Social Philosophy and Policy

Research Article

SHOULD ANTIDISCRIMINATION LAWS LIMIT FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION? THE DANGEROUS ALLURE OF HUMAN RIGHTS LEGISLATION

Richard A. Epsteina1

a1 Law, The University of Chicago

Abstract

This article defends the classical liberal view of human interactions that gives strong protection to associational freedom except in cases that involve the use of force or fraud or the exercise of monopoly power. That conception is at war with the modern antidiscrimination or human rights laws that operate in competitive markets in such vital areas as employment and housing, with respect to matters of race, sex, age, and increasingly, disability. The article further argues that using the “human rights” label to boost the moral case for antidiscrimination laws gets matters exactly backwards, given that any program of forced association on one side of a status relationship (employer, not employee; landlord, not tenant) is inconsistent with any universal norm governing all individuals regardless of role in all associative arrangements. The articled also discusses the tensions that arise under current Supreme Court law, which protects associational freedom arising out of expressive activities (as in cases involving the NAACP or the Boy Scouts), but refuses to extend that protection to other forms of association, such as those involving persons with disabilities. The great vice of all these arrangements is that they cannot guarantee the stability of mandated win/lose relationships. The article further argues that a strong social consensus against discrimination is insufficient reason to coerce dissenters, given that holders of the dominant position can run their operations as they see fit even if others do otherwise. It closes with a short model human rights statute drafted in the classical liberal tradition that avoids the awkward line drawing and balancing that give rise to modern bureaucracies to enforce modern antidiscrimination laws.

Footnotes

My thanks to Uzair Kayani for his valuable research assistance on this paper.

Metrics