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The Ethics of Doing Business with the Religious

It’s easy to point at the people who refuse to make wedding cakes for gay couples and discuss their lack of professional ethics.  Things just became less easy for me because, in my capacity as a professional dancer, I have just been hired to perform for a religious organization that is officially racially segregated (I’m dancing for the African-American sect, rather than the white sect, not that that really makes it better). I honestly have no justification for this.  But on the other hand, I’m not sure how I would justify refusing just on the grounds of religion as long as they are paying me a fair price and are pleasant and safe to work for.  It’s one thing to not support organizations I disagree with with my money or time, but when I am and advertise myself as a dancer for hire, I’m not sure that I should just refuse to work for anyone just because they do things that, while legal (for a private organization, anyway) are loathsome.  Besides, since the person doing the hiring here actually asked if it would be a problem that they were black, I’m not sure refusing to work for them would say what I meant it to say.   And, frankly, any religious group in the state of Georgia is likely to be segregated in a de facto way, with maybe a token member or two representing diversity, but taking it to an official status is unusually official with the racism.  Nonetheless, if I advertise myself as providing a service to the public, how am I better than the bigoted cake shop folk if I refuse to work for them on grounds of their religion?  If it was the KKK, I could turn them down, but that because the KKK are a hate group, and officially recognized as such.  This group, on the other hand, runs most of the children’s hospitals in the area and, as far as I know, is not causing children to die because of relying on religion rather than medicine for treatment.  For the group I am working for, while their segregationist policies are preventing the full flourishing of all the people who follow their faith, would my declination to have a professional relationship in any way help fix that?   When the problem is that people are being prevented from full participation in society due to skin color, increased shunning from a broader community would seem to be a bad solution. 

Of course, this is a situation I can contemplate from a place of privilege, since I don’t depend on dancing to make a living.  I can pay the bills either way here.

I have on a previous occasion declined to make a webpage or two for a religious organization, but that was just a friend of a friend and no one was offering to pay me, so I felt no compunction about not volunteering my time to help a religious group.  I’m not sure what I would have done had I been offered a competitive hourly wage.

It’s a rather an academic question now since I have agreed to perform already, and I am not cancelling a scheduled professional performance for anything short of the plague, but should this ever happen again, what do you think I should do, darlings?  How do you handle working for people with loathsome ideologies?


Featured image from Wikimedia commons.  

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Elizabeth is a professional belly dancer, a flaky computer scientist, and a returned Peace Corps volunteer. She lives in Georgia (the state of the U.S., not the country) but is nonetheless somehow not a combination of stereotypes from Gone with the Wind and Deliverance. Her personal blog is Coffeefied. Operafied. Fluffified. Beglittered.

1 Comment

  1. June 15, 2014 at 5:52 pm —

    My take on it is if you are a licensed business that has legal protections and tax breaks you have to serve the public. But if you’re just earning money without taking business deductions and such, you haven’t made a contract to serve the public and you can follow your comfort level. It sounds like this organization serves the community and has a cause you can fully support, even though there are other troublesome aspects. Also, they don’t seem to care if a person they hire for an event shares the same religious views, so that’s cool. They may be part of a racist church, but it’s voluntary on their part and they probably don’t feel oppressed and they don’t need or want your help with that. They just want to have a nice event and want you to be part of it. My vote is for you to make some money and have a good time.

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