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Welcome to STop, the Seattle Times Opinion blog where our editorial writers and editors share their evolving thoughts on a variety of issues. STop is a place where opinion writers and readers can exchange views and readers can learn more about how editorial positions are formed.

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Lee Moriwaki
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December 21, 2005

Anti-Discrimination, 2

On my previous post, Anti-Discrimination, I argued against the anti-discrimination laws on the grounds that a free person should have the freedom of association. If you don't want to deal with people you don't like, that should be your right, as long as you are willing to take the social and business consequences of your actions. I have received several emails interpreting this to mean that I'm in favor of bigotry. For example, one reader writes:

You opine that any person who disagrees with you in any way will destroy personal property which you seem to value far more than you esteem the freedom of the individual.

What freedom of the individual? If I want to rent out my house, and someone comes to me of a different religion, and I say, "I don't want to rent my house to a person of your religion" --or your race, or your sexual orientation--whose freedom has been violated? A taboo of modern American society has been violated--I grant you that. I will have done an unpopular thing. I may be criticized by my neighbors, and I may lose my friends. But it is my house, and if someone offers to rent it, I should have the freedom to say yes or no. A transaction requires the consent of both parties.

The anti-discrimination laws don't use this view of freedom. Consider the op-ed by Anne Levinson, (click here) in Wednesday's paper. She's a lesbian, and she's arguing in favor of adding gays and lesbians to the list of protected groups. She writes:

I and other lesbians and gay men wake up each day in this state and in this country of ours not having such basic universal rights as the right to employment and housing, the right to make medical-care decisions and have hospital visitation rights for our partners and children, and the right that every parent wishes for his or her child: the right to marry, have a family and be part of the fabric of the community.

The right to make medical-care decisions and to visit partners are rights to do things, like the right to speak, to worship, to travel, to vote and to buy and sell. I'm for those rights. But what is "the right to employment and housing"? You have the right to seek employment and to contract for housing. In my view, you do not have the right to demand that someone give you a job, or that someone sell you, rent you (or give you) a place to live.

On the front page today (click here) we ran a story about a company in Ohio that is threatening to fire employees who smoke, including those who smoke away from work. Smokers are not a protected group under the anti-discrimination laws, and this is legal. I think it should be legal. Whether it is nice, or fair, or good is another thing. I don't like the paternalism of it, the company's attempt to reach into the workers' private lives. I can imagine that being a bargaining issue with a union, if they have one. But just because we don't like what somebody does is not reason enough to make what they do illegal. In a free society you should have a right to be biased, bigoted, wrongheaded, and to manage your life in that way as long as you do not trample on the similar rights of someone else.

Respond to Bruce.

 
Posted by Bruce Ramsey at December 21, 2005 10:43 AM



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