Howard Weyers, President of Weyco Corporation, is worried about his employees' health and his company's health insurance premiums. So worried, in fact, that he has instituted a policy mandating that his employees may not puff on the vilest of vile weeds -- tobacco -- even at home. The policy would compel employees to submit to random testing, and if a hapless individual happened to register positive for nicotine, he would be terminated posthaste.
Ahh, paternalistic puppeteering at its best. Of course, though, we all know that smoking is deleterious to one's health and health insurance costs have skyrocketed. And why should we as a society have to subsidize those who choose to engage in irresponsible behaviors? Besides, in Otto Von Bismarck, iron-fist-inside-a-velvet-glove fashion, Weyco is providing some fatherly guidance to complement its fatherly strictures, in the form of wellness counseling, subsidies for health club memberships and company-paid smoking-cessation classes. And doesn't such self-destructive behavior, coupled with the imperatives of being your brother's keeper and holding down health insurance costs, provide reason enough for such a prohibition? Okay, I think I'm finally getting it.
Now, learning is exciting, so I think I'll test my grasp of this principle by applying it to an analogous situation. Here's a good one: we know that some homosexuals engage in high-risk behaviors. Thus, in keeping with the aforementioned principle, I'm sure that no one would mind if employers applied the same standard to everyone and fired homosexuals who refused to cease their high-risk, health-costs-raising behavior. Insensitive, say you? Hey, it's not as if we would just cast them to the winds -- we'd offer them free perversion-cessation classes.
What do I hear? "Can you say Equal Employment Opportunity Commission," "lawsuit" and "discrimination"? I see, hmm, so then public health and its attendant costs are not the overriding concerns, since they are trumped by the imperative of eliminating discrimination. But wait, if the latter is the overriding concern, then why allow such discrimination against smokers? Ah, the contradictions that abound in societies in which emotion carries the day.
Truth be known, I support Mr. Weyers' right to discriminate in his hiring practices. But I'm not going to posture about how much it pains me to see people destroying themselves, nor will I shed a tear for a system that finds itself strained because it places the burdens of some groups' bad decisions on others. No, I support his right for what is both the least mentioned and only valid reason to do so: freedom of association.
Freedom of association is implied in our Constitution, and in no substantial measure can we consider ourselves a free people without it. Yet, the principle is rarely thought about, hardly mentioned and almost universally ignored. What it would guarantee us is obvious: the right to associate as we see fit in our private dealings.
And there's the rub: as with freedom of speech, true freedom of association means that some people will choose to exercise the right in a way that doesn't find favor with the majority. So yes, it certainly would afford Mr. Weyer the right to exclude smokers, but it also means that employers would have a right to refuse to hire homosexuals, whites, blacks, men, women, Catholics, Muslims, guys named Selwyn, or any other group that found disfavor with them.
Unlike with freedom of speech, however, freedom of association has been trampled to a point where it's non-existent in the private business sector. What happened was that a few decades ago an activist Supreme Court declared private businesses to be "public accommodations" and on that basis stripped millions of business owners of their freedom of association. Of course, those who support such anti-discrimination laws believe that theirs is the moral position, so let's examine the morality of the matter.
A man's home is his castle, and I think you'll agree that I can include in or exclude from my abode whomever I want. For instance, if I refused all atheists entry, while I suspect that some of you would have contempt for my decision, I also think you'd say that I was well within my rights to do so. After all, it's my home, paid for with my money. Okay, then, pray tell, why should I lose that right simply because I decide to erect a few more tables and start selling food?
The truth is that I shouldn't be robbed of that right. Moreover, for the government to dictate to a private business owner what policies must prevail within his own business, paid for with his own money and created by the sweat of his own brow, is nothing less than the brand of immorality called tyranny.
I know what you're thinking. How can we allow people to discriminate on the basis of race, sex or religion, some of the most invidious ways imaginable? Well, the first thing we have to realize is that as with freedom of speech, freedom of association means nothing unless it protects the most odious forms of the exercise of the freedom. After all, of what value is it if it's only applied to popular forms? The majority will almost never seek to suppress that which is popular. Consequently, if such a "freedom" is only applicable when the behavior is popular, it has lost its raison d'être. Popular behavior's popularity is protection enough.
This is why I said that freedom of association is non-existent in the private business sector. For, if all we will say is that one can associate in any way that falls within the bounds of the popular, it's tantamount to saying that we have no freedom of association whatsoever.
And then there's the law of unintended consequences. Did you ever wonder why the Boy Scouts and other traditional organizations are attacked with lawsuit after lawsuit, all on the basis of discrimination complaints? There was the atheist who sued the Scouts because they had God in their pledge; there was the girl who sued because they only allow boys, and the homosexual who sued because they won't allow openly homosexual members. Wonder no more; it's because a long, long time ago in a galaxy right here, we allowed a precedent to be set stating that the government could dictate to private entities what policies they must embrace. And Hell followed with it.
It's truly the ultimate in statist foolishness. In the name of preventing a minuscule percentage of the population from discriminating in egregious ways, we have placed Big Brother's shackles on everyone. A more sane approach at this point in time would be to rely on social pressure to bring invidious discriminators to heel. After all, most anyone who would engage in overt discrimination of a truly immoral sort would have to endure the scorn, ostracism and reduction in patronage that would result.
Then there's the irony that the tramplers of freedom of association limit diversity despite purporting to be its staunchest advocates. For one small example, let's go back to the smoking issue. Were it not for New York City's smoking ban, you would find restaurants that allowed smoking, those that didn't and those that tried to satisfy both needs. For, this is what the market does: it responds to collective needs and desires. Now, however, all we have are non-smoking restaurants. Add to that the elimination of many single-sex schools, clubs and whatever else the diversity-police find anathema, and you have the makings of a monochrome society.
It's a bit like insisting that every can of paint contain equal amounts of every color, so as to ensure that every color has a place in every can. This certainly would increase the constituent elements in every can, but the end result is that you would be left with only one color of paint in the world. Trying to make the constitution of every unit of society uniformly diverse does not yield true diversity, for it serves to make every unit the same.
This is why important principles like freedom of association must be respected. But as far as these issues go, respected principles are in very short supply. At times the social-engineers will say that a policy designed to enhance health cannot be implemented because it's discriminatory, but at other times will advocate a discriminatory policy because it enhances public health. On the one hand they will complain about men-only membership policies at places like Augusta National Golf Club, but on the other will offer a special dispensation from anti-discrimination laws to placate the proponents of women-only health clubs.
Why the contradiction? It's because the people in question are not governed by principle, but prejudice. Neither rooting out discrimination nor the imperative of protecting public health is an unassailable guiding light, for either one may be cast aside in a given instance if adherence to it would yield a politically-incorrect result. And freedom of association isn't even a consideration. The truth is that the social-engineers -- the ones who lurk on college campuses, hide black hearts under black robes or practice the fine art of demagoguery in our hollowed hells of government -- want to set themselves up as arbiters of what kind of prejudice is palatable, using their own prejudices as a yardstick.
And the prejudices are like the stars in the sky. Smoking is no longer trendy but homosexuality is; the Boy Scouts are out in San Francisco, but a law prohibiting smoking in private establishments and even outdoor public places is in (I wonder, did it ever occur to the lunkheads who conjured up this little taste of totalitarianism that motor vehicles create infinitely more pollution than smokers do?). Christianity in schools is out, but left-wing indoctrination is in. And what group will be persecuted next week, next month or next year? In Europe, the Ladies Golf Tour is being forced to allow the participation of a transsexual by the European Union anti-discrimination Nazis. Don't think that we could never be subject to such insane government dictation, and that the casualty won't be your church, club or some organization close to your heart. With the freedom of association already relegated to the dustbin of history, such tyranny is only a few bad Supreme Court appointments away.
Selwyn Duke lives in Westchester County, New York. He is a tennis professional, internet entrepreneur, and writer whose works have appeared on various sites on the Internet, including Intellectual Conservative and Mensnet. A large number of his works can be found at his site www.SelwynDuke.com.