Monday, August 11, 2014

Sin and private property rights

In the past week, two stories have brought a great deal of discussion to my social media streams. The first was about a mall in Georgia that does not allow any of their patrons to pray on the property. The second was about one of the towns in my county that had banned smoking in restaurants. One of these stories is good, and one of them is bad. Unfortunately, most people are cheering the wrong one of the two.

Many of the people in my circle of friends, acquaintances and followers were howling about a mall that bans prayer. The immediate cry was “freedom of religion” and about our “first amendment rights”.

Additionally, many of the exact same people were cheering the smoking ban. Tales of parents, family, friends and others who had died due to lung cancer were mentioned, as well as the dangers of second hand smoke.

In both of these stories, the majority of people talking about them are wrong. Flat wrong.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m a disciple of Jesus Christ. I’m a teacher and preacher and minister of His gospel. The Bible tells us that we should be in a continual attitude of prayer and to pray without ceasing. Additionally, both of my grandfathers died of cancer and both were in some way caused or aggravated by smoking, as did my paternal grandmother. While my bride was pregnant with our first child, I either flushed or baptized her cigarettes every time that I got my hands on them.

But neither of those issues are reasons for me to be arrogant, selfish or lazy…

Yes, we’re still talking about smoking in restaurants and praying at malls. I simply see the root issues instead of the superfluous topics of smoking.

Let’s start at the core of the issue; does an individual have rights over his property? Does he forfeit some or all of those by opening a business? Set aside the issue of smoking…what if a restaurateur decided to ban skinny jeans in her establishment. Doesn't she have that right? Or instead of a mall that bans open prayer, what about a china shop that bans children under 16?

I believe that the business owner still retains control and autonomy over his or her assets. The function of government is to provide the greatest protection to the rights of the greatest amount of people while causing the least restriction of rights to the smallest number of people, giving precedence to what we refer to as inalienable rights, the chief among those being life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

So how do arrogance, selfishness and laziness fit into this issue? Very simply.

First, let’s look at arrogance. Consider smoking bans, soda cup size limits, salt restrictions and school lunch restrictions. At the root of each of these topics is the assumption that Party A knows more about health, diet, or exercise than Party B. And since Party B is either too stupid or too uninformed to make the “right” choice, their choices should be restricted to only those with which Party A agrees. Basically, the ideas is that citizens should be forced to do what some government bureaucrat feels is best. That is in complete opposition to freedom and personal liberty.

Okay, but what about selfishness, right? Well, let’s say that all of the smoking bans were repealed tomorrow, and every business owner was free to set the rules for their establishment. (I know, it’s a radical idea, right?) Many businesses would choose to allow smoking, especially those restaurants that also sell alcohol. And folks would scream bloody murder because their favorite place to eat chose to allow smoking. The reply would be “well, you’re free to go to another restaurant that doesn't allow smoking”. And they’d scream “But this is my favorite place to eat! You don’t understand! I've eaten here every Friday night for the past three years!” Translated, they’re saying that the property rights of the owner are subservient to their desires.

Finally, what about laziness? That one is easy. If all of the bans were lifted, and business owners were free to set their own rules for their establishments, then the customers would be forced to make choices and suffer consequences. A family goes through the typical 45 minute discussion/argument over where to go for dinner. They pull into the parking lot, walk up to a restaurant and see that they allow smoking. Now they have to go through the entire ordeal again because they don’t want to eat around cigarette smoke.

The family would absolutely have the right to inform the manager that they are choosing to eat somewhere else due to their policy. This would give the owner the information to choose if that policy is making him money or losing him money. Then again, it’s uncomfortable and tiresome to actually speak to the manager and to voice an opinion to every business that does something that I don’t like.

It’s much easier to just lobby my government to ban any restaurant from allowing smoking, and then I can be ensured that I don’t have to worry about making any choices, that I’m not deprived of eating somewhere that might allow smoking. And they should know that smoking is unhealthy anyway, right?

In a free society, you are not guaranteed freedom from ever seeing or experiencing something that you don’t like, or even find offensive. Most certainly, you are not guaranteed freedom from having someone else do something that you don’t like. Do you want to live in a society where your property rights are determined and allowed based upon the arrogance, selfishness and laziness of your neighbor?

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