Walter E. Williams

Here's a question: What is the true test of one's commitment to freedom of expression? Is it when one permits others to express ideas with which he agrees? Or is it when he permits others to express ideas he finds deeply offensive? I'm betting that most people would wisely answer that it's the latter, and I'd agree. How about this question: What is the true test of one's commitment to freedom of association? Is it when people permit others to freely associate in ways of which they approve? Or is it when they permit others to freely associate in ways they deem despicable? I'm sure that might be a considerable dispute about freedom of association compared with the one over freedom of expression. To be for freedom in either case requires that one be brave enough to accept the fact that some people will make offensive expressions and associate in offensive ways. Let's explore this with an example from the past.

In 1958, Richard Loving, a white man, and Mildred Jeter, a black woman, two Virginia residents, traveled to Washington, D.C., to marry. Upon their return to Virginia, they were charged with and found guilty of violation of Virginia's anti-miscegenation laws. In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Loving v. Virginia, held that laws banning interracial marriages violated the equal protection and due process clauses of the 14th Amendment. The couple's conviction was reversed. Thus, Virginia's anti-miscegenation laws not only violated the U.S. Constitution but also violated the basic human right of freedom of association.

Now let's ask ourselves: Would Virginia's laws have been more acceptable if, instead of banning interracial marriages, they had mandated interracial marriages? Any decent person would find such a law just as offensive -- and for the same reason: It would violate freedom of association. Forced association is not freedom of association.

Before you say, "Williams, where you're going with this discussion isn't very good," there's another case from our past. Henry Louis Mencken, writing in The Baltimore Evening Sun (11/9/48), brought to light that the city's parks board had a regulation forbidding white and black citizens from playing tennis with each other in public parks. Today most Americans would find such a regulation an offensive attack on freedom of association. I imagine that most would find it just as offensive if the regulation had required blacks and whites to play tennis with each other. Both would violate freedom of association.


Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
 
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