Thursday, May 05, 2005

Column on Trampling the First (some additional quotes and corrections)

Coercive Zeal Gone Wild

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

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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