EDITOR’S DESK: Businesses' rights raise debate federally, locally

Published: Wednesday, July 9, 2014 at 13:22 PM.

Much discussion has centered on the rights and expectations of businesses.

In the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that some corporations can opt out of a health care law requirement to cover women's contraception.

Some see it as a victory, upholding religious freedoms from government overreach; ensuring employers don't have to compromise their faith or face financial penalty.

Others say it chips away at women's rights, and, like Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, question whether the court's ruling is the real overreach, setting "potentially sweeping" precedent.

"It minimizes the government's interest in uniform compliance with laws affecting the workplace," the Associated Press wrote, explaining Ginsberg's reason for dissent.

North Okaloosa has its own debates about businesses' liberty.

Jerry Miller, Crestview's city attorney, says a smoker that stood on a downtown parking spot for nine months may have been good for Wright Choice Soul Food's business, but it also was "an inappropriate conversion of public property to private usage."

Owner and chef Albert Wright sought permission for the smoker nine months ago, but he said Fire Chief Joe Traylor, building inspector Eric Davis and building official Jonathan Bilby mentioned no ordinance that would have prevented it.

Now, if the council approves a variance allowing the smoker — it currently stands behind the restaurant — it could set a "dangerous precedent," Miller said during the June 23 city council meeting.

Then there's PETA asking the Crestview Wal-Mart to mark all its parking spaces with "Too Hot for Spot!" notices following a dog's death due to heat exhaustion.

This happened after a woman browsed for 13 hours in the store, according to a police report.

REALITY CHECK

Let's look at those three issues again.

What truly just decision could have come from the Hobby Lobby issue?

Why should contraception be covered by employers claiming religious objection?

Why should contraception not be covered if non-Christians can work there?

You can say it's a slippery slope, chipping away not just women's rights but also employee benefits. But then you'd also have to say Hobby Lobby's employers must compromise deeply held, valid beliefs to avoid closing or enduring a daily penalty.

That's a violation of religious freedom.

There are no winners with either judgment.

It's similar with the Crestview smoker situation.

Certainly, Wright Choice's smoker added to the restaurant's character; it was a true landmark for such a young establishment.

But consider Facebook fan Daniel Bowers' comment. He says, "I wonder what the downtown area would look like if every business was allowed to take up a parking space or two, and clog up the sidewalk with whatever they were selling."

That's no indictment of the smoker, or the restaurant; but it does point out what equal application of the law would provide: a cluttered Main Street, and no parking spaces.

It's unfortunate, because the owner thought for nine months that he had permission to stand the smoker on the parking spot, reporter Brian Hughes reports.

But mistakes happen and confusion arises, even in government. (See the Purl Adams alley debate.)

I feel for Mr. Wright, but like with the Hobby Lobby ruling, no decision would satisfy 100 percent.

There's really no "right" answer and no "wrong" answer; that's why we have judges and city council members and others who determine what makes sense for the general public.

Probably the only issue that most Crestview residents will agree on, among these three issues, is that Wal-Mart is not responsible for the dog's death last week.

The dog's owner must be held accountable for her alleged action: browsing in the store for 13 hours while her pet succumbed to heat exhaustion.

But it's encouraging to know, as regional manager Jon Kurpil tells Hughes, that employees routinely look out for babies and dogs in cars and report such incidents on the store's PA system.

What's your view? Write a letter to the editor or tweet News Bulletin Editor Thomas Boni.

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