Libertarian legal scholar Richard Epstein discusses the conflict over religious exemptions to antidiscrimination laws at Hoover “Defining Ideas” and in a related podcast at Acton Institute. He suggests that it might be helpful to refocus the concept of “public accommodations” on businesses held to common carrier principles, typically because of elements of monopoly:
Historically, Title II [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, with public accommodation provisions] had two potent justifications. The first is that it was a necessary corrective against massive abuses of state power under Jim Crow. Thankfully, that risk is gone today. The other justification was that the traditional common law view — still good today — that any common carrier or public utility, by virtue of holding a monopoly position, was duty-bound to take all customers on reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms. When ordinary people have nowhere else to go for power, water, or transportation, they are entitled to get these services at reasonable rates. The rule covered all cases of racial discrimination, but it was not limited to it.
The implicit drawback of this position was that there was no duty to serve anyone in a competitive industry, precisely because disappointed customers had a full range of alternatives to which they could turn. The common law rightly held that refusals to deal in competitive industries counted as basic liberties.