Should Freedom of Association Be Conditional?
By Shane Smith - June 11, 2015

Sir Patrick Stewart, of Jean Luc Picard/Professor X fame, has recently come under fire for defending the embattled North Irish bakery, Asher's Baking Company, that refused to bake a cake with a pro-gay rights theme:

"Stewart called the Asher's case "a deliciously difficult" subject in an interview with BBC's Newsnight, adding that he " 'found himself on the side of the bakers' because nobody should be forced to write politically-relevant text that they didn't support."

The hilariously Orwellian Equality Commission for Northern Ireland swooped in and fined the bakery £500 for refusing to bake a cake with the inscription, "Support Gay Marriage." The cake was requested requested by gay rights activist Gareth Lee, who then apparently contacted authorities after getting what was in all probability exactly the response he was looking for from the bakery, understanding that you don't create an agency like the ECNI and not put it to use.

Stewart has had to follow up on his remarks by reiterating his support for the gay community, obviously shocked that his support for the bakery has been interpreted as being somehow hostile to their rights.

This follows similar incidents in the US involving a non-compliant baker being steamrolled by a PC Leviathan, including the saga of the Indiana restaurant, Memories Pizza, which was forced to temporarily close its doors due to death threats resulting from their statement that they probably wouldn't cater an LGBT event.

These bloody episodes in the Culture Wars are the result of a clash between an artificial, legislatively-induced "right" and an actual right, and how vigorously that right is defended in the face of other "rights" that spring up signals just how much a society values liberty of the individual, or how quickly that society will sacrifice that liberty to expediency.

The fundamental right in question is freedom of association, and it forms the cornerstone of the philosophy of liberty. Freedom of association itself is a fairly straightforward concept: voluntary interaction of all participants in a society. In a free society, this right would reign supreme for all, regardless of socio-economic status, orientation, or gender.

Freedom of association doesn't end the moment someone opens a business. A customer doesn't suddenly gain a slew of new rights once he walks into shop. If I own a business, should I have a choice as to who my customers are? If I am a customer, should I be able to decide which business I patronize? And if a business refuses to deal with me, should I have access to an agency that will strong-arm the business into compliance under threat of punishment?

The much-maligned term of opprobrium, discrimination, is normally held up like a crucifix at the mention of liberty of association. But discrimination is part and parcel of a free society, we engage in discrimination throughout our day, and our ability to freely discriminate between courses of action is a hallmark of a free society. We discriminate when we pick our friends, when we allot our time, when we decide whom to marry, where to do business and where to work. Discrimination has been used as a scare word for nothing more than freedom of choice, but our ability to discriminate should not be infringed, regardless of how well our choices align with the government's belief in what our choices should have been.

The philosophy of liberty is an organic whole, each concept complements the other, and none can remain entirely meaningful if one part is absent. Freedom of association would be rendered impotent without the right to rightfully acquired property, or without the freedom to dispose of the property according to the will of the owner. Our ability to make informed decisions as well as full use of our property would be considerably hampered without our ability to share information. But each concept is really just a mirror of the other, and they are continuously under assault from some sector of society.

Contra Stewart's statement, there is nothing difficult in assigning blame in the Asher case. The bakers, according to a law greater than what is currently on the books in Ireland, were clearly within their right to refuse service to anyone they pleased. The government of Ireland forms the criminal element in the fiasco, for transgressing the right of the baker in service of an artificial "right" of a privileged minority.

And, while Stewart seemed to be on the right track when he stated that "nobody should be forced to write politically-relevant text that they didn't support", if he had taken that idea just a step further, he would have found that he had backed into the wonderful philosophy of a free society. Nobody should be forced to do anything. That's the essence of freedom. If a bakery refuses service, they shouldn't have to explain themselves to a tribunal, or announce their faithful conversion to the latest collectivist dispensation.

Holding a bakery, or anyone, hostage to the whims of the politically correct has no place in a free society. The idea that drives the activists and lawmakers that appear sanguine about trodding on actual rights is their overriding faith in legislative force. It's become a secular religion, the latest incarnation of the Social Gospel, and its central tenet is that social ills can be alleviated only through government coercion. But any social movement that has as its aim the elimination of choice, the enthronement of coerced participation, is a movement away from liberty.

A free society provides more than enough room for the flourishing of every group, regardless of race, gender, religion, orientation, etc., so long as each group recognizes the overriding importance of adhering to the principle of freedom of association as fundamental to their flourishing.

Shane Smith is an accountant living in Norman, Oklahoma. He writes for Red Dirt Report. Liberty is his religion.

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