It is an irony of American government that our most noble political freedoms have been established and preserved while protecting groups and individuals which most people find reprehensible. The defense of communists, anti-American propagandists and pornographers has preserved our freedoms of speech and press. The defense of neo-Nazi protestors and Ku Klux Klan parades has defined our freedom to assemble and redress our grievances.

This defense of what is often a distasteful minority has helped to define the very civil liberties that have allowed United States citizens to create the richest and most diverse literary, political, artistic, and social traditions in the world. It is vital to the preservation of those civil liberties that all people – not just the few extremists – be defended in their rights to form private associations with their own private qualifications. Freedom, after all, does not mean the right to do only that which certain others may approve.

Now comes the State of Michigan with an assault on another basic civil liberty, the freedom of association, and its corollary, the freedom not to associate. It seems that certain members of the Michigan Legislature find it reprehensible that private clubs in our state reserve their dining rooms for particular membership categories, or establish separate tee times on the golf courses for men and women. And they have passed legislation, Public Act 70 of 1992, intended to prevent this from occurring.

Aside from some politicians' lack of sophistication on matters of civil liberty, this new law will simply not achieve its intended result. As Professor Safranek demonstrates in the following report, the economics of the situation will force clubs to reduce or elim-inate services to the entire membership, not just allocate them as the Legislature deems appropriate.

At a time when political discourse is dominated by the superficial tenets of class warfare sociology and exploitation economics, government intervention in private clubs may find few voices in opposition. However, like minor encroachments on our basic freedoms of speech, press and assembly, this assault on freedom of association has implications that reach far beyond the borders of Michigan country clubs. Those who appreciate the rich culture and diversity of American life should understand the threat posed by this misguided legislation.

Joseph P. Overton
Vice President
Mackinac Center for Public Policy