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Posts Tagged ‘anti-discrimination’

It is a sign of how far anti-discrimination laws have gone when a dating website is sued for not including homosexuals in the matchmaking service. I completely agree with Jacob Sullum:

In a settlement with the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, the online dating service eHarmony, until now limited to heterosexuals, has agreed to start matching men with men and women with women. The deal resolves a complaint by a gay man who claimed that eHarmony’s failure to accommodate homosexuals violated New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination.

[…] I’ve never bought the argument that gay marriage—i.e., the government’s evenhanded recognition of relationships between couples, without regard to sexual orientation—is a way of forcing “the gay agenda” onto people who object to it. But this coerced agreement, compelling a private business to provide a service it did not want to provide, certainly is. As Michelle Malkin notes, “this case is akin to a meat-eater suing a vegetarian restaurant for not offering him a ribeye or a female patient suing a vasectomy doctor for not providing her hysterectomy services.”

Also read this old article by Jason Dixon.

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David Bernstein has a fine post where he explains the perils of having ‘reasonable restriction on free speech’ such as hate speech laws:

When I was in law school, advocates of weakening First Amendment protections to restrict “hate speech” pointed to Canada as a shining example of how egregious expression could be banned without threatening freedom of speech more generally. At the time, the Canadian Supreme Court was holding that Holocaust denial and violent, misogynistic pornography are not protected under Canadian constiutitional law. And, really, who wants to defend Holocaust denial and violent pornography? Yet, less than twenty year later, we have Canadian citizens being prosecuted for quoting biblical injunctions against homosexual activity, or for merely reprinting the Danish Mohammed cartoons. (For the latest outrage, see here, courtesy of Instapundit). So the Canadian example hasn’t quite worked out as its prior advocates had anticipated. Instead of being an example of “reasonable” restrictions on freedom of expression, it has become an example of the slippery slope problems inherent in allowing restrictions on freedom of expression based on subjective views of what is sufficiently offensive or problematic to be banned.

I have pointed out the same thing in several old posts. And even leaving aside the slippery-slope argument, there is something fundamentally immoral about censoring someone’s opinions because it is distasteful.

Bernstein’s post also goes into other issues, such as the intrinsic arbitrariness of tribunals that end up enforcing such laws. Read the whole thing.

By now, the most important truth ought to be obvious to all — freedom of speech needs to be absolute in order to mean anything. Thus one cannot have a thing such as a “right to never have your feelings hurt”.

Unfortunately, as Orwell famously said, to see what is one front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.

So I repeat myself, ad nauseum, for that is all I can do really.

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After Canada, it is Australia.

Australian gun lobbyist Ron Owen has been told he is entitled to express his homophobic views, but that he went too far with the bumper sticker: “Gay Rights? Under God’s law the only rights gays have is the right to die.”

Queensland’s Anti-Discrimination Tribunal found Owen guilty of inciting hatred against homosexuals with the bumper sticker when he parked his car outside the Cooloola Shire Council offices in Gympie, north of Brisbane.

[…]The former president of the National Firearm Owners of Australia was taken to the tribunal by several local lesbians, who claimed they had been offended despite only one having seen the bumper sticker.

Two of the women were awarded $4,195, with a third awarded $2,000 in damages.

The problem with a hypothetical “right to not get offended”, indeed with any hate speech law is that it not only contradicts the more important right to freedom of speech but also that offence is an incredibly subjective phenomenon. For example, it is a fact that I am extremely offended at the tribunal’s decision. It insults my deepest beliefs about human rights. It makes me cynical about the state of the world and the future of liberty. Indeed the commision’s decision makes me and other libertarians feel insecure and hated.

Now, can I have my money too?

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I have seen a lot of absurd things but this one is king. The last sentence of the excerpt below is possibly the greatest example of WTF-ness ever.

An eight-year-old boy has sparked an unlikely outcry in Sweden after failing to invite two of his classmates to his birthday party.

The boy’s school says he has violated the children’s rights and has complained to the Swedish Parliament.

The school, in Lund, southern Sweden, argues that if invitations are handed out on school premises then it must ensure there is no discrimination.

The boy’s father has lodged a complaint with the parliamentary ombudsman.

He says the two children were left out because one did not invite his son to his own party and he had fallen out with the other one.

For those who are unaware, Sweden is also the remarkable country where prostitution is completely legal from the standpoint of the girl offering it, but illegal for the john buying the service…

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The American Civil Liberties Asoociation has, over the years, done a lot of commendable work in defence of freedom. Particularly praiseworthy is its consistent defence of the First Amendment. It has frequently extended legal help to protect those whose free speech rights have been threatened. It has fought for the separation of the church and the state and argued for the  decriminalization of drugs. For all that, it deserves our plaudits.

Unfortunately, the ACLU has been firmly opposed to other, equally fundamental, areas of freedom. It’s legal apparatus has ben used to file anti-discrimination claims against private clubs. The ACLU does not seem to recognize the fact that the so called ‘positive rights’ that it champions — for instance the ‘right’ of this woman to gain admittance into a social club — come only at the expense of the liberty of purely private organizations to operate in any way they wish. It is ironic that an organization that believes people should be allowed to say whatever they want does not believe that people should have the freedom to associate with whoever they want.

The ACLU has over 500,000 members and it has been influential in the evolution of constitutional law. Unfortunately, despite its name, it is not a libertarian organization and its influence has quite occasionally been used to curtail individual liberty. That is a sad truth. 

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This case is so absurd that it is difficult to take it seriously. Priya Venkatesan, who taught writing this year at Dartmouth College, is threatening to sue former students under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act for criticizing her in course feedbacks. This report has the details along with snippets of Ms Venkatesan’s own writing, which should leave no doubt in anyone’s mind why she got so poor evaluations.

Oh, and Title VII, for those who are unaware, is the primary federal law that prohibits discrimination in employment. For the life of me I don’t see how that can be used to sue the students, who are neither Ms Venkatesan’s employers nor her colleagues. Besides, as any lawyer would point out, they have an obvious first amendment right to censure their professor in evaluations. Maybe Ms Venkatesan has a postmodernist explanation for all this…

Here’s a link to the Dartmouth blog coverage on the matter. Also, my thoughts on Title VII and other anti-discrimination laws.

(Link via Instapundit)

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posted earlier about the Elane Photography case. The New Mexico Human Rights commission issued its opinion today, holding Elane Photography guilty of discrimination. As Eugene Volokh discusses here, the breadth of the decision is astounding and ostensibly covers other businesses of a similar nature. For instance, freelance writers — by the same logic employed by the commission — can be compelled to write things contrary to their religious beliefs.

As this case makes clear, the attack on freedom of speech from anti-discrimination laws is current and real. And it is getting worse.

(Link via The Volokh Conspiracy)

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Eugene Volokh writes about a hypothetical scenario involving a mixed-race couple in the photography incident:

The desire to prevent race discrimination should no more dissolve your right to be free from being compelled to speak (here, to create an artistic work) than it should dissolve the right to express bigoted views, to choose members of a racist political organization, or to select ministers (or church members) based on any criteria a church pleases. And if that means that writers and photographers can’t be legally barred from choosing their subjects based on race, that’s just an implication of the basic First Amendment principle of the speaker’s right to choose what to say.

There should be nothing particularly daring about this position.

Needless to say, I agree. And my position will remain the same if I am discriminated against by someone in the US because I am an Indian.

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In America, you have freedom of expression and freedom of association, except when you don’t. Since the passage of the Civil Rights Act, one does not really have the right to decide who one hires, or rents out one’s apartment to, allows inside one’s restaurant, or does business with. If you refuse to deal with someone commercially because of their race, sex, age, sexual orientation or other protected characteristic, the government will punish you.

Yet the Civil Rights Act, in its original form, did allow significant exceptions for activities of a private or expressive nature. Much of that is no longer true. Courts are interpreting the provisions of anti-discrimination laws in ever broader terms. One no longer, for instance, has the right to decide who one lives with.  And now, it appears that one cannot even choose what one photographs. 

Elane Huguenin refused to photograph a client’s same-sex commitment ceremonies, and the New Mexico Human Rights Commission decided that this violated state antidiscrimination law. Elane has to pay over $6000 in attorney costs.

Eugene Volokh has a series of excellent posts regarding this particular incident, which I highly recommend. He argues that since photography is an art, this judgement violates the first amendment. I agree. However, even if that were not the case, I think there is no rationale for an anti-discrimination law that forces someone to offer their service to others — especially when the act of discrimination does not significant restrict the client’s ability to obtain that service (I am sure there were many other photographers who would have been willing to do the job for this particular client).

Ultimately, all these laws boil down to an intent to strip individuals of their right to make ‘immoral’ choices and use the power of the state to force this; and that, in my view is the ultimate immorality.

(Hat tip to The Volokh Conspiracy, where I saw this story)

Previous posts in this blog on anti-discrimination law:

Anti-discrimination laws and freedom

The need to defend the rights of bigots

 

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Here is a link to an article by Christina Sommers in which she talks about gender politics, affirmative action in higher education and recent, extremely worrying developments. Read the whole article, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

(Link via The Volokh conspiracy)

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I stumbled upon this excellent article by Jason Dixon on anti-discrimination laws which parallel my thoughts on the subject. While Jason’s article focusses on sexual-orientation, it could apply equally well to any other protected characteristic such as race, gender or age.

It is not a comfortable position to defend the rights of bigots who do not look past their fear of The Great Unknown and realize that gay people are not a threat. But it is exactly those rights that I must defend.

Couldn’t have put it better myself.

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Rights and “Rights”

John and Terry Hoffius own an apartment building in Jackson, Michigan. In the summer of 1993, they had a vacancy and advertised it. They were contacted by a couple, Kristal McCready and Keith Kerr, who expressed interest in renting it. When asked if they were married, McCready and Kerr replied in the negative. Mr. Hoffius informed them that according to his religious beliefs it was sinful to cohabit out of wedlock and that he would not countenance it by renting to them. McCready and Kerr soon found another apartment in the area but would not just let the matter drop. They filed a suit against the Hoffiuses, alleging housing discrimination. The case went all the way up to the Michigan Supreme Court. In a 4-2 decision, the Supreme Court held that the Hoffiuses had violated the plaintiffs’ “rights” by not renting the apartment to them. [1]

In a 2002 decision, the California Fair Employment & Housing Commission fined Melissa DeSantis $500 for inflicting “emotional distress” on a would-be roommate by allegedly telling him that “I don’t really like black guys. I try to be fair and all, but they scare me.” The decision also required her to pay the would-be roommate $240 in expenses and take “four hours of training on housing discrimination.” [2]

Ann Hacklander-Ready rented a four-bedroom house in Madison, Wisconsin, and sublet three of the bedrooms to female housemates. After two housemates moved out, Hacklander-Ready and her remaining housemate, Maureen Rowe, looked for replacements. They initially accepted a rent deposit from Caryl Sprague, knowing that she was a lesbian. Hacklander-Ready and Rowe later decided they were not comfortable living with a lesbian, and returned Sprague’s deposit. Sprague then filed a discrimination complaint with Madison’s civil rights commission against both Hacklander-Ready and Rowe. The judge ruled against the duo, and ordered them to pay damages. Rowe settled but Hacklander-Ready appealed. She lost and was ordered to pay $23000 to Sprague in attorney fees, in addition to thousands of dollars worth of damages. [3]

In each of the above examples, someone’s rights were violated. It was the person who the court/commision found guilty.

The right to associate, fundamental to any free society, includes the right to not associate. The right to free speech incorporates the right to express opinions that may offend others. The ever-expanding scope of anti-discrimination laws strikes at the heart of these freedoms by telling us what we cannot do with our own property and what opinions we may not express. The greatest threat to liberty in the United States today comes not from the Al-Qaeda but from within — from the recent explosion of various laws that seek to erode civil liberties in the name of “compelling state interest”. Anti-discrimination laws are a prime example of those.

The original laws

“A society that puts equality – in the sense of equality of outcome – ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom. The use of force to achieve equality will destroy freedom, and the force, introduced for good purposes, will end up in the hands of people who use it to promote their own interests. On the other hand, a society that puts freedom first will, as a happy by-product, end up with both greater freedom and greater equality”. -Milton Friedman

The two primary American federal laws that govern discrimination in businesses and property are the Civil Rights Act of 1964 [4] (henceforth abbreviated to CRA) and the subsequent Fair Housing Act of 1968 [5]. These laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, religion and sometimes sex. For instance, Title II of the CRA mandates that a person cannot be refused entry into a public place (such as a restaurant, hotel or theatre) on the basis of these characteristics. Title VII forbids employers from discriminating against a member of the above “protected classes” in any aspect of employment including hiring, firing and compensation. The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to refuse to sell or rent a dwelling to any person because of his race, color, religion or national origin and it also outlaws discriminatory housing adverts.

Now, equality before the law is one of the fundamental tenets of a democratic society. Thus, there is no place for any kind of discrimination in legislation, government agencies or state-funded institutions. Indeed much of the CRA is concerned with outlawing this kind of state-mandated discrimination and I have absolutely no quarrel with those parts of the Act. Titles II and VII of the CRA and much of the Fair Housing Act, however, go much further than that; they impose restrictions on privately owned businesses. They lay out a particular moral standard and require that this standard supercede the individual’s choices even in matters that ought to be strictly his business. That to me is unjustified and immoral.

Some might argue that certain restrictions on freedom are necessary for ensuring social justice; that a complete absence of anti-discrimination laws will inevitably result in terrible consequences. My answer to them is this: the restrictions on individual liberty that anti-discrimination laws impose are huge and therefore they cannot be justified unless the likely consequences (of not having these laws) are sufficiently catastrophic. Let us therefore pause to consider what will happen, in this day and age, if all anti-discrimination laws which curtail property rights are repealed. Will it lead to overt discrimination in private businesses? Yes, some. However there is no doubt in my mind that the loss of profit, and more importantly the social stigma this will invite will be a very strong discouraging force and will ensure that instances of discrimination remain extremely rare. The current mainstream attitudes, as the reader will undoubtedly agree, are overwhelmingly against discrimination and no business that gives even the slightest importance to its brand image will dare indulge in overtly discriminatory conduct. The beauty of a free society is that there is always plenty of choice and a person who is the victim of one irrational bias will nevertheless find ten other places that will serve him without reserve.

What about the destructive wholesale discrimination against blacks in the early part of the last century, some may ask. One answer, of course, is that times have changed and the example is irrelevant to our present topic. The discrimination against blacks that occurred then will have never occured today even if there was no CRA. Indeed, the massive change in the attitude towards blacks among ordinary people and the rejection of the slavery-era mentality occured in the years before the passage of the Act (the very fact that the Act passed with popular support is testament to that) and thus many of the provisions of the CRA were unnecesary from inception! In some ways, however, this answer is unsatisfactory for it seems to leave open the question of whether a CRA-like act would have been justified, say, a hundred years ago (disregarding the fact that it would have never passed then!). A better answer is obtained by taking a closer look at the precise nature of that wholesale anti-black discrimination. As Ruwart points out [6], that wholesale dicrimination was a direct result of legislation. Laws were passed by the government which made it costlier to hire blacks, made it illegal for blacks and whites to mingle together and mandated discrimination in several other ways. In a truly libertarian society such laws would not exist, nor would anti-discrimination laws like Title II and VII, for all these laws share a defining characteristic — they restrict freedom and choice.

However, the greatest irony is that coercive laws like these seldom have the desired effect. They may achieve some (forced) racial integration but that does not naturally translate to less racial tension. They take away basic property rights and replace them with governmental tyranny and meaningless political correctness. In the words of Congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul [7],

“The Civil Rights Act of 1964 not only violated the Constitution and reduced individual liberty; it also failed to achieve its stated goals of promoting racial harmony and a color-blind society. Federal bureaucrats and judges cannot read minds to see if actions are motivated by racism. Therefore, the only way the federal government could ensure an employer was not violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was to ensure that the racial composition of a business’s workforce matched the racial composition of a bureaucrat or judge’s defined body of potential employees. Thus, bureaucrats began forcing employers to hire by racial quota. Racial quotas have not contributed to racial harmony or advanced the goal of a color-blind society. Instead, these quotas encouraged racial balkanization, and fostered racial strife.

Of course, America has made great strides in race relations over the past forty years. However, this progress is due to changes in public attitudes and private efforts. Relations between the races have improved despite, not because of, the 1964 Civil Rights Act.”

The draconian morphosis

The original laws were however only the beginning; the top of the classic slippery slope. They opened the doors to more recent anti-discrimination laws that are much more draconian. For instance, Title VII of the CRA applies only to businesses with 15 or more employees. This was done in mild deference to the relatively private nature of small businesses as well as to save them from the often formidable costs of fighting a discrimination lawsuit. Many states however have since enacted laws that are essentially versions of Title VII without the 15 employee exemption. Thus, in California, anti-discrimination laws apply to employers with more than 5 employees; in New Jersey, the law applies to even 1 employee companies.

Many other examples are provided by David Bernstein in an excellent article [8] .

“While the civil rights laws of the 1960s were generally sensitive to civil libertarian concerns, contemporary antidiscrimination laws often are not. For example, in deference to freedom of association and privacy considerations, the 1964 Act prohibited discrimination only in public facilities such as restaurants, hotels, and theaters. Newer laws, however, often prohibit discrimination in the membership policies of private organizations ranging from large national organizations like the Boy Scouts of America to small local cat fanciers’ clubs.”

Of the many inroads that anti-discrimination laws have made into the private realm, one that I find particularly disconcerting concerns roommate selection. The original form of the Fair Housing Act only covered landlords, not roommates (except on the issue of discriminatory adverts). They also contained an exemption clause for landlords who rented less than four units and lived on the premises. Recently however, as the examples in the beginning of this article show, the law has been interpreted to cover roommates, even those who do not own the apartment. Deciding who to share a house with is an intimate matter and when laws and courtrooms interfere with that, something is very wrong. Eugene Volokh’s post on this subject [9] mirrors my sentiments.

Frankly, I am surprised at the relative lack of outrage on this issue. If the government attempts to clamp down on free speech there will be protests, and rightfully so, but many of these protesters will remain silent on issues of freedom that touch on politically sensitive themes like these. Of course, most of us are not racist, sexist, or anti-gay. However, a necessary characteristic of freedom of expression and association is that there be no caveats; the real test of liberty is when people offend.

There is no doubt that discrimination can be extremely offensive and pernicious; thus the idea of allowing people to discriminate may strike some as going too far. In the end however, as David Bernstein puts it, “it is a small price to pay for preserving the pluralism, autonomy and check on government power provided by civil liberties.”

References:

1. Housing Discrimination Laws and the Continuing Erosion of Property Rights-www.fff.org

2. FEHC Dec. No. 02-12, 2002 WL 1313078

3. http://volokh.com/2002_07_14_volokh_archive.html#85248159

4. Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Wikipedia

5. Fair Housing Act – Wikipedia

6. http://www.theadvocates.org/ruwart/questions_maint.php?Category=6&id=156

7. The trouble with forced integration – Ron Paul archives

8. http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=2719

9. http://volokh.com/posts/1179259134.shtml

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