On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. The legislation appropriately outlawed discriminatory practices of government based on race, color, religion or national origin. But, it also outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, or national origin in so-called public accommodations engaged in interstate commerce (Titles II and VII). Controversial to say the least, unconstitutional to say the most, the Act prohibited private businesses from having free rein in terms of who they serve and employ. As Congressman Ron Paul has noted, “The result was a massive violation of the rights of private property and contract… The framers of the Constitution intended the interstate commerce clause to create a free trade zone among the states, not to give the federal government regulatory power over every business that has any connection with interstate commerce.”
Recently, there has been a big stink made about the anti-same sex marriage comments of Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy. Chicago Alderman Joe Moreno has threatened to block permits for the fast food chicken chain to operate in his ward. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino issued his own threat to the company by stating, “There is no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it.”
What ‘s interesting is that the comments of Dan Cathy broke no laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, yet these politicians are condoning taking his property rights away from him without constitutionally guaranteed due process of law.
Now, there is apparently no way for Moreno and Menino to legally deny permits to Chick-fil-A based solely on the comments of its president. But, in this era of the Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, this incident further raises serious questions about the future of our constitutionally protected liberties.
In the first place, will our elected officials eventually have the power to personally deny property rights to individuals or businesses based on what they believe or the words they utter from their lips? In essence, this is what Moreno and Menino are advocating.
Secondly, what does the future hold for freedom of speech? This country was founded on the words of Voltaire, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” Thus we have always believed that even the most vile, despicable speech should be protected. Cathy’s speech was neither and was a simple proclamation of what many Americans believe themselves. Are we almost to the point where the oppressive power of government can be employed to crush all opinion not held by our governing elites? Are we willing to allow them to use brute force to destroy the First Amendment and manipulate society to further their ends and agenda? Have we, as a people, forgotten that the best means to protest or condone ideas is through the free market?
In the final analysis, Titles II and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 opened the door for this ridiculous episode. By codifying in law this massive violation of property rights Merino and Menino have taken a bad law to a new extreme. They in essence have become Thought Nazis – individuals no longer content with just violating property rights, but with also punishing any speech that runs counter to their societal ideals. Along with the Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, this mentality spells trouble for the future of our constitutionally protected liberties in America.
Kenn Jacobine teaches internationally and maintains a summer residence in North Carolina.