By Bradley Harrington
“The right to agree with others is not a problem in any society; it is the right to disagree that is crucial. It is the institution of private property that protects and implements the right to disagree.” – Ayn Rand, “Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal,” 1966 –
One problem with political debate today is that it is poisoned by the ideas of those who support overly involved government (statists). Thus, one has to wipe away preset notions before proper grasp of an issue is possible.
Take, for instance, our First Amendment “right to free speech”: “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”
Just what, exactly, does that mean? Does it mean I can sit in my living room and say anything I please, short of threats of force or fraud? Yes, it certainly does.
Observe, however, that this doesn’t mean I can sit in someone else’s living room and do the same. That is not a “right” but a privilege, granted to me (or not) by that living room’s owner.
Our “right” to free speech, in other words, really boils down to property rights – and he who owns the property controls the right.
The same reasoning applies to “the right of the people to peacefully assemble.” To “assemble”… Where? On my property? I don’t think so – unless I choose to grant others that privilege. The “right to assembly,” therefore, also reduces down to property rights.
And then there’s the First Amendment’s ban on government “respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Again, that does not mean that anyone is free to exercise their religion anywhere they please. When the Jehovah’s Witnesses come knocking at my door, I am perfectly free to let them in – or to slam the door in their face.
So, our “right to religion” also condenses itself into property rights as well.
Conclusion: There aren’t any “rights” to “free speech,” to “peacefully assemble” or to have “religion,” there are only property rights – i.e., the rights to our lives and all of their non-procreative derivatives.
Observe, in this context, that the First Amendment in no way prohibits our freedom to exercise these rights with regard to one another – but only bans government persecution of the exercise of those rights. Period!
Property rights, therefore, function as the social protection for each individual in securing their rights, particularly their right to disagree – and, absent those rights, the right to disagree disappears as well.
So, now that we’ve cleared that clutter out of the way, we are finally in a position to evaluate the “Religious Freedom Restoration Acts” (RFRAs) that are being considered, or have been passed, by various state governments around the country. (The Wyoming Legislature defeated a proposed RFRA in its 2015 session.)
These laws are intended to grant individuals and businesses their right to not perform services for people with whom they have religious disagreements.
Keeping in mind the context of the above, let’s ponder a few points:
► Advocating legislation based on “religious” rights is a fool’s errand, since such attempts fail to deal with the fundamental scope of the problem. What’s needed is legislation that affirms and protects people’s right to peacefully use and dispose of their property – period! Those who don’t like the peaceful decisions made by others are free to disagree – and go somewhere else. Boycotts and ostracism are valid responses to such practices; the use of force is not.
► And, indeed, the task of promoting such legislation would consist mainly of: Not creating new legislation, but in abolishing certain aspects of old legislation that have been preventing those rights from being respected. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, in particular, outlawed “discrimination” on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex or national origin.”
► To the extent that the Civil Rights Act abolished unequal voter registration requirements, Jim Crow laws in the South, school segregation, and so on, all was well – but the minute government attempted to regulate people’s non-coercive choices on their own property, it crossed the line. (Indeed, such laws became the very government persecution the First Amendment forbids.)
► The vehicle for those actions was the idea of “public accommodations,” i.e., a distinction made between “private” private property (my living room) and “public” private property (my restaurant). Ethically, however, no such distinction exists. Property is property – or it is not. And “property” means the right to peaceful use and disposal, which, in this context, means: The right to disagree.
That is the right, in the midst of today’s intellectual chaos, that needs to be advocated and respected. That would be true “social justice” – not the state-mandated mechanisms of plunder and force the statists keep howling about.
Bradley Harrington is a computer technician and a writer who lives in Cheyenne, Wyoming; he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org