Thursday, November 17, 2016

Rights and obligations

One of the things I identified as a threat to religious liberty in my recent post on The Polytheist case for Donald Trump was the encroachment of radical secularism on religion. I said:
...radical secularists are more than happy to shut down behavior with which they disagree, even if it should otherwise fall under the protections of the First Amendment, and they’re more than happy to use the power of government force to get their way, destroying the lives and livelihoods of people whose faith leads them to make the “wrong” choices.
And I stand by that assessment. In fact, I think it's worth taking a few minutes to expound on that specific point, since a lot of people don't seem to understand what it means, exactly.

The basic point is that a right cannot by definition impose an obligation on someone else. Once it does, it ceases to be a right and turns into a requirement. Some might say slavery, since it would impose upon one person the obligation to work in order to allow the other person to enjoy his or her right. It also prevents the government from interfering with that right.

Take, for example, the first amendment right to freedom of speech. I have the right to say whatever I want, but my right in no way imposes an obligation on anyone else to facilitate that speech, nor does it impose on anyone the obligation to listen. I am free to stand in Times Square and shout about how much better Kirk is than Picard, or anything else under creation.

But my right to speak in no way imposes on anyone else the obligation to provide a platform for expressing my opinion, and it doesn't impose on anyone the obligation to listen to me ranting in Times Square.

In other words, my right does not impose an obligation on anyone else.

Take, for another example, my second amendment right to bear arms. I have the right to purchase and carry a firearm. But my right to do so in no way imposes an obligation on anyone else to buy me an AR-15, or ammunition, or anything else.

My right does not impose an obligation on anyone else.

But that principle has been turned on its head in recent years, all the worse because the specific examples pit one right against another. On the one hand, there is the first amendment right to practice one's religion:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...
And on the other hand there is the right (not specifically enumerated, but granted by the Supreme Court under the ninth amendment) for people of the same gender to marry.

You can see where this example is going, I'm sure.

The salient question is, does your right to marry whomever you want carry with it the imposition of a requirement that I have to work to make it happen? Even if doing so violates my own freedom to exercise my religion under the first amendment? For that matter, does the right to legally marry (which according to the law, is nothing more than a legal recognition of a contract that is filed with a county clerk) also include the right to a party celebrating the execution of that contract? And does that right further specifically include the right to have flowers, or a cake, or a troupe of trained gazelles? And if so, why does your right to file a form with a county clerk suddenly impose on me the obligation to work to give you flowers, or a cake, or gazelles?

According to many on the progressive left, the answer is yes. In fact, according to G&R, human politics comes even before the wishes of the Gods Themselves. People on Hillary Clinton's campaign staff were actively discussing how to infiltrate the Catholic Church to bend it to be more accepting of their political program. The Solicitor General of the United States recently opined that churches might lose their tax-exempt status if they questioned the political orthodoxy of same-sex marriage.

If you claim a right, it is yours, and it is entirely self-contained within you. It cannot impose an obligation on me to devote my labor to making it happen. Especially when doing so would violate my own enumerated right to practice my religion, if the two happen to be in conflict.

And I do not give up those rights merely because I am engaging in commerce. There's no clause in the Constitution that says "you have rights unless you're buying and selling things."

Rights restrict government. They do not compel individuals.

Some will say this is a defense of "discrimination." In a way, I suppose it is. My rights afford me the freedom to exercise them when and where I wish, and your rights do not impose upon me an obligation to violate my own rights. Your right to swing your fist ends at my nose, and your right to have a government-recognized marriage ends at the door to my bakery or florist shop.

Where's the outrage? Where are the lawsuits? 
Where are the gays trying to force them to make the damn cake???

You don't like my choice? You have a remedy; the market. Go to another bakery, choose another florist. You want to apply pressure by convincing others to make other market choices? You have that right, too. What you do not have the right to do is compel me to support your right through the coercive force of government, whether that be through the collection of taxes or the threat of force or confiscation of assets.

And before some wag says I'm endorsing lunch counters refusing to serve blacks, or any such nonsense, I am not doing so in any way. I am endorsing the general principle that rights do not confer obligations on other individuals. I personally think it's stupid to refuse to sell a product to someone, but that's not my decision! I don't have to agree with a decision in order to support a legal right to make it, as long as the person making it realizes there are potentially (non-governmental) consequences.

It really seems that, having obtained all the legal rights they can from the government, the leftists are now on a campaign to force individuals to adopt their agenda, too. And that goes from freeing individuals from government oppression, to oppressing others who don't happen to be in some "protected class." And that's wrong.

People acting in concert to protect the rights of others? I'm all for it. Government enforcing some obligation on an individual to support another individual's right? No way.

Remember, the government that can force a florist to work on a gay wedding under Obama, is exactly the same government that can force another (let's say universalist Asatru) florist to work on the AFA's Ostara celebration under Trump.


  1. "And before some wag says I'm endorsing lunch counters refusing to serve blacks, or any such nonsense, I am not doing so in any way. I am endorsing the general principle that rights do not confer obligations on other individuals."

    Hi, Wag here. No, that's exactly what you're doing:
    "I'm not supporting this *specific* version of the exact ruleset I'm talking about, that's *wrong*! No, I support the *general* ruleset, easily abused to do exactly what I just said I don't support, but not *that* one."
    I mean, really. Explain how the "general principle" of "religious freedom" as you have laid out couldn't be used by a fundie who's "deeply held beliefs" include the "fact" that anyone not white is cursed by their God(s) and doesn't deserve their business?
    And yes, a universalist florist *should* have to work on the AFA's Ostara celebration under ANY President. It sucks for the florist, but that's part of the social construct which we all agree to when we enter the common market to make a profit. Either you sell to everyone, or it's a hobby and not a business. If you want legal recognition and protection as a business under government, then you accept the rules that government lays out. It's a secular arrangement, not a religious one.
    The government cannot alter or interfere with your *religious* practice, but if your business *is* religion, you've registered incorrectly, and you're not allowed the same exemptions that churches and non-profits get (including racial/gender/etc).

    1. Sigh. No.

      Where in the First Amendment does it say that engaging in business somehow cancels one's rights?

      Go ahead and try to look it up. I'll wait.

      There is a lot more to religion than mere worship. Religion informs (or should, properly) how we live our lives, our moral codes, and our interactions with our fellow human beings.

      If I, as a business owner, choose to restrict my business to certain people, that's my affair. The government has no right to interfere with my choice of customers; those who I choose not to serve have many avenues of recourse, from choosing to take their custom to my competitor, up to and including encouraging others to do the same (in my opinion, the best way to deal with prejudicial choices with which we disagree).

      But why do you need the government to step in and punish someone for operating their business according to their religious and moral choices? Why does every problem need the heavy jackboot of government to intervene, under threat of violence, imprisonment, and confiscation?

      Aren't you enough of an adult to be able to deal with something that you disagree with, without running to the nanny state to make the mean person do what you want?

    2. Carl, would you require a kosher deli to provide ham sandwiches, because a customer demands it? I mean, really.

    3. Tante - FFS, really?
      No. A Kosher Deli does not HAVE to provide *anything* a customer demands, simply because the customer demands it. Your ridiculous question might as well be "Should Home Depot sell hamburgers because a customer demands it?"
      A Kosher Deli DOES NOT SELL HAM. Home Depot DOES NOT sell hamburgers. A Kosher Deli that sells a turkey sub to a Christian customer is required to sell THAT SAME turkey sub to a Muslim customer. A Home Depot that sells new windows to a straight customer is required to sell THOSE SAME windows to a gay customer. Why is it so hard to grok?

      As for you, Jon:
      Are you going to argue for your right to yell "Fire" in a crowded venue, too? Religion can (and should) inform all of those aspects of life, but society as a whole cannot function in a world where *any* religion can demand exclusive and special privilege at whim, unless you want to have some kind of gov't tribunal that will pass judgement on what *is* and *is not* religion? Thought not.
      Why do you need the gov't to step in and make sure that everyone is treated fairly? Because this is Capitalism, and people are assholes. That whole "go somewhere else" or "go to the competitor" bullshit didn't work during segregation, and it won't work for anything else. If you want government and legal protection for your business and it's rights (and a *business* is not a person, the USSC ruling be damned), then you play by the government's rules.
      I cannot grok how you argue FOR the 1st Amendment, a rule among others *specifically crafted to prevent a tyranny of the majority* to be used *as a tool of the majority against a minority.* That's some impressive contortions.

    4. Fire in a crowded theater? C'mon, that's completely disingenuous and you know it. Possibly causing death and injury by intentionally causing panic is not at all comparable to "the government shouldn't force me to contribute to your party that my god says I shouldn't support." Come on. I expect better of you.

      Businesses not people? Well, the law disagrees with you (as you point out), but neither are they devoid of human activity. And as I note in the OP, you don't lose your First Amendment rights just because you choose to engage in commerce.

      Not really sure where you get the whole majority/ minority thing. I am speaking of a higher principle that protects everyone, regardless of demographic representation. The same principle that protects a majority Christian freedom from being pressed into servitude to satisfy the whim of someone else, also protects a minority Jew, Muslim, or Asatruar from being similarly pressed into service.

  2. Non-discriminatory laws are important for things like housing, because housing is a necessity to live.

    Wedding cakes aren't a necessity, and they are over-reaching when they insist that they provide a service regardless of their religious convictions. I can't see them requiring a kosher deli to provide ham, just because a customer demands it - can you?