26 September 2014

The Freedom to Associate With Whoever You Like

Freedom to Associate
Has anybody thought of passing a free association law?

Several countries have laws passed to eliminate real freedom, including the freedom to associate with who you choose to associate with at present. Instead laws were pass requiring people, who would rather not be bothered to associate with those they may in fact abhor or find uninteresting, to act not according to what they feel.

This law should be a corrective response to the overreach of classes protection laws that have been expanded beyond the pale. Real freedom is the freedom to associate with who you want to in society.

A good example of free association law is the bill (SB 1062) which makes it legal without question, for business owners to refuse to sell or provide services to gays and lesbians on religious beliefs.

The impetus for the bill was a New Mexico court judgment against a wedding photographer who refused to take pictures at a same-sex wedding. The reaction to the Arizona bill was thunderous — and almost universally positive.

The bill, which the Arizona House of Representatives passed by a 33-27 vote was later vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican and onetime small business owner.

If many thought that SB 1062 is dead, they are badly mistaken. The idea behind it is very much alive. The core concept here is that government must accommodate religious beliefs that conflict with laws of general application. To a certain degree, that notion is uncontroversial.

It's illegal discrimination if a store hires only Jewish clerks; it's legal if a synagogue hires only Jewish rabbis. It’s illegal for a public school to have organized prayers; it’s legal for a Catholic school to have organized prayers — but it has to teach English and math if it wants government accreditation to admit students. In these cases, the line between government accommodation of religion and religious imposition on government is clear. But the line may be shifting — because it’s being pushed.

Here's another one: under Obamacare, a religious organization can claim exemption from the contraception requirement, and so can, say, a charity hospital affiliated with the Catholic Church. The question in the case is whether a for-profit corporation, such as Hobby Lobby, a chain of craft stores with no institutional religious connections, may deny health coverage for contraceptives to employees to which they are otherwise entitled by federal law, based on the personal religious objections of the corporation’s owners.

Indeed, a victory for Hobby Lobby might bring in an Arizona-style rule through the back door. Companies whose owners have religious objections to homosexuality could claim a right to shun their business —which is precisely what gave rise to the veto of the Arizona law.

The Arizona law and the Hobby Lobby case represent two sides of the same coin, which is the freedom to associate with whoever you like. Both assert that the invocation of a religious belief allows a company to opt out of a government requirement that applies to everyone else. But, for better or worse, the politics of the two situations are very different. The Arizona law involved no expenditure of funds by government or the private sector; it was a straight-up question of whether discrimination will be permitted. Hobby Lobby, on the other hand, represents an out-of-pocket cash obligation of a kind that a corporation is always looking to avoid. And the question of birth control is bound up with the question of sex, which makes conservatives uncomfortable, to say the least. It is also tied to the politics of abortion.