As freedom seems to erode in America and government gets bigger, there are some positive aspects to look at. There are two areas in particular where America is still strong in the liberty category. They are freedom of speech and freedom to bear arms. While these two areas do have some government interference, particularly in regards to gun control, America is still a relatively free place when considering these two subjects. I don’t think it is because they happen to be part of the 1st and 2nd Amendments. I suppose freedom of religion could also be included in the relatively free category.
One area that puzzles me is freedom of association. For some reason, many, if not most, Americans simply cannot grasp this concept. It is easy in some circumstances for Americans to grasp, but then very difficult in other areas.
When Rand Paul was running for U.S. Senate, he came under fire from Rachel Maddow and others for suggesting that certain parts of the 1964 Civil Rights Act were harmful. While Paul did not exactly do a stellar job of defending himself and his position, he was correct in his original assessment. The problem with the 1964 act is that it was the major start of government interference in freedom of association. Instead of just saying that state and local governments cannot discriminate based on race (ignoring the federalism argument), the law extended way beyond that and told individuals and companies outside of government that they couldn’t discriminate.
That was really the major start of what has become our highly-litigious society. It should not surprise anyone that something like the Americans for Disabilities Act would come decades later, which ironically probably hurts disabled people more than it helps them.
After the Maddow/ Paul interview (or debate), some people reversed it and asked the questions in a different way. For example, some were asking, can a black restaurant owner prohibit a member of the KKK from entering his restaurant? When the question was posed this way, then all of a sudden many more people understood freedom of association. The majority of people said that it was his restaurant and his property, so he should have the right to refuse to serve the KKK member.
Many people do not understand libertarianism simply because they cannot differentiate between the law and social behavior. When libertarians say they want to legalize drugs, some people take that as encouragement for others to use drugs. When libertarians say that you shouldn’t have to wear a seat belt, some people think that libertarians are against using seat belts.
When libertarians say that business owners, landlords, or anyone else should be free to discriminate, many people take that as libertarians advocating discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or whatever. It is not that libertarians advocate racial discrimination. It is that libertarians believe in freedom and that includes property rights. If you own a piece of property, you should be able to invite who you want on it and not invite who you want. This would include a business owner telling potential employees and customers whether or not they are invited on the business owner’s premises.
Of course, in a free market, most businessmen that discriminated purely on racial grounds (or some other grounds) would likely not do well in business. It is also the right of people to boycott the business. In addition, if the business owner were not hiring the best employees at the best available prices because of race, gender, etc., then he would only be hurting himself and the productivity of his business. But if that is his business, he should be free to make that choice, even if it is not tasteful or outright disgusting, as long as he isn’t initiating force against others.
Freedom of association is one topic where Americans really need to evolve. We live in a politically correct world now and it is affecting our property rights. There are a lot of unintended consequences when laws are made interfering with freedom of association. Americans must see things differently on this topic if America is ever going to be close to free again.