It’s Not About Religious Freedom. It’s About Freedom.

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There is no right to enslave others. In this day and age, that claim should be non-controversial. But apparently some people just haven’t got the memo. It’s called the 13th Amendment and it was ratified 150 years ago this coming December:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Freedom of association has been on a roll lately. Same-sex marriage is now de facto legal in 36 states and looks set to win national recognition once the US Supreme Court rules on the matter. Oklahoma’s state legislature is even considering a bill to get government out of the marriage licensing business entirely, limiting it to the function of registrar.

Libertarians have supported marriage freedom and legal equality for same-sex couples for decades — since long before Democrats (and some Republicans) came around. We’re happy to see these freedoms blossom.

Unfortunately some LGBTQ activists aren’t satisfied. They want more.

Specifically, they want cake and wedding photos. And they think that they have the right to cake and wedding photos from bakers and photographers who don’t want to bake or shoot photos for them.

The backlash: Some state legislatures are rolling out “religious freedom” laws specifying that bakers don’t have to bake and photographers don’t have to photograph if doing so conflicts with their religious beliefs.

But wait a minute: Why should freedom to associate or not associate with, or to work for or not work for anyone, be conditioned on religious beliefs?

If I don’t want to mow a neo-Nazi’s lawn, should I have to point out a Bible verse that justifies my decision not to do so?

If I don’t want to build a Kingdom Hall for my local Jehovah’s Witnesses, am I be required to attest that I’m turning down their offer because I’m a Baptist?

If I run a bar that caters to the LGBTQ crowd, must I demonstrate religious conviction as my reason for refusing to host a heterosexual “speed dating” event?

No. I’m not a slave. Neither are you. Any law which treats us as slaves is unconstitutional. Not to mention morally repugnant.

Freedom of association should never be conditioned on anything other than one’s personal desire to associate or not associate.

I’m with Martin Luther King, Jr. on this: I dream of a society in which we all judge each other by the content of our characters, not by skin color, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other non-essential.

We’ll get to that society through persuasion, not force. We’ll get there by breaking old shackles, not by putting new ones on.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION/CITATION HISTORY

Don’t Look, Ethel! (Really — Just Don’t Look)

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First, credit where credit is due:  Charlotte, North Carolina police haven’t arrested Gerard Leeper for standing naked in the doorway of his home in the city’s Cardinal Glen neighborhood. Yet.

Why? Because it’s not illegal to go naked on one’s own property in Charlotte. Yet. So, good call, Charlotte-Mecklenburg PD.

According to the Charlotte Observer, however, the CMPD is “trying to build a case against” Leeper and “will likely approach the legislature to recommend a stronger indecent exposure law.” They want it changed to cover things which can be seen from, not just in, “public spaces.”

That’s disturbing, for two reasons.

First, the job of the CMPD is to enforce the law, not to lobby the legislature.

Secondly, unless CMPD has solved all the real crimes in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, they shouldn’t even have time to worry about — let alone “try to build a case against” — some guy for standing around naked in his own house. Perhaps the county should look at cutting CMPD’s budget and manpower if it has spare resources to waste on this kind of non-problem.

But that’s the thing: Some of Leeper’s neighbors don’t consider it a non-problem. They complain that he stands naked in his doorway several times a week and has for a decade. They don’t like it. They don’t want to see it. They’ve had Home Owners Association meetings to discuss it. They’ve complained to Leeper. They’ve complained to the police.

And of course the police department — which answers to local politicians and taps the area’s taxpayers for its funding — hates telling local homeowners things they’d rather not hear. Thus the “case-building” and prospective politicking.

It seems to me that a ready answer to this “problem” can be found in the work of prominent American comedic singer/songwriter Ray Stevens. Specifically, in a line from his 1974 hit “The Streak.” In three simple words:

“Don’t look, Ethel!”

Yes, really. Just don’t look.

If you don’t want to see Gerard Leeper naked, don’t look at him.

If you can’t make yourself not look at him when you pass by his house, go out of your way to not pass by his house.

If you can’t avoid passing by his house, and can’t drag your eyes away from his occasional nakedness when you do, and just can’t stand what you see, move.

Yes, really. Move.

It’s not the government’s job to make sure you never, ever, ever see anything you don’t like, especially (although not only) when it’s on someone else’s private property. That’s YOUR job.

Leave the police out of it. Unless you see Sheb Wooley’s one-eyed, one-horned, flying, purple people eater. In that case, you should call 911 ASAP.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION/CITATION HISTORY

An American Spelling Lesson: J-U-R-Y Does Not Spell “Rubber Stamp”

This is Swampyank's copy of "The Jury&quo...
“The Jury” by John Morgan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Break out the world’s smallest violin for prosecutors in Alachua County, Florida: They’re having problems finding citizens who’ll jail other citizens for marijuana possession. In one recent case it took hours to weed out (pun intended) prospective jurors who didn’t think marijuana should be illegal.

Cindy Swirko’s  “When opinions on pot, and the law, collide” (March 22, Gainesville Sun) is a refreshingly fair-minded piece on this “problem” and on the wider phenomenon of jury nullification.

Jury nullification occurs when a jury bases its verdict not on the facts of a case, but on the jurors’ opinion that the law is defective or morally wrong. That may sound strange but it’s an important part of American legal history.

Jury nullification was a key tool of the 19th century’s anti-slavery movement. The Fugitive Slave Act imposed criminal penalties for assisting fleeing slaves. Northern juries refused to convict Underground Railroad activists.

Jury nullification also helped end alcohol prohibition as juries frequently declined to convict bootleggers. In one (perhaps apocryphal) case, the jury allegedly “drank the evidence,” then acquitted.

In a 1969 case, United States v. Moylan — the defendants stood accused of impeding the military draft — the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held, unanimously, that “if the jury feels that the law under which the defendant is accused is unjust, or exigent circumstances justified the actions of the accused, or for any reason which appeals to their logic or passion, the jury has the right to acquit, and the courts must abide that decision.”

As more and more Americans conclude that the “war on drugs” — especially marijuana — is impractical and immoral, that force is once again making itself felt.

Prosecutors hate jury nullification. It messes up their batting averages.

The measure of prosecutorial effectiveness is the conviction rate. That’s why “plea bargains” are so popular. 92% of Americans charged with crimes plead guilty in return for lesser charges or lighter sentences. Of the 8% who go to trial, 3/4 are convicted.

Yes, that’s right — of 50 Americans accused of crimes, 49 plead guilty or are convicted. But that one acquittal drives prosecutors nuts. So, with the cooperation of judges, they’ve turned jury selection into an extended interrogation with only one acceptable answer: “Yes, I will serve unquestioningly as your rubber stamp.”

The Fully Informed Jury Association (fija.org) fights this trend, working to ensure that prospective jurors know about their right to “judge the law as well as the facts,” and to explicitly codify in our laws an obligation of judges to inform them of that right.

Are your legislators sponsoring a Fully Informed Jury Act in your state? If not, maybe you should call their offices and ask why.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION/CITATION HISTORY