In South Carolina, a BBQ restaurant owner claimed that he was within his rights to refuse service to blacks based on his religious beliefs. In the case brought before the Supreme Court, Maurice Bessinger stated that his religion required him to keep black people from eating in his restaurant, although he was perfectly OK with taking their money, so long as they ordered their food to-go.
The attorney representing the petitioners suing Piggie Park also addressed in court the “First Amendment religious privilege claim that petitioner asserted that his religion required him” to deny service to black customers.
“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.” (Source)
And now for you who actually took the time to read the story instead of basing your outrage solely off a headline before sharing with an ALL CAPS blurb of “SEE? I TOLD YOU THE SOUTH WAS FULL OF RACISTS!!!”, this case was heard by the Supreme Court in 1968.
50 years ago, Mr. Bessinger used a similar argument as Hobby Lobby to say that despite laws outlawing segregation, his religious beliefs trumped federal law under the 1st Amendment. Maurice Bessinger also lost his appeal to the Supreme Court, in an unanimous decision of 8-0. Like Hobby Lobby, Maurice’s Piggie Park BBQ wanted to use the 1st Amendment in order to claim freedom of religion to impose the out of touch views of the owner on others. Not only content to discriminate against blacks at his own establishments, Maurice Bessinger also then used his influence against another restaurant owner who integrated his business. Oh yeah, and then he ran for office, lost and blamed intellectuals and liberals. Sound familiar?
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.
Even Mr. Bessinger’s own brother turned on him when the NAACP threatened a boycott after it was revealed that he was distributing pro-slavery literature in his restaurants, causing almost every grocery chain, including Wal-Mart, to yank his product from the shelves. Yet, he stood by his racism even though it cost him almost 98 percent of his business.
Maurice Bessinger died earlier this year and his children took over the restaurant chain in 2010 with no interest in using the business to engage in the angry, racial politics of their father. The Confederate pictures and the pro-slavery literature are now gone, and the Stars and Bars that used to fly over each Piggie Park location have been taken down as well.
Like Maurice Bessinger, Hobby Lobby represents another, less blatant generation of people who still want to shove their prejudices and ignorance down the throats of others behind the guise of “religious freedom.” Fortunately, just as Mr. Bessinger and his racism shuffled off this mortal coil and into the dustbin history, so will the owners of Hobby Lobby and their religious bigotry.
By the way, if you ever find yourself in the Columbia, SC area, do stop in and try some BBQ at Piggie Park, and let me know how it was. I passed on multiple opportunities to eat there in my many journeys throughout the South because of the blatant racism of their now deceased owner. According to my mother, it’s damn good stuff, even if it is South Carolina style, mustard-based sauce. I prefer East Carolina, vinegar-based sauce, just in case you were wondering.