Today's Politicos vs The Words and Deeds of The Founders
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Framing an Argument

There is a lot of stuff in the news these days about what, if any, limits on religious freedom should be imposed by government.

The Right may be approaching the whole topic incorrectly, failing to draw the connection between a government that interferes with the peoples’ right to dispose of the products of their labor to infringement on “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects.” Instead they present the problem as solely an infringement on religious liberty. But in fact it is both.

The Enlightenment brought the notion of individual sovereignty into alignment with the religious concept of free will. Natural rights are those endowed upon human beings by their Creator or Nature’s God, or just nature, depending on your viewpoint. For Christians, man has been given free will, the sovereign power to choose what to believe.

All property derives from this notion that, if I have a right to myself, then I have a right to what I produce.  Frederic Bastiat wrote an excellent essay on this.

Man can live and satisfy his wants only by ceaseless labor; by the ceaseless application of his faculties to natural resources. This process is the origin of property.

It existed before laws and in fact our government was instituted to protect those natural rights, among them the sovereignty of belief (religion) and man’s right to the products of his labor.

How far does this concept extend? When talking to people who don’t think about these sorts of things, but instead hear that a florist does not want to sell floral arrangements to a gay wedding or a baker refuses to make a cake for a gay wedding, people without a moral compunction in opposition to homosexuality just substitute their own criterion and declare, “People shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate.”

But that’s where the argument falls off track. The issue is not whether homosexuality is immoral. Christianity teaches that it is and believers behave accordingly. To interfere with the ability of individual to live according to their religious beliefs is a violation of the First Amendment, “period, full stop.” But there is another original right here that is transgressed. Can I choose for whom I wish to work? Can I dispose of my property as I choose? There is a name for negative responses. It is called slavery.

Perhaps the problem is how to make people understand the connection between property and individual liberty.

To accomplish this, perhaps the best approach is to find hypotheticals in which to frame the discussion.

So, here is one such hypothetical. Let’s say I decide to get tested for organ donation because a friend needs a kidney transplant. Now let’s say I’m not a match. But because I am in the database, it is discovered that I am a match for someone else. Should I have the right to deny my kidney to that suffering and perhaps worthy individual? (We’ll remove Christian charity from the equation and make me an agnostic for the purposes of this example.)

Consider the implications:

  • The person I deny my kidney might die
  • I was willing to do this for a friend – am I discriminating if refuse to make this sacrifice for a stranger?
  • Should I be allowed to decline?
  • There may be no other choices for this person. I may have the only known kidney that matches.

Now let’s go back to reality, to the florist and the baker who decline to sell their services because they believe homosexual marriage to be a sin.

Consider the implications:

  • The gay couple’s feelings may be hurt or they may be angered because I have “judged” them and have refused them service I provide to others.
  • I lose the couple’s business, and maybe the business of a lot of other people who disagree with my stance. If my view is unpopular enough, I may even go out of business.
  • Cakes or flowers are available from other vendors, some who might wish to tailor their business specifically to take advantage of this market.
  • No one dies for lack of cake or flower

But the principle is the same isn’t it? Is it too big a leap? How would you frame this?

… if we judge measures of economic policy solely by their immediate and concretely foreseeable effects, we shall not only not achieve a viable order but shall be certain progressively to extinguish freedom and thereby prevent more good than our measures will produce. Freedom is important in order that all the different individuals can make full use of the particular circumstances of which only they know. We therefore never know what beneficial actions we prevent if we restrict their freedom to serve their fellows in whatever manner they wish. All acts of interference, however, amount to such restrictions. They are, of course, always undertaken to achieve some definite objective. Against the foreseen direct results of such actions of government we shall in each individual case be able to balance only the mere probability that some unknown but beneficial actions by some individuals will be prevented. In consequence, if such decisions are made from case to case and not governed by an attachment to freedom as a general principle, freedom is bound to lose in almost every case. Bastiat was indeed right in treating freedom of choice as a moral principle that must never be sacrificed to considerations of expediency; because there is perhaps no aspect of freedom that would not be abolished if it were to be respected only where the concrete damage caused by its abolition can be pointed out.  F. A. Hayek’s Introduction to Bastiat’s essay, “What Is Seen and Not Seen in Political Economy.


1 Jeff Edelman { 04.06.15 at 9:47 pm }

The Civil Rights Act was the camel’s nose under the tent.


2 Jeff S. { 04.07.15 at 12:20 pm }

The kidney example is a bit of a stretch, since people are not generally in the business of selling their kidneys at a public outlet, and a body part is not a great comparison to a cake.

But I mostly agree with the argument for freedom to run your private business as you please.
Where it gets tricky is with how a private business might choose to exercise their religious freedom. For something like a flower shop, I suppose I can justify them reserving the right to refuse service to anyone.

But what about more necessary goods and services, like utility companies? Is it their right to refuse to serve Scientologists, or charge them more than Mormons because they don’t agree with their religion?

And what about the government? It is a business too, albeit one funded by the taxpayers. Which certainly is not every person in the country, so should those of us who pay taxes have a say in not serving people we disagree with? I could name some Liberals I’d like to cut off!

My biggest concern here is how we draw the line between what are your rights as a private business owner and the rights of people to be treated equally under the law.
What if I were to live in a town where all of the businesses refuse to cater to Conservatives. Do I have any recourse besides moving?

I have less of an issue with a business not wanting to do business with someone based on that person’s lifestyle choices as opposed to attributes they were born with. But gay is not a choice, anymore than gender, skin color, or ethnic background. So discriminating against someone based on any of those things is inherently wrong in my opinion. And there is the real issue – where is my opinion protected, and where does it infringe on somebody’s rights?
So I have no answer – only more questions!


3 Martin { 04.07.15 at 7:52 pm }

Thanks for taking the time to reply. To me it seems like there are some obvious distinctions. The kidney example was obviously an extreme, but serves to illustrate a point. I would hope that anyone and everyone would agree that I have a right to be a (living) organ donor or not. There is a certain amount of hardship imposed on someone who is going to give up a kidney.

Unless you are religiously motivated or otherwise saintly, it seems reasonable that you might want a say in if you undergo the surgery. Your reasons should be your own.

So, if that’s the basis we can agree on – then we can begin to build upon that. And ironically, it could literally be a life or death decision.

If we start with the premise that you own yourself, then we can begin to look at what that means. Bastiat said that everyone is encumbered with needs – we have to eat, have shelter, etc.

God, The Creator, Nature, whatever, didn’t just make us needy though. We also have abilities, faculties and talents. Those are part of us and we own those too.

We use those things to provide for our needs. It follows that what I produce, through the sweat of my brow, my intellectual efforts, leveraging my good looks … (ok maybe the last one was a stretch), I also own.

Bastiat also referred to the taking of things that don’t belong to you as plunder. There’s legal plunder – taxes and illegal plunder – theft.

I would argue, although not as eloquently as Bastiat, that my property is sacred and that no one has a right to it except me. The Founders knew this and their writings are rife with references to the sanctity of property. They understood that property is an extension of the owner.

Under the law a poor man who owns an old clunker is entitled the same protections for his ’71 Pontiac as the guy with a new Porsche in his driveway is for his Carrera.

I should be able to rent out a spare room in my house to whomever I please and make that choice based on whatever criteria I want.

In a restaurant I should be able to make the decision about who I want to serve – and who I don’t … and I should pay the price if my decisions meet with the disapprobation of a sizable portion of my customer base.

Let’s say I want to cater to smokers – I should be allowed to do so. Non smokers may avoid patronizing my establishment. If not enough smokers come and spend their money with me, I’ll eventually have to close my doors or change my policy. The reverse is true too. If I don’t want to permit smoking, I should be allowed to be discriminating.

But, it needn’t be something so obvious. Maybe I hate people with red hair. I shouldn’t have to serve red-heads if I don’t want to. Obviously, this is a silly. But there should not be a law against being silly, or mandating that I be nice. Neither should their be a law mandating that I must not serve red headed strangers. It goes both ways.

Now remember, I’m talking about my private property, my business. It is a different thing if we are talking about a government entity which represents CITIZENS (not illegal aliens – against whom it should discriminate from providing benefits and privileges to which they are not entitled.) A government or tightly regulated monopoly is not the same thing as private property. The Porsche guy has no more right to the road than the guy with the Pontiac.


4 A Herzer { 04.08.15 at 5:42 pm }

This is an excellent article that put forth an argument as old as the written word. Thanks for writing.


5 galatians328 { 06.06.15 at 4:48 am }

Please edit the factual error in the piece:
The issue is not whether homosexuality is immoral. Christianity teaches that it is and believers behave accordingly.

It is a factual error to state the ‘Christianity teaches that homosexuality is immoral. First you cannot find any document that speaks for all Christian congregations, denominations, sects and groups. Second there are many Christian congregations, denominations, sects, and groups that welcome homosexual persons, households, and families and equals in all ways, including morally equal.

So, please correct your factual error! If you do not you are clearly no more interested in deception than in truth.

Furthermore, you state
“To interfere with the ability of individual to live according to their religious beliefs is a violation of the First Amendment, “period, full stop.”


And, following, persons are are in all ways equal – including morally equal – and equally protected under the Constitution – should not be treated unequally. Period, Full Stop.

Enterprises open to the public must follow the just laws created by the public authorities: they can’t give you sewer water as drinking water, they must obey the fire code, they must provide reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities, and they must not discriminate against protected classes of people.

Why would any community have laws opposing discrimination and cite protected classes of people? Once upon a time they didn’t have such laws, and the sign in the window might say ‘No N-ggers’, ‘No Jews’, ‘No Chinese’, etc.

So, you argument should include a discussion of why or why not you believe such nondiscrimination protections would be acceptable or not.

Please do.

Thank you.


Martin Reply:

Thank you for taking the time to comment.

Here are a couple things for you to consider.

  1. The modern construction of a few churches on what constitutes morality in the Judeo-Christian tradition does not obviate thousands of years religious teachings. Christians (as class) generally believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. There is not much room for interpretation as to what both the old and the new testament have to say about homosexual behavior. While this is not the place to get into a doctrinal discussion, it’s not hard to find if you’re genuinely interested in what the Bible has to say about it.
  2. Even if only a minority of churches believed that homosexual behavior was sinful, (which is decidedly not the case), it makes no difference. The public at large should not be allowed to mandate what is an acceptable religious belief. You seem to be suggesting that the laws be structured as to enforce a set of beliefs that conform to yours.
  3. It is important to distinguish (most) Christian thinking on homosexuality. By and large Christianity teaches that this is a sinful behavior – but distinguishes between the sin and and the sinner. Some Christians may find one sin more reprehensible than others, but this is not Biblical. Sin is sin.
  4. I think you may have missed the point of this article, trying to say that “Christianity” does not teach that homosexuality is immoral. The point being made was a matter of freedom. Are we slaves or are we free. Can we choose what to do with our substance or can we not? I was not talking about “public” enterprises that are supported by all taxpayers, much less emergency services, public monopolies like water and power. I don’t think you can put wedding flowers or cakes on the same plane. The last time I checked, those things are not publicly supported and we don’t have laws mandating that everyone must feel and think the same way.


Mike Reply:

It’s sodomy. It’s a sin. Period, Full Stop.


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