The right to discriminate

Stephen Franks blogs:

Though I do not share the Invercargill Turks’ views on Israel in any degree, I defend them. I defend their right to express their views by shunning citizens of a state they consider to be evil. …

If a government agency acted as the Turks did it would be utterly wrong. The state weilds the coercive power of us all. It must be tolerant in a free society. Without proof of involvement in or support of unlawful acts the State certainly should not discriminate against New Zealand citizens simply because they are of a group in which some members have unpopular opinions.

But the vigour of our values (in the long term our freedoms) may depend on the willingness of individuals to be intolerant so long as they do not coerce their fellow citizens. So  I defend the right of any private citizen to shun whoever they want on their own property.

Stephen’s view is one shared by many on the right. That people have a right to be bigots. I have some sympathy for that view, but not without limits.

Taking the case of the Invercargill cafe owner, the most effective action in response has been privaye citizens saying we don’t like you because you are bigots. They have had protests outside, dozens of phone calls, and from all accounts are starting to regret their stance.

Those who oppose anti-discrimination laws see how they have often been used overseas to shut down unpopular speech, or prevent criticism of certain religions.

But on the other hand, do we want a society where cafes could display signs saying “No Jews allowed” or “No blacks work here”? The libertarian argument is that private reaction against such signs would probably be more effective than state action.

But we saw in Europe in the 30s what can happen, when the state does not prevent discrimination. Are we confident that would never occur?

At the end of the day I stop short of the position put forward by Stephen, that private discrimination should be legal.

Comments (81)

Login to comment or vote

Add a Comment