One of the cornerstones of a free society is the protection of property rights. Once a person has rightfully acquired property, he or she has an unabridged right to dispose of that property as he or she pleases. The only condition is that the property owner's use of it does not do harm to another person's life, liberty or property.
That is the only condition. Beyond that, a property owner has the right to use his or her assets wisely or stupidly. If he owns a business, it is his business (literally) whether he wants to reach out to as many customers as possible, or if he wants to limit whom he sells to, to a small, narrow group of people.
If Jack refuses to sell to Jill, for whatever reason, then Jill is free to take her money somewhere else. It is not her business to try to force Jack to sell his products to her - and it is certainly not the business of government to decide whom Jack should, or should not, do business with. If Jack wants to go out of business because he dislikes white males, then that is his privilege as a business owner. We white males can take our money elsewhere, and move on with our lives.
Yet that is precisely what is about to happen in Cheyenne.
Suppose that government told you that if you did not give more of your money to someone who, says government, deserves it more than you do, they would force you to give your money away. Your immediate reaction is, rightly, that government already does that – it is called “taxes”. But suppose government came to you after they had taxed you, and said that you still need to give more, only this time under the auspices of pure generosity.
The intuitive reaction to this scenario would be to ask how government could possibly do so without taxation.
It could happen by means of an ordinance. This ordinance could say that any time someone knocks on your door and asks you to donate to their charity, you are forced to give to them, regardless of what you think of their charity.
If you refuse to comply with the ordinance, government has a whole range of punishments in mind for you.
Sounds crazy? Is not this the kind of conspiracy theories that are tossed around out in the tin-foil hat parts of the internet?
Sadly, no. The fact of the matter is that the first part of this story is already true. Remember the Denver baker who refused to sell a cake to a gay wedding? His case, working its way up to the Supreme Court where it is currently being considered, has thus far led to affirmations of Colorado’s public accommodations law. According to the Washington Post, this law “prohibits refusing service to customers based on factors such as race, sex, marital status or sexual orientation”.
Now it is Cheyenne's turn. The city council is considering an "anti-discrimination" ordinance, though its final design is contingent on the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Denver baker case. Reports KGWN TV:
City council members in Wyoming's largest city are holding off on plans to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Cheyenne council members say they want to see how the U.S. Supreme Court rules in a Colorado case involving a baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. … The ordinance would make it illegal to fire employees or refuse to provide housing or other services on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Once they have the Supreme Court ruling in the Denver baker case, they will proceed with their ordinance. They need the ruling only to know exactly how to write the ordinance. There is apparently no chance they will throw it in the garbage can.
This type of coercive moral regulations is commonplace these days (remember the case with the lesbian woman and the muslim barber in Toronto?) and once they are in place, they will only grow more invasive. Put simply: its proponents are playing with fire. This is one of the most dangerous government invasions into our lives. It has a multitude of unintended, yet perfectly plausible, consequences that its proponents will laugh at and dismiss as - yes - tin-foil hat conspiracy theories.
That attitude, and its underpinnings of benevolent intentions, is precisely what builds the bridge from liberty to totalitarianism. How do we know? Because thought policing such as "anti-discrimination" legislation is not designed to accomplish what they are sold as.
Yes, that is correct. The purpose is not to safeguard individuals against discrimination; such safeguards would be needed if and only if government had established all sorts of monopolies in the economy. If government only permitted one supermarket in town; if only one barber, baker, butcher or car dealership were allowed to exist; then it would make perfect sense that government forced them to do business with every customer who walked in their doors. But so long as we have a free market, there is no reason for dictates of this kind.
If I don’t like that a baker refuses to service a gay couple (and I don't like bakers who do that), then both the gay couple and I can go somewhere else for pastries and cakes. It is really that simple.
No, the purpose behind "anti-discrimination" ordinances is to enforce a specific set of moral preferences. By dictating how private property can be used, government mandates some, and bans other, moral preferences.
Then comes the part that the do-gooders on the Cheyenne City Council have not considered: once a set of such preferences have been encoded in law; once government has created the tool of moral legislation; it is easy for that same government to change and expand that legislation.
The first type of expansion has to do with the regulation of use of property. If the city can force a business owner to provide for every person who walks in its doors, then who is to say the city cannot also force us all to provide for every person who knocks on the doors of our homes?
Sounds absurd? Consider a charity whose practices you disagree with. They have been given a permit by the city to solicit donations by knocking on people's doors. As they introduce themselves, you tell them that you only donate to charities you approve of morally, and therefore this particular charity will not get any money from you.
Have you just discriminated against them? Given that the charity has a city-issued permit to go door to door, what is the difference between a shop downtown and the doorstep of your home?
The second type of expansion has to do with the targeted population. Today, this ordinance is supposed to outlaw discrimination against people for their sexual orientation or gender identification. Tomorrow, the city council, with other members, could redirect the ordinance so that it forces a Democrat to provide services to a Republican (under this new ordinance, that is not discrimination). It could force an atheist to cater a Christian wedding, a black barber to sell a haircut to a KKK member, or a Muslim convenience-store owner to sell pork.
But this ordinance can also be used in the opposite direction. If a business owner can be forced to sell his products to anyone and everyone, then customers can also be forced to patron specific businesses. Why should a person who disapproves of homosexuality not be forced to spend his money at a store owned by a gay couple? Why should not an atheist be forced to have lunch at a restaurant owned by a devout Catholic?
The third type of expansion takes us to the ugliest part of moral thought policing. In order to achieve its purposes, the city has to force moral behavior upon its citizenry. The means at its disposal are stigmatization – and eventually eradication – of moral preferences that the city disapproves of. Ultimately, this means using the city's enforcement powers to bring the citizenry in compliance with the city's moral agenda.
This brings us to the question: how far is the city council willing to go to engineer the citizens it wants? How harshly is it willing to punish business owners who refuse to comply with the ordinance? Will the city fine them? What if they pay the fine and still refuse to comply? Or what if the fine does not discourage enough of the moral preferences that the city council disapproves of?
Will the city start sending people to jail for non-compliance? Will it take businesses from their owners?
Perhaps Mayor Orr and her city councilmen can find some help in an article just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A group of German and American scientists have demonstrated that certain chemical substances can change people's moral preferences:
neurobiological evidence informing about strategies to reduce xenophobic sentiment and foster altruistic cooperation with outsiders is scarce. In a series of experiments settled in the context of the current refugee crisis, we tested the propensity of 183 Caucasian participants to make donations to people in need, half of whom were refugees (outgroup) and half of whom were natives (ingroup). Participants scoring low on xenophobic attitudes exhibited an altruistic preference for the outgroup, which further increased after nasal delivery of the neuropeptide oxytocin. In contrast, participants with higher levels of xenophobia generally failed to exhibit enhanced altruism toward the outgroup. This tendency was only countered by pairing oxytocin with peer-derived altruistic norms, resulting in a 74% increase in refugee-directed donations.
They conclude that “charitable social cues co-occurring with enhanced activity of the oxytocin system reduce the effects of xenophobia by facilitating prosocial behavior toward refugees.”
The superficial idea behind this research is to make Europeans (and possibly Americans) more accepting of immigrants with different moral preferences than the majority population. Beyond that, though, the purpose with the study - a purpose they report to have successfully accomplished - is to eradicate the line between a person’s moral beliefs and his physical person.
Consider what this means. Once the barrier between a person's moral preferences and his person has been breached, government can extend its ambitions to engineer the citizens it desires, to altering the physical person of each and every citizen who harbors undesired moral preferences. In other words, it becomes possible for government to offer people with unwanted moral preferences an alternative to, say, fines or imprisonment. Instead of going to jail, they can simply take an “altruistic” drug.
Yes, I know. This is a tangent to the issue we are discussing here. But it is important to consider this tangent, because the question that our city council needs to consider is: how far are they willing to go in order to force the citizens of Cheyenne to abide by its moral code? While nobody seriously expects the city to introduce mind-altering drugs as part of its punitive toolkit, the example nevertheless demonstrates how this ordinance places in a long continuum of increasingly totalitarian moral thought policing.
As I explain in my new book, The Rise of Big Government: How Egalitarianism Conquered America, the practice of social engineering - while always spearheaded with good intentions - has a long, sordid history of unintended, and often terrible consequences. As my examples above demonstrate, while the progressive statists on the city council may think that they have placed sideboards on their ordinance, it is perfectly realistic to imagine how their moral enforcement toolkit can be used in the future, without much alterations to those sideboards.
In a free society, there is room for every law-abiding citizen. If a person is gay or dislikes homosexuality; if he or she worships Elvis Presley or dislikes religion; if a man thinks his wife ought not to work, or he wants to be a househusband; if a woman wants to identify as a man or marry five other women; if someone wants to worship a rock or practice Buddhism; all that matters is that all of them respect each other's life, liberty and property. So long as none of them imposes their lifestyle on others, but respect his or her fellow citizens as he expects to be respected himself, then there is room for all of them in the same, free society.
Moral preferences encoded into law are antithetical to a free society. The Cheyenne City Council ought to know better.