When Freedom Isn’t Free

This article is reprinted from City Journal.

Liberal reformers, who might once have wished to extend the realm of liberty, now wish to restrict it in the name of compulsory political virtue.

There was a perfect recent illustration of this in Britain. An evangelical Christian couple, the Wilkinsons, ran a bed-and-breakfast business in a place called Cookham. They refused a middle-aged homosexual couple, Michael Black and John Morgan, accommodation because they believed that homosexuality was wrong; it is condemned in the Bible.

The spurned couple said that they felt like lepers; moreover, they felt that their legal rights, enshrined in the Equality Act of 2006, which makes it illegal to discriminate in the provision of services on the grounds of “sexual orientation,” had been infringed, and they complained to the police. As yet, no prosecution has followed. But shortly afterward a senior politician, Christopher Grayling, who might be a minister in the next government if David Cameron wins the forthcoming election, said that he thought that the owners of bed-and-breakfasts ought to be allowed to refuse homosexual couples if they so wished.

From the furious denunciation that Grayling’s remarks attracted, you might have thought that he had advocated medieval punishments for homosexuals. Instead, he was merely pointing out that the law as it stands is tyrannical, and that in a free society not everyone will make the same moral judgments. It is a necessary condition of freedom that private citizens should be allowed to treat with, or to refuse to treat with, whomever they choose, on any grounds that they choose, including those that strike others as repellent. Freedom is freedom, not the means by which everyone comes to precisely the same conclusion and conducts himself in precisely the same way.

The depressing, and perhaps sinister, aspect of the public commentary on the case is how largely it has ignored the question of freedom. For liberals, it seems, any trampling on freedom or individual conscience is now justified if it conduces to an end of which they approve. Thus liberalism turns into its opposite, illiberalism.

Messrs. Black and Morgan, who said they felt like lepers and went to the police as a result, condemned themselves out of their own mouths. They said that they had been together for decades, and that this was the first time they had ever experienced what they called “homophobia.” Not only does this suggest that the Equality Act was not, even on the false assumptions of liberals, necessary, but it means that anyone more mature than they would simply have found somewhere else to stay for the night.

Moreover, to waste police time on such a matter in a country with the highest crime rate in the Western world is nothing short of scandalous, a manifestation of the worst kind of inflamed egotism.

Theodore Dalrymple, a physician, is a contributing editor of City Journal and the Dietrich Weismann Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. His most recent book is The New Vichy Syndrome.

  • BS1977

    England is the poster child for PC Nanny State multicultural collectivism….. just as Orwell prophesized in Animal Farm and 1984….a run down, astronomically taxed socialized lock step liberal loony land…..obsessed with conforming to the new secular humanistic creed of submission, passivity and mega tolerance. Non conformists are treated like lepers…if you don't care for mosques or same sex marriage, you are treated for mental illness and given Prozac and rehabilitation….Re education camps can't be far behind. I pity school children these days………brainwashing 101 by the State Educrats.

  • http://www.myspace.com/komombo Hammer

    Thank you, BS1977, for a very succinct and utterly accurate assessment… of Amerika in 2010! Get ready for the FEMA camps, Entitlement Zombies

  • William Smart

    The couple were running a business open to the public and claimed their faith should allow them to discriminate. It's not acceptable to use religion to discriminate against Jews or blacks, it's not acceptable to do it to gays.

    The silly thing is, in 10 years time, all the fuss about civil partnerships will have completely dissipated, nobody will care anymore, just as nobody cares about one-parent families (which do affect us, they cost!)

    • Lee Poteet

      Not quite true. Laws against discrimination which infringe upon our religious freedom, the freedom to make moral judgments are tyrannical. And let us be very clear, the homosexual agenda is about enforced tyranny against others.

      • 9-11 Infidel

        Not even close. Descriminating aginst color does not rise to the same level as discriminating based on religious values. It is their business and they are free (maybe) to adhere to their religious doctrine. Gays do not have a right to impose their sexual preferences on anyone; anymore than does the state have a right to impose sanctions on anyone in order to force a particular religion on them. Unfortunately in Britain as in the rest of Europe the State is the owner of people's freedoms not the individual themselves.

  • tarleton

    The Muslims in the UK would thoughly agree with discrimination against homo's …in fact , they would like to do a great deal more than discriminate

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/GaryRumain Gary Rumain

      Which is odd because, at the same time, arselifters are very much gay. They just won't admit and certainly won't come out of the closet.

  • mitch cohen

    Shops used to have a sign "we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone". This right to dispose of one's own time, effort, and property should hold — and maybe the B&B couple should just not have given a reason.

  • tanstaafl jw

    Just to add to the fire – what if the couple had been interracial? I am old enough to remember that the state I lived in had a law prohibited black and white folk from getting married. People used the Bible back then to justify this discrimination.

    I am NOT endorsing any government action to "enforce" good manners. I will point out that if a vendor refuses to do business with me, I take my business elsewhere. The democracy of the marketplace in action.

    • pianoforte

      please do not equate a gay couple with an interracial couple. The Bible does NOT say ANYTHING about interracial couples, (only unequal yoked couples i.e. believer with a non believer regardless of their race) but the Bible DOES talk about homosexuality…so PLEASE, enough of the ridiculous comparison.

      • tanstaafl jw

        How can I reply?

        "The problem with faith is that once you have taken a position based on it, you cannot reconsider it when new evidence presents itself." – Robert A. Heinlein.

        I can't say a thing, since what I have already said has branded me a heretic in your eyes.

        What's your position on teaching "Creation Science" in public schools?

        • http://intensedebate.com/people/Foolster41 Foolster41

          "branded a heretic" because you're saying things counter to the bible? Yes.

          Just because someone uses an religion as an excuse for evil doesn't mean it's actually in that belief system unless book,chapter,verse is quoted and quoted properly . Piano forte rightly points this out (that there is no scriptural evidence of commands against bi-racial marriages) and you simply throw a tantrum., and try to move to a topic to try to start a fight.

          By the way, a great majority of the justification for the abolitionist (anti-slavery) movement was from the bible

          You're behaving like a troll, and frankly you smell like a liberal religion-hater or a muslim taquya artist (trying to spread misinformation about Christianity and other religion\\s) to me.

          • tanstaafl jw

            My point is that at one time, the government interfered with private citizens "pursuit of happiness".

            I am a libertarian, and I have no interest in forcing anyone to believe anything. If you thinkthat coffee tables are divine and worthy of worship – go for it. But don't expect me not to notice that the same folks arguing for discrimination against gay folk using the Bible are the same folks that arguing for the right to discriminate against black folk (again using the Bible.

            My point about Creation Science is to support Robert Heinlien's statement about the difficulty in taking positions based on faith. Would you care to refute his comment?

          • http://intensedebate.com/people/Foolster41 Foolster41

            Again, you're talking about what you "notice" how people (mis)use religion, and not any specific justification in scripture when asked for it.

            Hating something with no evidence against something, believe it or not, this is called bigotry and makes you a hypocrite.

        • Fiddler

          Regardless of race:
          "Therefore a MAN shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his WIFE and the two shall become one flesh"

          If you want to say that is unfair, go for it. This is not accusing anyone of being a "heretic" (nice try at changing the subject about Creation Science). That's typical of liberals, then they are backed into a corner they change the subject in a desperate effort to gain the moral high ground.

          One can disagree with a lifestyle based on CLEAR teaching in the Bible without being a defacto bigot, though compassion for another sinner (among all) is always warranted. But in trying to crack the door on compassion, unfortunately the door is kicked open with "total acceptance". Sorry, can't go there, the book says "no".

  • BS1977

    Speaking of liberal lunacy….the Icelandic volcano is said to be spewing more gas, smoke, particulate matter and gross air pollution in one week than all the coal fired plants, cars, jets, trains and trucks in human history!! This is the real deal…if there is global cooling or warming, it's NATURE….the mean solar output (radiant light and heat) and Earth's volcanoes, ice sheets and ocean currents….Remember, the great Ice Age had glaciers two miles thick sitting on top of Cleveland Ohio…and it all melted away…there wasn't one SUV, one woodstove or Al Gore pontificating back then.

    • bostonian

      BS1977 you are wron. There are and always have been croocklike great AL even before normal people. Gore is eternal creature

      • BS1977

        I am wron? Croocklike great AL….what a bunch of gibberish…what the H are you talking about?

  • 9-11 Infidel

    "The only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments… Without religion, I believe that learning does much mischief to the morals and principles of mankind." Benjamin Rush

    John Adams "…it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand."

    The sun has set on the British empire because they have removed their moral foundations of a once great society. The US is also rapidly approaching that very same abyss.

  • Diane

    People should be able to make their own decisions. If they want to discriminate against people based on religion, sex, race, sexual orientation…wahtever… then that is THEIR choice. I am a Christian and if I went to a business that was owned by an atheist that refused me service because of the cross around my neck then fine, it’s actually better because then I am not giving money to someone who doesn’t like my religion. IT’S CALLED FREEDOM.