondes, people over 70, or Laplanders” is that illicit discrimination? Are we prepared to say that discriminating on age is okay—who wants a fuddy-duddy at a party, after all—but that discriminating against nationalities, or pseudo-nationalities like Laplander, is not okay? What if Laplanders are notoriously dull at parties?
Or maybe it’s bad if money is involved. What if I ask the guests to chip in on costs? Bring a side dish or wine? Does that change the situation? What if I hold a dinner party via Eatwith, a website that connects guests with hosts who have “a talent for making amazing meals and a love for welcoming people into their homes to share them.” Is that illicit discrimination because money is now involved?  Continue reading

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