When Personal Convictions Affect Your Business

Last week the internet was all abuzz when Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy made public comments regarding his and the company’s stance on the marriage issue. Despite it has been a well-known fact the company is owned by devout Christians and runs its company on “biblical principles,” (and despite the fact he made the comments in the context of Christian media) Dan’s comments resulted in a nationwide flurry of responses on both sides of the issue. Some people spoke out and vowed never to eat there again. Some people did protests. Others came out to support the company. It still remains to be seen whether Dan’s comments will have any kind of effect (positive or negative).

I don’t want this blog post to be a debate about the specific issue at hand. There’s enough of that going on at Facebook. What I want to address and ask y’all is this: is it ever a good or wise decision for the owner or executive to share his/her personal and/or political beliefs, especially if they relate to such a provocative or polarizing topic as gay marriage? I have seen wedding photographers get sued for turning away same-sex couples requesting to have their weddings shot. I have seen other public companies come under fire when executives have been known to contribute to political campaigns. It is all worth it? Early in my business I turned down a music video for a rapper who had profane lyrics and content I found offensive. Was it unwise for me to turn down a paying gig just because of that?

There is no right or wrong answer of course. But it’s one worth exploring. What are your thoughts and experiences on the topic? Please share.

For another great article on the topic read “Should You Mix Religion and Business?”.

12 thoughts on “When Personal Convictions Affect Your Business

  1. I think it is sad that our nation and the way we treat people does not allow for opposing views. Doesn\’t Chick-fil-A have a right to express their views as a company? I am on friendly basis with several gay people, work with them, get along fine. They know I am not a supporter of the gay lifestyle, but I respect them as individuals. They don\’t support my Christian beliefs, but they respect me as an individual. I\’m not a wedding photographer but if a wedding photographer turns down a gay wedding why should they get angry? Do you really want someone who doesn\’t like you present on your wedding day? I guess I just don\’t like either side of the coin forcing an opinion down my throat. I want a nation that says you have the right to think and say what you feel and believe without me or someone else crucifying you for it. If you don\’t like it, don\’t listen, change the channel, but down the article, click on a new link. I promise you your life will be no worse for it, unless of course you decide to make it worse.

    1. Well said Tim. We have turned into a nation of people who scream for tolerance and equality, but only for people just like us. No one seems to be allowed to disagree without them being in some way, shape, or form bigoted or judgmental. I was actually under the impression that we were a country that recognized certain inherent rights of individuals – the first among those being the right to speech, assembly, and religion… This SHOULD mean that we can all have our own views and yet still respect each other. Crazy pipe dream, I know…

      As for the question at hand, I have never had a potential client with a job that didn’t jive with my personal beliefs… though when I was contacted to do a rap video for a local artist, I just made sure I gave him the same rates I give large corporations… For some reason I just wasn’t affordable to him…

  2. This is a tricky issue for sure. As a freelancer, I don’t feel that I have the luxury of turning down every job that I don’t agree 100% with the product, message, or client. However, I do turn down work where I feel that the product or message strongly opposes my own values. I must decide on a case by case basis. Sometimes it is wise (from a business perspective) to not share the reason for turning down the work. The decision to speak out publicly about one’s political or religious views can certainly affect one’s business and it might be wise to consider the ramifications carefully before speaking out about polarizing issues. This is especially true if you are successful and have a high profile. Of course its a free speech issue. We all STILL have the right to speak our minds on any subject we want. But we also have to be prepared for the consequences of our actions. Dan Cathy has every right to express his views about gay marriage – and he did so. People who disagree with his position also have the right to boycott his business and encourage others to do so – also free speech. We should all aspire to be more tolerant of people with opposing views, but we must be prepared for friction and conflict whenever people are passionate about their beliefs. If we still choose to act or speak knowing that there will be opposition to our views, then we must have the courage of our convictions and accept the consequences.

  3. Stimulating article, thanks for posting Ron! I appreciate the comments, all very well written. I run my business and make my decisions through the lens of my Faith and convictions. I want to be able to proudly display all the work I do and have them reflect my integrity. I also have a rule I use… would I be proud to watch my production with my wife and kids.. if the answer is NO I won’t do it. I have been approached to do some rap videos and I have declined the business as it was not a fit for either party, not based on the genre “Rap” but the content and message of their particular music. If it is a band wanting a video done I always ask for samples of their music so I can make my decision. Last year I had a HUGE test in this arena. I was approached by an insurance company to produce training content for several projects. This would have been a very large paying job with a good stream of work. I had never heard of them (I don’t remember their name now) and I was confused by their website and what exactly they did. They said they wanted to fly me out to meet regarding the project (they were in NY). It seemed like an incredible opportunity! Then, I asked for a little more details about the audience and I discovered the training content was for Planned Parenthood clinics nationwide (not sure what I would have “trained” them to do). I immediately told the person at the company that I would have to respectfully decline based on my personal convictions as the partnership would not be a good fit. It took me a millisecond to think about that decision, it could have been a high six figure job and there is NO WAY would ever take that job on. Good stuff Ron, keep it up!

  4. I believe that yes we have the right to say no to a paying job. Money isn’t everything & we should by no means sell out our souls for money. As creative individuals our jobs should inspire us. If everything is about money, what happens to our humanity? There is so much corruption in the world already as a result of greed. It take a honest individual to stand up for what he/she believes in.

  5. It’s pretty important to distinguish between having, or expressing a set of beliefs – and discrimination of a protected class.

    In almost every state, it would be illegal for a photographer to refuse to photograph a gay couple – even on religious grounds. And, yes, it’s been tested by the courts. (see -http://blogs.sfweekly.com/thesnitch/2012/06/christian_photographers_sued_f.php)

    Likewise, it would be illegal for a Chick-fil-A to refuse to hire or serve someone who was gay.

    So, no, you don’t have a right to say no to a paying job just if you reason is considered discrimination against a protected class. If you offer services to the public, you must offer those services without discrimination, even for religious reasons.

    That’s not even close to the same thing as the CEO expressing that he supports the traditional definition of marriage. It only became a crazy story when the Mayor of Boston said that they wouldn’t allow Chick-fil-A to open stores in their city. It only became a story when someone decided to seize on the politics of it all.

    It’s worth mentioning, that even the ACLU – which is one of the staunchest advocates for gay marriage, has come to the defense of Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy against the political threats as a result of expressing his views.

    That said, unless a given person conviction is integral to your brand message, you’re probably off leaving it out of public discussion. There’s never a reason to lose a client over politics or religion.

    1. Thanks for the comment Jason, I read the article, wow, that seems to cross the line in my mind, but I guess the fact of the matter is that their could be consequences with taking a stand and one must be willing to face them. I did read through some of the comments on that article and I found those very enlightening. This person, who is FOR Gay Marriage had a very good point in their comment:

      “I am actually for gay rights and would gladly photograph a gay wedding. However, I don’t believe it is right to force a privately owned business to photograph one. We as photographers are artists, and we won’t give the best quality if it’s something we don’t want to do or feel uncomfortable doing. What if a couple comes to me and asks me to photograph them having sex? Will I be sued because I don’t feel comfortable doing that? Why, in this “free” society, should the government tell me what I HAVE to photograph. This upsets me. Also, artists discriminate all the time. When I do casting calls I look for a specific body type and look. Will the government tell me that I can’t do that as well?”

      I guess it comes down to the whole “protected class” thing. Hmm… good discussion.

    2. The New Mexico case was the exact case to which I was referring. One could make the argument that expressing your religious beliefs publicly on your site could possibly help you avoid such an issue. I would hope that if a same-sex couple would avoid an openly devout Christian photographer knowing that their personal convictions would go against their wedding. Why try to hire an artist to capture the most important day of your life if they don’t agree with what you’re doing?

      Since religious affiliation is a “protected class” too (from what I understand), what if a Muslim wanted to hire a devout Jew to make a promo video for a mosque? (Or vice versa)? Intuitively it seems like when it comes to artistic expression, the law would allow for someone to deny a job on religious grounds.

      Can a church be forced to hire someone engaged in a practice that is clearly outside the boundaries of the church’s doctrine, whether or not it’s homosexuality or some other lifestyle that church sees as not biblical?

        1. There’s one difference here though: this is a group organizing a boycott of a Christian’s bake shop. Everyone is free to boycott a business for whatever reason. But that’s different than the LAW forcing someone to compromise their beliefs.

    3. The point is to be tactful, you don’t tell someone they smell out right. There is always a way to decline any job respectfully. If you don’t say anything discriminable the court can do nothing, there’s simply no case. If I decide I want to take a short holiday with my family over the supposed job date there is nothing the court can do & if I decide to cancel my holiday that’s my free choice.

  6. This is a no brainer. If a company is going to publicly take a stand, then it is up to those who are associated with them to decide whether they are going to continue to associate themselves with their values. Which is what other companies have done. Just because a porn company may be interested in me working for them, it doesn’t mean I am going too.

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