Monday, April 27, 2015

Legalized Theft: Property Rights in an Entitlement Society

Much in the news today, as well as in water-cooler discussions, is the effort to force businesses, such as florists and bakeries, to serve social functions against the religious convictions of their owners. On one side, we see those who protest discrimination by the business-owners. On the other, we see those who have suddenly read the First Amendment about freedom of religion.

I say to both sides: That ship sailed a long time ago.

To the tolerance campaigners, I have a question: when a bar serves a particular clientele, is it discriminating? When there is a bowling league - or insert any social activity of your choice - for a particular segment of society, is that intolerant? My point is that discrimination cuts both ways. To discriminate in favor of a group is just as intolerant as to discriminate against that group, isn't it? Yet, I'm not seeing any public outrage about that. I recommend repeating this sentence to yourself, until you see my logic: "I can't tolerate intolerant people."

To the other side, the supposed defenders of religious liberty: Where were you when interracial marriage was declared legal by the Supreme Court? If a person has religious convictions against interracial marriage, is that a religious right that you want to protect? Speak up. I can't hear you. Why is it that "religious freedom" has suddenly become a rallying cry when it wants to discriminate against gay people? Yet, that phrase was never heard when so-called "civil rights laws," especially "public accommodations" laws became de riguer in the sixties.

My thought is that the answer is the Eighth Commandment, which reads simply, "You shall not steal" (Exodus 20:15). One of the sins forbidden by that commandment, according to Question 142 of the Westminster Larger Catechism, is "all unjust or sinful ways of taking or withholding from our neighbor of what belongs to him." To my mind, that covers both sides of this debate. As to the social activities to which I referred above, the commandment preserves the right of individuals to spend their own money on peaceful, voluntary interactions with associates of their choice. For the business owners, it preserves their right to perform interactions with individuals of their choice. Do you see the two sides of the coin here? The conflict arises from the efforts of government officials to insert force where there was none. And both sides, in their efforts to get government force for their own efforts, fail to recognize that force that works for them can just as easily be used against them.

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