Thursday, June 15, 2006

Slippery Slopes

A visitor's argument that democracy allows majorities to withhold rights at will, illustrates how slippery a slope the discrimination of gays is. When we label gays second class citizens then we might need to surrender the notion of rights in favor of the tyranny of the majority.

The founding fathers were quite clear that democracy in America was not simply about majority rule but a system that protects the rights of minorities. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay who helped write the Constitution are quite outspoken about the importance of minority rights in the Federalist Papers. Federalist Numbers 9 and 10 are dedicated to the problem of majority tyranny and what the United States Constitution does about it.

The founding fathers carefully designed a system that provides minorities with considerable resources to preserve their liberty.

Discrimination challenges American democracy. Discrimination begins with denying the full rights of citizenship to a seemingly marginal minority. But when we need to justify that we might be compelled to argue that we can take anything from anyone as long as the majority condones it.

Therefore discrimination threatens everyone. It compromises the core of our constitutional system. Discrimination is tyrannical and the seed of tyranny.

Not least, discrimination threatens the integrity of the abusers who might not have considered that the implications of their position will pitt them against liberty, democracy, and the rule of law.

Especially from a Mormon perspective, minority rights are important. Most of Mormons live outside the United States, which means that Mormons will usually be a tiny minority in their communities and countries. Even in the United States, most Mormons live outside Utah.

Some of you might remember how Baptists in Texas attempted to impose their religion on Mormon students in public high schools by electing a student body officer who would deliver prayers at school functions. In Texas, of course, that meant that the prayers would always be Baptist prayers. That might not be a big deal until one remembers that this happened in an environment where teachers would harrass Mormon students by denigrating their parents as members of a cult.

Thank heaven for the Constitution and the Supreme Court who stopped an intolerant majority from compromising our religious freedom. There are some things that cannot be left to the majority.

Unless we respect the humanity of people who are different, we have no right to hope that we shall remain free ourselves.

The safest way to avoid the slippery slope of tyranny, of the few or the many, is to oppose discrimination in the first place. Lets be fair to everyone.


Blogger Tom said...

I actually don't have much to argue about with you here. Amazingly enough. I never said it was a good idea for majorities to withold rights at will. I don't remember if I said democracy allows that specifically, but it's true that it does. My main point was that people can base their actions as citizens (and as representatives of these citizens) on whatever ideology, religion, or alien visitation they want and it won't violate the U.S. Constitution, and even if it did violate the Constitution, it wouldn't be undemocratic. Whether it's a good idea to do so is, obviously, up to each of us as citizens to decide.

Despite my vigorous defense of the Church's attitude toward homosexuality on that other thread (by the way, our disagreement stands--I think that to characterize the Church's position as demonization and scapegoating is unfair and false, respectively--I'm just weary of that discussion as I don't feel like progress was being made or was likely to be made), I'm conflicted as a citizen on the question of codifying a SSM ban in the federal constitution. That goes against my libertarian-ish ideals and my belief in blind fairness in the law. I have other, competing ideals that make it a complicated issue. Ultimately, inaction will likely be my course because my life is ruled by inertia more than it should be.

Blogger annegb said...

Hellmut, The glass is half full. Can you possibly see the positive in the US?

Most of us ordinary Americans are not focused on persecuting anyone. We're living our lives as honestly and righteously as possible and that makes life better for everyone, even if we're not all activists.

Blogger Hellmut said...

I am a little bit confused where you are coming from, Anne. This post celebrates the United States Constitution and the wisdom of the founding fathers.

It is a reminder how important the Bill of Rights and the United States Supreme Court are to our religious freedom as Mormons.

The United States has given the world a wonderful gift when it created institutions that protect values such as the rule of law, fair treatment of anyone by the government, liberty, and equality.

Mormons are more often a minority than not. Rather than pursuing an agenda that creates second class citizens, we should protect values such as fairness, equality, and liberty from the whims of the majoriy.

It's the right thing to do. As most Mormons live in areas of the country and the world where we are a tiny minority, the wisdom of the founding fathers should be obvious to us.

I find it distressing that so many Mormons would endorse an agenda that labels gays second class citizens and exempts them from the Bill of Rights. In the process, we must realize, we are compromising the very institutions that guarantee our own freedom.

Blogger annegb said...

I don't know where I was coming from either, lol.

Maybe I was wondering if you have anything positive to say about the church, but maybe you aren't a member. It wouldn't be the first time I didn't know what was going on.

Blogger Clark Goble said...

It seems undeniable that in any democracy the majority can withhold rights. In the US the amendment process makes it difficult, but it certainly can be done. And many (including perhaps many Founders) would argue that the Bill of Rights doesn't enumerate all our rights. But those not in the Constitution obviously can be overrun merely by an act of Congress (or even the State House)

One can argue that they ought not. But that's an other issue.

The issue of discrimination is a bit more complex. I think it's very hard to argue that discrimination violates a natural right given that most take the right of association as a right. At a minimum one is left with dualing rights.

Consider the racist who refuses to shop at a store run by African-Americans. Discrimination yes. But I'd argue it would be horrible for the State to force people to buy from African-Americans even if it is the right thing to do.

The greatest danger to our Democracy (IMO) comes from well meaning people who want to make what is right what is forced by the State.

Blogger Clark Goble said...

Just to add, the obvious way to resolve issues like my example is to make a distinction between positive and negative acts. (i.e. things done by the state to people versus things the state forces people to do)

However this division is inherently problematic on many levels. Can the division be maintained?

But let's say it is.

The main issue Helmut is concerned about is gay marriage (as opposed to denying agreed upon common rights to homosexuals - I think in this day and age most think they should have common rights).

But is gay marriage something the state forces people to do or is it something that limits what the state can do to people?

It's hard to taxify it. Further there is the issue that by legitimizing gay marriage the state is saying that all must recognize it.

I'm fairly sure that eventually this will happen. But I'm not sure in terms of rights it really falls down right. But that's because it seems to me that state control of marriage is essentially the state limiting us. i.e. it is not something the state ought be in at all.

The main defenses of state involvement in marriage deal with giving small groups special incentives to meet some social desire. Now in general I'm opposed to such state activities - especially when they are proscriptive rather than just funding. But in this view the state isn't interfering on anyone's rights (assuming some civil union law was passed). Rather it is saying "we want to encourage these behaviors" which is inherently discriminatory. (In the sense at minimum that single couples don't receive these state benefits)

Now as I said I'm opposed to these behaviors by the state. But in any case it seems that any logic defending state involvement in marriage will simultaneously make it difficult to defend gay marriage as a right.

It's completely unfathomable to me why the state ought be involved in these issues at all. It seems to be a place where private contract law ought rule.

Blogger annegb said...

Clark, good points.

This is a little off the subject, but I was reading in the paper this morning that the FBI is giving lie detector tests to law enforcement personnel in the US. I'm getting increasingly more nervous about this kind of stuff. Don't tell the guys on Kaimi's lawyer blog.

I'm just about to take a stand. Like now I'm pro-choice, loud and proud. I haven't figured out how I feel about SSM, in my own heart and gut. But I appreciate the opportunity to mull it over and all the differing opinions.

I think I totally misunderstood you, Hellmut. A thing that happens to me ever more frequently these days.

Blogger Hellmut said...

Don't worry about it, Anne. That happens in the best families.

Blogger Clark Goble said...

The worst thing about lie detectors is that they are notoriously unreliable. It's basically pseudo-science.

I tend to be somewhat libertarian in things. That is I don't think the government ought be involved in most regulating of our behavior that doesn't hurt people. Certainly I don't think it the government's business in the least what consenting adults do in private. And, as I said, I'm uncomfortable about the State promoting acts as well.

Having said that though I'm not a libertarian because I don't think the individual's rights trump all else. That is I think we have to have notions of community rights and duties as well - something far too many Libertarians reject.

Blogger Hellmut said...

I agree that lie detector tests should be abolished. The state does have a need to check the reliability of security personnal but there are more reliable and humane ways of pursuing that requirement.

I may be wrong but I don't think any of the other G7 nations use lie detectors in court. G7 refers to the group of seven, the seven wealthiest democracies in the world. Since they share the same values and a similar level of economic development, they provide a good reference point for public policy.

Blogger Todd said...

Just as an interesting side note, the political will to forestall the tyranny of the majority was one of the few things the anti-federalists agreed with.

It is also important, I think, to note that on the federalist side, the fear of the majority was about property rights (e.g., Federalist 10), where the majority were unpropertied masses who might try to redistribute wealth through the government by the rable-rousing of the biggest faction (i.e., the poor and working class). In other words, Madison argues explicitly that the constitution is set up precisely to protect the interests and power of the wealthy. It's not some secret; he says it over and over in the federalist papers. It is further important to note that only in Pennsylvania was there general franchize for all white males at the time of ratification. All other colonies initially had strict property requirements attached to the right to vote. So Madison/Hamilton/Jay wrote their defense of their constitutional solution with the assumption that "the majority" wouldn't even be participating in the power structures of the new government.

So while the theoretical position of defending against the tyranny of the majority is important in any functioning democracy, it is also important to keep a certain level of historical vision to remind us that there are ways that the minority still control the rights of the majority, and that the founding wasn't as glorious or as clean as we like to think about it.

Blogger Suzie said...


I don't know what else to say except, thank you for writing this post. (Harlem Snowflake has your link.)

Tim Wise, a white anti-racist activist, uses some of the same arguments you have written here to try to convince other white people to join the fight against racism.

You've given me a little hope.


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