(Photograph by Eric Chan)
Walter Block discusses why forcing firms to make special arrangements to fulfil religious sensibilities of employees violates their rights.
Pretty much any law school worthy of its bias toward left-liberalism and socialism has a clinic dedicated to fighting poverty, to promoting welfare rights, opposing gender and racial discrimination, advocating socialized medicine, tenants’ rights, countering the death penalty, etc. But now there is something new under the sun in this realm of legal education: a conservative legal clinic at the Stanford University Law School of all places, bastion of “progressive” thinking (apart from its Hoover Institute).
What, pray tell, will be the mission of this Religious Liberty Clinic? It is funded by a $1.6 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation, via the good offices of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. As such, it will be teaching its law students how to represent “Seventh-day Adventists who were fired by FedEx for refusing to work on Saturdays, a Jewish convert in prison whose request to be circumcised was rejected and a Muslim group that was told its plan to build a mosque violated land-use laws”.
But do Seventh-day Adventists really have a right not to work on Saturdays as their religion requires, if their employers want to hire people to labour on that day? Of course not, at least not according to libertarian law. Forcing firms to make special arrangements to fulfil the religious sensibilities of some employees violate their rights of free association. Under this rubric, bosses cannot be prevented from engaging in voluntary labour contracts with whoever agrees to accept their offer, and that certainly includes working on the Sabbath whether for Seventh-day Adventists or Jews. Of course, if an employer makes special accommodations for religious minorities such as this, he is likely to be able to hire them at a lower wage than they would otherwise command. But then, presumably, this new conservative legal clinic would sue the company in question for pay discrimination.
“Forcing firms to make special arrangements to fulfil the religious sensibilities of some employees violate their rights of free association.”
Do converts to Judaism really have a right to circumcisions – paid for by other people? Certainly not, again, at least not on the basis of libertarian law. That would be a positive obligation, and libertarianism only recognizes negative rights. From the latter perspective the very purpose of prison is to ensure that the convict works at hard labour, the proceedings of which go to compensate the victim. Instead, it currently costs more than university tuition at prestigious institutions to house criminals. This is because instead of being compelled to work, they are coddled with air conditioning, psychological services, gymnasiums, colour television, and forsooth, if Stanford’s Religious Liberty Clinic gets it way, free circumcisions at taxpayer expense. Thus, the target of the crime is victimized not once but twice. First by the criminal, and a second time by being forced to pay for his cosy existence, including these religious “rights.”
The institution of slavery has demonstrated that forced labour can be organized at a profit. While victimless “criminals,” those guilty of violating the law regarding pornography, prostitution, gambling, drugs, etc., should all be set free, forthwith, rapists and murderers and others of their vicious ilk should be in effect enslaved until they pay off their debts to their victims or heirs.
Yes, Muslim groups have a right to build mosques wherever they wish, provided only that this is on their own land. The Stanford clinic may well do some good in this one area. Posit, however, that this were a libertarian, not a conservative, undertaking. It would then attempt to repeal all land use laws such as zoning, rent control (landlords are prohibited from converting their property to condominiums), eminent domain, environmental, etc.
Curiously, the Stanford law group refuses to defend a Christian photographer who declines to take pictures for a homosexual wedding, and a religious employer who is unwilling to undertake health plans that make contraceptives available to employees.
The reason appears to be that this Stanford group wants to focus on believers rather than governments. But the photographer and the contraceptive-refusing employer seem to fit that precise bill.
Perhaps on reflection there is not all that much new under the sun. Yes, conservatives at a law school or anywhere else in academia for that matter is certainly to be remarked upon, there are so few. But insofar as protecting liberties, true liberties as libertarians see them, there is nothing new here. So keep on moving citizen, there is nothing to be seen here.
A libertarian law clinic in sharp contrast to those of both the left and the right, would defend the “undefendable”: those who wish to engage in discrimination on the basis of race, or sex, or age, or, indeed, anything else. Free association is the key here. It would sue in behalf of those guilty of economic “crimes,” such as practising numerous professions without a license: hair braiders, teeth whiteners, gypsy cab drivers, and, yes, doctors, lawyers, dentists, veterinarians, etc., too. It would devote great efforts to freeing people guilty of victimless crimes, particularly regarding drug prohibition. A libertarian clinic at a law school would be a very different kind of creature.
Where is campus diversity when we really need it?
Walter Block earned his PhD in Economics at Columbia University. He is an author, editor, and co-editor of many books which include Defending the Undefendable; Rent Control: Myths and Realities; and Discrimination, Affirmative Action, and Equal Opportunity. He also regularly writes articles for various journals and is currently a professor at Loyola University.