The first amendment is the most well-known of all constitutional amendments. It states that the government cannot punish you for what you say, even if what you say is reprehensible.
Everyone claims to support freedom of speech, and they understand that supporting someone’s right to say what they want to say is not the same as agreeing with whatever is being said. I don’t think many Americans would support the idea that we should put in jail those who say racist things, because they understand that even jerks should have the freedom to say what they want, in a free society.
What I don’t understand is why it is so hard for many to apply the same logic to other areas. As a libertarian, I support the rights of everyone to deny service or employment to anyone, for whatever reason, even if I completely disagree with the reason, or find it reprehensible.
Libertarians believe that there are three natural rights everyone is born with: the right to Life, Liberty and Property, and that unless one of these rights is being violated, the government has no business getting involved.
When a wedding photographer denies service to lesbian couples, many become outraged and demand that the government do something to correct the wrong being done. Of course I do not share the opinion of that wedding photographer and I would never refuse to do business with anyone because of their sexual orientation, but whose rights are being violated in this case? Does the wedding photographer not have a right to do with his property (his business), as he pleases, in the same way that we all have a right to allow or deny access to our homes, for whatever reason? Do we really have a right to force others to do business with us, or employ us?
Before answering these questions, it’s important to understand that a right is something that cannot be taken away from you; something that you are entitled to. I think most would agree that you have a right to your property, and in a truly free society where everyone is created equal, your rights cannot conflict with mine. You cannot claim to have the right to enter my home while at the same time claiming that you believe in my property rights, for this would be a contradiction.
If you were to call the police because an unwanted guest refused to leave your house, you would probably find it strange if the police agreed to help only if they felt you had a good reason for wanting the person gone. Whether or not you are being unreasonable is, of course, irrelevant. In a free society, your home is still your home regardless of the kind of person you are. Why then should we apply different logic when it comes to someone’s business?
A consequence of anti-discrimination laws that proponents fail to consider is that these laws actually help the racists and bigots remain hidden. You may be unknowingly supporting a business owned by a racist person because the owner, for fear of being punished, keeps those feelings to himself. I would much rather have racist businesses be honest about their hate, so I can decide to stop supporting them with my money.
How long would a racist business owner be able to remain in business if all his customers and would-be employees found out he was racist? Probably not very long, and there is no harsher punishment for a business than profit loss. We really don’t need the government in order to punish those kinds of people, for we all have the freedom to stop doing business with them. This works far better than government intervention.
Let’s face it. No law will ever be able to change anyone’s mind. The solution that makes the most sense, and the one that is most consistent with freedom, is to treat property rights the same way that we treat freedom of speech.
Some may claim that my views on this are controversial, but what is truly controversial, and downright dangerous, is the idea that we should be using government to violate the rights of others merely because we disagree with them. This sets a precedent that could very well one day, be used against you, if enough people happen to be offended by your beliefs or your way of life.