There Oughta Be a Law!!… Or Maybe Not.

How many times have you heard, thought, or said, “There oughta be a law!”?

Did you or the other person saying this really mean it and think it through?

Personally, I believe the following statements should help guide liberty-minded political thought.

1)       Something I think is good may not be good to compel by law

2)       Something I think is bad need not, necessarily, be against the law

Even though I firmly believe the above statements to be true, and I consciously think about this, I still sometimes catch myself saying, or just thinking, “there oughta be a law”… before I think better of it.

Everyone has heard of the Westboro Baptist church’s protests at military funerals.  I think what they do is awful…. Period.  When I first heard about this, I thought “there oughta be a law” to prevent this activity.  But, remembering the above, I reconsidered.  You have to think of it this way… Do I really want to create a law, for example, to limit free speech within a certain proximity of a funeral?  What if the free speech is incidental to the funeral?  And, even if so, what basis do I use?  Do I say the law is just because the speech was disturbing someone?  Do I say the limit is fair because someone’s feelings could be hurt?

“Danger, Will Robinson!”  Once we stray from banning speech that presents a clear and present danger (reference the old yelling “fire” in a crowded theater example), it is a very dangerous and slippery slope that can have us watching as our freedom of speech is continually whittled away.  How many speech limiting laws could “emotional distress” justify?  Personally, listening to the drivel of just about anyone on MSNBC causes me emotional distress.  I’m sure others feel the same way about Fox News.  But, illegal?  No.

Already, there are many, otherwise democratic nations where many forms of speech that others find offensive are becoming chargeable offences just because someone may be offended.  Examples include racist, anti-Islamic speech, and more.  While you or I would disagree with and may find such speech offensive, it should not be illegal.  This should never be the case in America.

Let me give a simpler example that affects me personally.  I’m a non-smoker.  My wife has never smoked and really can’t be around the stuff.  Smoke in restaurants used to limit our choices of where we could eat.  We now enjoy going to any restaurant we want because Ohio has banned smoking in restaurants.  Yet, I oppose the smoking ban law and favor repeal of the ban.  In my view, a property owner (e.g. restaurant owner) should have the right to allow smoking or not.  My wife and I, in turn, have the right to avoid restaurants that do not adequately accommodate those with smoke sensitivities or who otherwise want to avoid it for health.  Another restaurant owner, similarly, has the right to cater to those who prefer to stay away from smoke, providing for a lucrative business differentiator.

Okay… so ask yourself a couple questions when considering legality relative to your personal preferences.

1)  What if everything that anyone in the country thought should be illegal, was illegal?  These things could all be illegal if some people had their way:

  • All alcohol, including beer,
  • High calorie foods
  • Eating meat
  • Driving SUVs
  • Protesting against a war
  • Any statement that disagrees with someone else’s political views
  • Any statement that disagrees with someone else’s moral or religious views
  • Any action or statement that makes someone else feel “hurt”, no matter in how vague a sense.

2)  What if everything that anyone in the country thought everyone else should do was made into law such that everyone was compelled to do it?  We could be compelled to…

  • Go to church weekly
  • Get marriage counseling before marriage
  • Serve 2 years in the military
  • Serve 2 years in the Peace Core
  • Some, as you know, think everyone should have to buy comprehensive health insurance even if, say, you have enough money to self insure for small items and have catastrophic coverage in case anything major happens.

Okay, you get the idea… Whether you or I agree with these things or not, there should be no such laws.

Here’s a pithy little slogan for you:  “Don’t be a ‘fair weather friend’ of liberty.”  That is, don’t just oppose liberty limiting laws that hurt you, while supporting or simply ignoring liberty limiting laws that don’t affect you.  And, don’t favor liberty limiting laws just because they may seem to benefit you (at least in the short run).

For your further consideration, a friend of mine, Chris Littleton, recently wrote a blog on a similar topic.  I wanted to treat this separately, here, because I had a slightly different take and wanted to establish here, on my blog, some of the core principles on which many of my views are based.  Chris’ blog entry, titled “Are you a Socialist Conservative” is found here.