OPINION – One by one, cities and towns across the state of Utah are passing anti-discrimination ordinances. These ordinances seek to create legal protections for specific classes of individuals, though the gay rights community is, by far, the biggest advocate of these edicts.
Though billed as “civil rights” measures, at the heart of any anti-discrimination law is a not-so-veiled desire to punish those who hold unapproved opinions. The semantic swamp that results from such efforts proves hazardous to more than just skinheads and other “haters.” It creates a parade of bogus rights where forced association reigns supreme and actual freedom languishes.
There is currently great uncertainty among the American body politic concerning the source of our rights. Do they originate from our Creator or from the state? How we answer that question determines whether government will recognize limits to its powers or not. Part of the present confusion stems from the public’s inability to clearly distinguish between natural rights and legal rights.
Our rights were once regarded as self-evident truths about human freedom that restrained the power of civil government. In this sense, the word referred to universal, natural, liberties that are not contingent upon laws, customs or any particular cultural or governmental beliefs. This would make such rights inalienable or not capable of being transferred or taken away from their possessor. Legal rights, on the other hand, pertain to a specific cultural or governmental system and are bestowed or removed by law.
We often speak in reverent tones about the struggle for civil rights. So why do we tend to question the motives of those who speak out in defense of civil liberties? The answer is that most citizens don’t understand the difference between natural rights that freed us from the state’s power and legally created civil rights that actually increase the state’s power over us.
As a society, we seem to have forgotten that the ability to discriminate “between” things—as in telling them apart– is an admirable quality. It’s not the same thing as discriminating “against.” Clear thinkers should be capable of discriminating between good and bad ideas, proper and improper behavior, healthy and unhealthy choices, etc. Those who are capable of making distinctions will find that they can avoid much needless drama and heartache.
But today, even peaceably distinguishing between various ideas, behaviors, or choices too often result in an accusation of discriminating “against.” Modern civil rights laws presume that there are things we should be legally coerced into accepting, even when our dissent is peaceful.
Over time, the concept of civil rights has been methodically transformed into a political weapon. Civil rights today have far less to do with government actually protecting and guaranteeing essential liberties and more to do with enforcing political power over others.
Joseph Sobran explained the distinction like this: “Once the state got into the business of enforcing (rather than merely observing) civil rights, definitions began to collapse, new “rights” kept popping up (along with correlative obligations), the state invaded everything, and people began having to worry about whether their customary activities were still legal and lawyer-proof. Freedom is becoming a mere residue: it refers not to God-given, inalienable rights (since “rights” are now created by the state), but to the shrinking circle of things we are still allowed to do.”
When we hear of towns passing anti-discrimination ordinances, they are not correcting a wrong so much as creating a new one. Where people are free to make their own choices regarding their beliefs and their associations, not everyone will make choices that are beautiful, popular or constructive. But as long as their choices are peaceable, meaning they do not cause objectively observable harm to another individual’s property or person, they should be free to make them.
Anti-discrimination ordinances interject the force of the state into what should be a person’s personal choices; in the name of fairness. They seek to promote diversity by creating legally enforced uniformity of thought.
Constitutional attorney Jacob Hornberger notes that one of the unintended consequences of this type of legal coercion is that it produces the very behavior it supposedly prohibits: “The irony is that a statist society, one in which people are not free to make bad choices, tends to produce the very types of people that statists wish to avoid — selfish, bigoted, irresponsible, etc. Like mold in dark, musty areas, such traits thrive in an environment where genuine freedom is denied.”
The standard that we should be championing is the ability of all people to make whatever choices they wish, as long as their conduct is peaceful. More—not less—freedom is the answer.
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Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives morning show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
Copyright 2012 St. George News.