Grantland’s Pierce: Government Force Justified Unless Proof Exists of Prior Harm

In the midst of an article discussing the events from the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, Grantland.com writer Charles P. Pierce unsurprisingly used a sizable chunk of his platform to discuss politics. Specifically the bill signed by Indiana Governor Mike Pence (Senate Bill 101) that would (amongst other things) make it legal for businesses in the state to discriminate against homosexuals. With the Final Four coming to Indianapolis next week, Pierce’s concern over the attention paid to this issue boiled over.

Among this angry and degrading rant from Pierce, it was highlighted that Governor Pence “couldn’t come up with a single example whereby a private business had been injured in any way by catering to gay or lesbian customers.” Apparently this lack of an example is all that is needed to force a business to serve those individuals they do not wish to serve according to Pierce. So because a governor can’t think of an example of a prior instance of damage, hardship or inconvenience caused to a business owner who catered to a specific group, that gives the state the right to impose its will on any private business owner. Of course, what the state would be hindering would be the freedom of association. This is not only the freedom to freely associate, but also the freedom to not associate with whichever person or group you wish when it comes to your own property.

Demanding examples of prior injury as some sort of bizarre prerequisite to avoid government suppression of a basic right (like association) sets a dangerous precedent. After all, can someone’s Second Amendment rights be taken away as a result of a lack of proof that restricting their right to bear arms would injure them? If you can’t prove how the government’s domestic spying programs have hurt you, does that give the government the freedom to restrict your Fourth Amendment rights? Clearly a person’s freedoms do not depend on the ability of that person to prove to the government the extent to which denying those freedoms would cause them harm. But I guess Charles P. Pierce thinks otherwise.

Also, consider a scenario in which the governor (or someone else) was able to provide an example of prior injury due to catering to gays and lesbians. Would that one example be good enough for Pierce? What about two examples? What about five? Or maybe ten? I think you can get the point. If it is no longer legal to privately discriminate because there are no examples of prior injury in catering to a specific group, then the illegality of private discrimination is based upon that number being zero. But if one or more examples existed, then the basis of outlawing private discrimination evaporates.

Of course, rights are not based on prior incidents. They are inherent to us and recognized by our Constitution. Rights make it so that the burden of proof is never on us to secure our freedoms by demonstrating how we might be harmed if our liberty is taken away. Rather, it is government which must assume and respect the freedom instilled in all of us.