Jeff Jacoby

I take it for granted that no one in America thinks the law ought to interfere with Angelina's freedom to say no. Whether she agrees to date Brad or not is a matter of complete indifference to the government. That's true regardless of her reason. She can reject Brad's suit because he's handicapped, or because he's Christian, or because he isn't tattooed. She can discriminate on the basis of race, religion, age, national origin, or table manners. When it comes to friendship and romance, freedom of association -- which by definition includes the freedom not to associate -- is absolute.

Freedom of association is a core human right, and not just when it comes to dating. It would be unthinkable for the government to meddle in our choice of sports team to root for, house of worship to pray in, or neighborhood to move to.

You are free to join a gay men's choir because you like being with gays, or to avoid gay pride parades because you don't like being with gays. You can volunteer for a political campaign, attend a cocktail party, go to the beach -- or not -- and your reasons may be admirable (the candidate's record of public service) or not so admirable (the candidate's skin color). The choice is yours. Other people may disapprove of what you choose or why you chose it, but the law gives them no authority to stop you.

Freedom of association should be valued as highly in our economic life as it is in our social life. When it comes to choices made by consumers, tenants, and employees, it usually is. The government cannot make you buy from a store you don't want to shop in -- and it doesn't matter whether your reason for avoiding it is that the prices are too high, the goods aren't American-made, or the owner is a Jew. The same is true for employees who don't want to work for an employer, or a tenant who declines to rent from a landlord. They are free to say no, and the law doesn't inquire into their motives.

That liberty should be a two-way street, but it isn't. Employers, for example, have nothing like unabridged freedom of association when it comes to hiring. You don't have to work for a woman if you don't want to, but a lawsuit awaits any employer who tries to exercise the same freedom. Federal and state laws ban discrimination on a wide array of grounds, and efforts to enlarge the list are never-ending.

Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby is an Op-Ed writer for the Boston Globe, a radio political commentator, and a contributing columnist for