Higher Ed and Indiana: Double Freedom Violation?

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For people to truly have freedom, they must be able to refuse to support things they find objectionable, even if other people love those things. And they must even be able to do that while engaging in commerce – which is simply one form of free association – as long as they are not trying to force their beliefs on anyone else. Unfortunately, when it comes to Indiana’s red-hot religious freedom law, many in academia would have freedom violated not just once, but in at least one case, twice.

The first level of freedom-curbing by people in academia is opposition to the law itself. The worry is that Indiana’s law would allow business owners to refuse to do business with groups the owners may not like. Of course, the group most immediately concerned is the LGBT community, and there is little question that Indiana’s law was passed at least partially in response to a judge legalizing gay marriage in the Hoosier State. Probably more directly, though, it’s a response to cases in other states in which business owners with religious objections to gay marriage were punished for refusing to make cakes, or provide photographic services, for gay weddings.

While the prospect of discrimination is troubling, a free society requires that government not punish those who refuse to do things they find morally or otherwise objectionable. And that includes things that most college presidents, faculty members – even 99.9 percent of all Americans – may completely embrace. We must protect liberty for even the smallest, least popular of minorities, as long as they are not trying to use force to impose themselves on others.

This is, of course, intended to protect everyone: Just as a fundamentalist Christian should be legally able to refuse to make a cake for a gay wedding, other bakers should be fully allowed to refuse to bake cakes for outspoken gay marriage opponents. Of course, as individuals college presidents, professors, and all other people can boycott businesses whose policies they find abhorrent – indeed, they should – but to use the power of government to silence values because they dislike them – maybe even hate them – is a fundamental violation of the individual liberty on which this country is founded.

Regrettably, at least one college president has taken the liberty-curbing even further than opposing Indiana’s law, forbidding employees of his college to use institutional money – much of which comes from taxpayers – to do business in Indiana. Decreed San Francisco State University President Leslie Wong:

I am dismayed, if not extremely disappointed, in the recent legislation signed into law in Indiana. It is unconscionable for this great University to spend its resources in a state that attempts to legislate discrimination of any kind.

By this note, I am informing the campus community that no San Francisco State University funds from any source — general funds or auxiliary — will be used to support employee or student travel to Indiana.

Here is a president – paid in part with taxpayer dollars – making a values-laden statement and dictating that school money – also in part coming from taxpayers – cannot be used in a state because he doesn’t like a law that state passed. This despite at least some of the taxpayers funding him and his school probably thinking Indiana’s law is okay, maybe even desirable. Those people are being forced to pay for speech and actions contrary to their own values, and in this case, to oppose a law that is itself geared – no matter what the possible motivations behind it – to protect liberty. That certainly seems like a double curbing of freedom.

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