You know how Hobby Lobby is using its “sincerely-held religious beliefs” to deny birth control to women, thanks to a Supreme Court decision that allows such discrimination?
In 1968, the Supreme Court heard the case of a South Carolina Barbeque restaurant owner who used many of the same arguments to justify his refusal to serve black people. Maurice Bessinger’s “sincerely-held religious beliefs” required him to refuse service to African Americans in his restaurant, though he was fine with allowing them to order their food to go. Apparently, Jesus’ reach does not extend to the cash register.
The late Maurice Bessinger told The State newspaper in 2000 that “I’m just a fair man. I want to be known as a hard-working, Christian man that loves God and wants to further (God’s) work throughout the world as I have been doing throughout the last 25 years,” when asked about the case.
The attorney representing Piggie Park asserted the “First Amendment religious privilege claim that petitioner asserted that his religion required him” to refuse service to black people. Bessinger asserted that his First Amendment right to be a bigot trumped the Civil Rights Act, but his appeal was struck down 8-0.
Of course, his interest did not lie simply with discrimination at his own establishment. Bessinger interfered with other businesses who integrated, and ran for office…blaming liberals for his loss. From The State:
In 1963, Bessinger became angry at a Spartanburg restaurant owner who had integrated his restaurant. Bessinger met with other restaurant owners to force the man to resign as president of the S.C. Restaurant Association — a group he later led as president.
In 1964, Bessinger ran for the S.C. House. He lost by about 100 votes and blamed his defeat on what he called the “Shandon Mafia” – an “exclusive elite section of Columbia” that had “large numbers of out-of-staters, college professors, government officials and other liberals,” according to his biography.
Bessinger told the paper that he has no regrets about the lawsuit. “It is really a constitutional right whether a man has the right to run his business without governmental interference,” he said.
“This is not about race,” he said in his 2001 biography. He insisted that he was not a bigot–he simply was pro-private property rights and pro-state sovereignty, two of the major platforms of the various denominations of right-wingers today.
In 2000, Bessinger found himself facing a boycott from the NAACP and numerous stores pulled his products from their shelves. After the NAACP objected to South Carolina flying the Confederate flag over its capitol, Bessinger responded by flying it at all his restaurants and added it to the back of his BBQ sauce bottles.
Nearly every retailer pulled his sauce from their shelves, with the exception of Southern grocery chain Ingles.
The sauce was replaced by a similar brand, and the NAACP threatened another boycott:
The NAACP suspected that this was a clever ruse intended to sneak the sauce back into stores, but the new sauce was produced by Maurice’s older brother Melvin Bessinger, who publicly denounced his sibling, calling him an embarrassment to the family name.
Bessinger’s children are now in charge, and have removed the final Confederate flag from their restaurants. “Dad liked politics,” Lloyd Bessinger told The State. “That’s not something we’re interested in doing. We want to serve great barbecue.”