No Cake for Little Hitler: Ethics in the Bakery
Freedom is a wonderful thing; freedom of speech is particularly important. But speech can also be a potent weapon. Your way of expressing yourself might prove horrific to me. Given that lot of businesses make all or part of their livelihood from helping people express themselves, challenges are bound to arise. Case in point, from The Lehigh Valley Express-Times: Holland Township family angry that supermarket won’t personalize cake for their son
JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell, Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell and Adolf Hitler Campbell.
Good names for a trio of toddlers? Heath and Deborah Campbell think so. The Holland Township couple has picked those names and the oldest child, Adolf Hitler Campbell, turns 3 today.
This has given rise to a problem, because the ShopRite supermarket in Greenwich Township has refused to make a cake for young Adolf’s birthday.
“We believe the request … to inscribe a birthday wish to Adolf Hitler is inappropriate,” said Karen Meleta, a ShopRite spokeswoman.
The Campbells turned down the market’s offer to make a cake with enough room for them to write their own inscription and can’t understand what all of the fuss is about.
Here’s an earlier, longer version of the story: Holland Township man names son after Adolf Hitler
ShopRite is within its rights to refuse to make the cake. They certainly have no obligation to help the Campbells live out their probably-hateful or at-least-misguided lifestyle. (Note: I’m willing to soften the case against these parents because, based on reading the longer version of the story — they seem dim-witted, not evil. Whatever.)
So, it was at least OK, and perhaps ethically a good thing, to refuse to make the cake. Of course, it’s easy to imagine all kinds of tacky, tasteless things someone would want to have written on a cake (“Happy Birthday, Assh*le!” or “Show Me Your T*ts!). I can imagine borderline cases that would give bakery managers headaches. But a cake paying apparent homage to the 20th Century’s literal poster boy for evil is probably not a borderline case.
Not surprisingly, different stores have different standards. Apparently the local Wal-Mart made little Adolf’s first two birthday cakes:
A spokeswoman for Wal-Mart said the store won’t put anything illegal or profane on a cake but thinks it’s important to respect the views of customers and employees.
The Wal-Mart spokesperson’s premise is a little off, here: you don’t need to respect all views of your customers and employees. A healthy degree of respect for cultural and religious differences is a good thing, but not all views are worthy of respect. So I don’t think a store needs to be willing to make Nazi cakes in order to show its support for diversity. But while I think what ShopRight did in refusing to make that cake was perfectly fine, I’m not sure there’s anything badly wrong with another store going ahead and making the cake. It is, after all, the kid’s name, and by making the cake the store would be pretty far from promoting Nazism. In a free society — and a free market — we probably want to allow merchants a reasonable degree of leeway in the customer preferences they are willing to tolerate.