Rebirth of Reason


Machan's Musings - Coercive Zeal Gone Wild
by Tibor R. Machan

If there are supposed to be some liberties that have still not been massively undermined in America, they are those codified in the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Both freedom of the press and of religion—basically about holding and voicing beliefs of one’s own choosing—are supposedly basic rights of all US citizens. (Some folks dispute that this is so, claiming, I believe implausibly, that only the federal government may not limit freedom of speech. Yet, of course, the right is supposedly held by all citizens of the USA, anywhere—it derives from our unalienable and equal natural right to liberty, listed in the US Declaration, so if there is to be protection for this right, it clearly must be provided in every nook and cranny of the country.)

These days, however, a great many people seem to believe that their worries, sensibilities, feelings and such trump the First Amendment. I have had a recent personal experience with just this trend.

In one of my columns I criticized the Americans for Disabilities Act for imposing on various establishments, commercial and not, a legally enforced duty of generosity and kindness toward disabled people. I noted that some activists have gone so far as to harass small shops—for example, wineries in the Central California regions (near Paso Robles and San Louis Obispo)—with lawsuits that are then settled for big bucks in favor of the complainants. I noted that this abuse, even officially condemned by a San Francisco judge recently, is natural with a law that shouldn’t even be on the books—no one’s generosity or good will ought ever to be compelled, coerced from the person or corporation. What’s the moral merit in being helpful to the disabled if one’s doing it at the point of the gun?

Well, several people with disability groups took umbrage with my views but they didn’t simply leave it at writing letters to the editor to the papers in which the column appeared. Nor did they think it enough to send me several pretty nasty emails, claiming that I have offended them. All that would have been par for the course and part and parcel of free—if not entirely civil—exchange among citizens of a relatively free society.

No, all that’s not enough. The Executive Director, Ruthee Goldkorn, for the Ms. Wheelchair California Pageant, contacted the president of the university at which I teach and demanded that punitive action be taken against me for voicing my views. Indeed, a demand was launched that I be fired for my having published my views. Ms. Goldkorn wrote to Chapman's president, saying, "The purpose of this correspondence is to demand an investigation of Prof. Machan and his prompt removal from your staff." She went on, "I trust you will take this information very seriously, conduct a full and open investigation and ultimately remove Professor Machan," adding, "This person has no business shaping minds and influencing students of any age. He is the worst kind of bigot; the kind who hides behind academia. He must be removed immediately." When the president responded saying he will not fire or even reprimand me, Ms. Goldkorn replied, "Although Prof. Machan has received numerous emails and correspondences expressing outrage at the sentiments expressed, I guess he is safe and secure in his position at your institution." Well, yes, he is, since what he did is offer his ideas on some subject, and for this most reputable academic institutions do not fire someone.

Several others approached the student newspaper claiming that I have done some grave wrong for which I need to be punished by the university, although the resulting article in the student paper never made clear just what the complaining individuals actually wanted done. (One may wonder what these folks want to happen to Greg Perry, a handicapped author of the high critical book Disabling America [WND Books, 2003].)

Now what is extraordinary about this isn’t that the folks who support the ADA and its vigilant enforcement were upset. One expects members of special interest groups who gain government support to try to hang on to that support. One need only check out the massive lobbying efforts throughout the country’s various capitols to confirm the point. What is really disturbing here is that some of the beneficiaries of these laws and regulations are now perfectly willing to demand that people who disagree with them be muzzled, fired, perhaps even jailed for their opinions. They don't simply suggest such policies but demand them, as if they were entitled to have their will imposed on the dissidents.

This outlook seems to be fueled by the conviction that everyone's support of entitlements to special favoritism by government is of far greater importance in our legal system than is the right of freedom of thought or speech itself. The zeal with which they go to bat for their entitlements is so fervent that not even the rights of freedom of speech and press are supposed to remain in place if it means making it possible to give voice to opposition to those entitlements.

It is interesting that often people fear the undermining of the First Amendment from those on the political Right, mainly because they associate such efforts with the attempt to censor pornography or blasphemy. Already, a few decades ago, this proved to be a mistake, when some Leftist feminists, such as law Professor Catherine MacKinnon, decided that speaking badly of women should not gain constitutional protection (see her book Only Words [Harvard University Press, 1993]). Today, thinking it's the Right that's a threat to civil liberties is clearly wrong, what with political correctness guiding universities and other institutions in their hiring and promotion policies.

Although the ACLU is still holding to its defense of the First Amendment, many statists and their constituency, including many members of special interest groups, have nearly totally abandoned their commitment to the free discussion of topics that make some people uncomfortable or that some consider offensive. Which just goes to show you: Back during the McCarthy era, when the Left was being harassed, its supporters were unyielding in their defense of civil liberties, especially the right to free thought or speech.

Now that they are running many government agencies, their outlook seems to be: Forget about those inconvenient basic rights if they may hamper the march toward total state control over our lives.
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