More thoughts on open public accomodations

After my recent post on Ron Paul and his advocacy for repeal of the Civil Rights Act, I was asked by someone if a Black man should be forced to serve a Neo-Nazi or Klan member in his place of business. It never ceases to amaze me how the libertarians always couch their questions in these terms, as if they have failed to notice that there just aren’t all that many Black-owned businesses these days. What they do know is that the question framed in those terms won’t be as offensive as the opposite, which nevertheless would also be true. In other words, when they ask whether a Black man should have to welcome KKK members or Neo-Nazi members into his business, they are also asking whether a white business owner should have to welcome Blacks, or at the very least perhaps New Black Panther Party members.

Of course, the short answer is, for the most part yes. You can’t generally tell who is a member of these organizations from looking at them, and if they come into a place of business, behaving normally, and ask for service, they should be served. Now if a man came into a business with Klan robes on, or with a swastika on his shirt, I could see a business owner saying “You can’t come in here like that. You will cause a disturbance in my place of business.” But understand that the prohibition is not racially based. Nothing would stop the man from going home, changing into ordinary clothes, and coming back to be served. 

Nobody is arguing that business owners do not have the right to set codes of conduct and even reasonable dress codes for patrons. The argument is whether business owners should be allowed to prohibit customers on the basis of things that the customer cannot change (race, height, eye-color, weight, national origin, religion or native language). I think common sense tells us that businesses should not be allowed to do these things. I will agree with the libertarians that business owners have rights. But so do individuals. And the role of government is to mediate the disputes that result when one’s exercise of his rights infringes upon another person’s rights. That is not an “unconstitutional power grab” on the part of government. It is rather government doing what it is designed to do. We are all better off when businesses that are open to the public are open to ALL the public.

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