The right to not be hollered at

The recent denial of entry to the United Kingdom Pastor for Terry Jones provides a perfect opportunity to discuss—again—what we mean when we talk about “rights.”

It also highlights a deep underlying irony (some would say: hypocrisy) in the conservative movement in the United States.

Let’s start by mentioning the thing about which liberals and conservatives can both agree: Terry Jones has the right to burn whatever book he wants to burn whenever he wants to burn it. In the United States, at least, that is a constitutional right. Many would say that it is a basic human right, and I would tend to agree.

Now in addition to this, many conservatives are now complaining that when the UK government denies him entrance to their country, they are infringing on his rights. They think he should have the “right” to go where ever he wants to go, and the UK government is unfairly limiting his freedom by stopping him.

Let’s line this up next to similar arguments made by conservatives in recent months and years.

NPR is inhibiting Juan Williams’ freedom of speech by firing him for racist comments. He should be able to be as much of a racist as he wants while performing his job, and his employer is taking his rights away if they say, “You know what? If you’re going to do that, we’d rather not employ you any more.” That would be taking away his right to, well, be employed by NPR, I guess.

Dr. Laura is having her freedom of speech taken away because people complained the she used the N-word. No legal action was taken against her, and she quit voluntarily. But some people hollered, and as a result she decided to quit. While at the same time complaining that her rights were being violated. Her right to not be hollered at, I guess.

But what strikes me as truly strange about these arguments is that the exact same people make the exact opposite argument in different circumstances.

The Boy Scouts, say conservatives, have the right to refuse membership to gay people if they want to. It’s their organization, and there certainly isn’t no constitutional or universal human right to be a member of the Boy Scouts. They can do what they want with their organization.

A grocery store, say the hardcore conservatives, has the right to refuse to do business with black people if they want to. They are a private business, and you don’t have a universal right to shop anywhere you want to. The grocery store has a right to do what it wants with its organization.

But somehow, when the service is being denied to a conservative, suddenly this argument flips on its head.

So that is the juxtaposition I would like everyone to keep in mind during this type of discussion:

    Boyscouts denies membership to gays: no infringement of rights.
    UK denies entrance to angry white guy: infringement of rights.

As long as everyone knows where things stand.