Thursday, October 3, 2013

Congress Shall Make No Law

It seems that a lot of people are very confused about the Bill of Rights and what it legally affords the citizens of the United States. I'm not referring to confusions what the right to bear arms mean, or what speech is free speech. I am referring to who the Bill of Rights is designed to protect citizens from. This misunderstanding became prominent in both the Chick-Fil-A brouhaha over marriage equality, and Starbucks and their policies about guns in their stores.

So in these debates people are referencing the constitution to make it known what their rights are, accusing those who disagree with them of denying them their rights. This would be laughably wrong if the accusations where not so widespread, large in numbers, and coming from every side of the issue.

Here is what the Constitution says about your rights in these situations. If I own a business, and it is truly MY business, I can use the money made from that business and spend it on any political, social, or ethical type of causes within the limits of the laws that govern such things.

So I have the right to do that with my business. But it is a two-way street, consumers can choose to not shop at my store for any reason they want. It could be the color or fashion of my tie. It could be my race, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic upbringing. Oh yeah, it can also be for my politics or the way I use the profits generated from my business. And in response I can do nothing, pretend to do something, or actually change my practices. That is my right. But the constitution does not restrict how I can run my business, and it does not say that anyone has to ever purchase my products, ever. This is how things work in a free society. In fact, this is how capitalism is supposed to work. People boycotting CFA over the gay rights issue is capitalism in action. CFA can change their behavior in response to the boycotts, do nothing, or choose any other option they want.

So this takes us to Starbucks where the coin is flipped over a little bit. Gun rights activists took Starbucks establishments by storm in states that have open-carry laws, buying coffee at Starbucks while carrying a weapon on their person. Shortly after Starbucks changed their policy to "ask" customers carrying a weapon in an open-carry state to leave their weapon in their car. Customers where still allowed to actually carry a weapon on them, the new policy just stated that they would be asked not to. This got gun-rights activists upset so they started boycotting Starbucks. To be clear there where some very uncivil responses leaving some Starbucks cafes with smashed windows. However, the boycott alone is just capitalism at work in a free society. It is the right of Starbucks to have whatever policy they want regarding weapons in their store, and it is the right of open-carry supporter to note buy a Starbucks. Neither the policy nor the boycott are a violation of anyone's rights.

I ran into this same issue again when someone on Facebook posted "Will someone just take one for the team already and shoot Obama???" I decided to take this person to task on their remark and received the response "Freedom of speech. If you don't like it delete me" Putting aside the issue of whether or not saying someone should be murdered really is freedom of speech, there is a more important issue here. If I disagree with something you say, that is not a violation of your freedom of speech. It is in fact a dialogue. It seems that many believe anything outside of an echo chamber is a violation of their freedom of speech.

We need to stop muddying the waters of freedom. You don't get to do and say anything you like and expect nobody to respond with dissent. Dissent is how we get stuff done. It is how we grow us both individuals and collectively as a society. We disagree, we make our disagreements known, we work them out with those that we are disagreeing with. We move on and grow. People need to get over themselves and their opinions and realize if you have something you care about there is someone out there who is going to disagree with them. Get over it. If you can't think of a better argument than hiding behind rights you don't have then it may be a good time to reexamine your values.

The freedoms granted to us in the constitution, freedom of speech and religion, "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms", etc. are there to keep congress from passing laws infringing on those rights. They are not there to keep other citizens from disagreeing with you, and taking actions against your point of view.