The Tyranny of the Politically
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Raquel Welch, Jul/Aug 01
America has reached a point where the basic rights of the majority are being curtailed because someone, somewhere is offended by something. Some of our new rules and regulations have reached such absurd extremes that you feel that if you even smile at the wrong person, you may end up in court, or worse, in jail.
It seems that anyone with a personal ax to grind these days has no problem in taking it to the politically correct limit. Take, for example, one private grade school on Manhattan's Upper West Side that recently banned Mother's Day celebrations, and, out of "fairness," Father's Day observances as well. The reason? A few of the school's students were being raised by same-sex couples, or by one parent or someone other than their birth parents, and school officials feared they might be offended by such observances.
Where are the rights of birth mothers and fathers in that decision?
We believe that many of the laws prohibiting discrimination in the United States are extremely important, and have contributed greatly to creating a more equal society today. In the past 50 years alone, we have seen laws that have eliminated the Jim Crow regulations in the South, opened the doors to schools and other public places to people of all creeds and races, and created fairer working conditions for women and minorities. Those are the good examples.
But we've also seen the disturbing evolution toward increasingly restrictive policies, often taking
antidiscrimination laws far beyond their original intent. Antismoking laws represent one prime
example. When they were first implemented, the laws were designed to separate smokers from nonsmokers.
Where separation wasn't adequate, such as in airplanes and elevators, where there was no true way to
separate, those venues appropriately became nonsmoking areas.
The laws largely succeeded; yet that was not enough for the antitobacco forces. They began to chip away at what in most circumstances were workable and equitable solutions. Bad science, especially regarding secondhand smoke, was used to toughen already restrictive regulations.
Take New York City as an example. Its city council implemented one of the most restrictive policies in the nation in 1995 when it limited smoking in restaurants to those with fewer than 35 seats, or with areas separated from the main dining area. It meant that in many establishments, diners had to move to the bar after a meal or leave if they wanted to smoke. It was a repressive plan, but it still recognized some smokers' -- and restaurant owners' -- rights. Now, the city council, led by its speaker, Peter Vallone (who is running for mayor), is trying to toughen the restrictions by prohibiting smoking in all restaurants and restaurant bars, with no exceptions. Restaurant owners will no longer be allowed to choose to whom they may cater, and smokers once more face the tyranny of the politically correct.
You have seen what those zero-tolerance laws have done in cities around America: pockets of smokers standing like outcasts outside their buildings because they can't smoke anywhere indoors. (Some cities are even trying to ban outdoor smoking!) Slowly but surely, the powers that be are trying to take away the few remaining rights that smokers have.
What most people fail to realize is that it isn't just smokers' rights that are being threatened. The targets include everything from what you can say, to what you can do, to what you can eat. (Think of animal-rights extremists if you want a glimpse of the future.) If any behavior or subject can be deemed offensive by even a small minority, they raise a clamor and often get their wish to have it abolished or prohibited.
We live in the Land of the Free. But zealots are destroying those freedoms. What we've said before bears repeating: defend your rights now, or one day you'll discover that you don't have any left to defend.