Privacy Rights versus Public Necessity

Does the government have any right, or any compelling interest, in regulating my private behavior?

The libertarian’s default answer is, “no.” In many, if not most cases, the libertarian is correct. There are, however, some important exceptions.

Obviously, if I am beating my wife, then the community, through its government, has not only a right, but a duty to stop me, and to exact just punishment for my crime. Libertarians almost always agree with us on this.

Just as obviously, the government has no right to peek through my windows (or to do the high-tech version thereof) to see what I am reading, or to discover my political opinions, or to see with whom I am associating, without a warrant based on probable cause (for example, communicating with terrorists).

There are, however, situations that are not clearly cut and dried. Illegal drug use, for example, is one of them. It causes me no direct harm if my neighbor is intoxicating himself with various chemicals. If children are in the house, however, I should rightly notify law enforcement. Nor do I have any interest in whether he is inviting people to his house for what I would consider to be immoral purposes, so long as it does not cause a public nuisance.

Each of these cases involves a caveat. The use of drugs may affect child safety, and immoral activities may create a noisy party, and so forth. The spillover from private conduct to public harm is not unusual, which is why we have laws against public intoxication, drunk driving, and other instances where innocent bystanders can be harmed.

What is more difficult to determine is whether a private activity has a subtle, slow, but pernicious effect on the public, and whether the community has a right and legitimate cause to regulate such activity.

For example, the government has outlawed internet gambling in most localities. People who, in the privacy of their own home, place wagers (by credit card) on games of chance, can be penalized by law. Libertarians object, whereas others decry the fact that easy, convenient access to gambling can bankrupt families, especially when someone in the household has an addiction to such behavior. It is no coincidence that among the most active opponents of internet gambling are those who own casinos, which stand to lose money if people gamble from home, instead of in their establishments.

A well-publicized example of privacy rights versus public necessity, involved "Dan Quayle was Right" by Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, the feature article in the Atlantic in April, 1993, a magazine often identified as a liberal platform. The article had to do with whether voluntary, single motherhood, was a purely personal decision, one in which the public has no legitimate involvement -- or a private decision that despite its personal nature, does cause harm to society. The conclusion, surprising in a liberal venue, was that single motherhood does indeed harm children. The conclusion arose from a long-term study which contradicted the claim of liberals, the claim that children growing up in the absence of their fathers are just as well off as children with involved fathers. They are not.

Most of us did not need a study to prove that, but if we did, the past twenty-four years since the article’s publication have removed all reasonable doubt. Not only are children harmed in single-parent households, but so is the society at large, especially when fatherless girls in their teen years give birth to fatherless children, and when boys without paternal role models turn to crime, and to self-destructive behaviors.

It is a tragic irony that the victims of violent crime are often those whom the government has forced, through taxation, to pay support money to those who perpetrate murder, rape, and robbery against them. Imagine it -- being forced to buy the bullets that are then used to murder you or your loved one!

The examples do not stop at single-parent households. A very indirect, but no less demonstrably harmful chain of events, involves what we now term as “LGBTQ rights.” At first, to many people, it seems entirely harmless that two homosexuals might cohabitate. As we have seen, however, gay rights have sped down the slippery slope, and morphed not merely into the right of homosexuals to be free from harassment, but in the requirement that the rest of us affirmatively endorse their behavior, or at the least, refrain from expressing our contrary opinions. Failure to do so can quickly result in sanctions by the government, by universities, and by civil courts.

Young children in public schools are now taught that nearly every sexual behavior is “normal,” and to be, not merely accepted, but celebrated. Abortions can be performed on minor girls with neither the knowledge nor consent of their parents.

Children who go through a temporary phase of gender identity confusion are now identified as “transgendered,” and can be given harmful drugs to prepare them for the irreversible, surgical mutilation known as sexual reassignment. In those for whom the identity confusion seems to be permanent, the disorder is in the brain, but no significant attempt is being made to correct the brain.

All of this is happening with gleeful support from leftist radicals who have gone so far as to justify voluntary single motherhood on the false basis that Jesus was the child of such an arrangement. There is no limit to the absurdity of their arguments.

There is always the anecdote of the child raised by gays who becomes a happily married, heterosexual adult, but the opposite anecdotes receive no publicity.

The bottom line is that these issues are not easily resolved in the current social climate. Proving that gay rights (when morphed as they have) have harmed society, is difficult to do in a brief exposé. As another example, there is strong evidence that the advent of birth control pills did not reduce, but rather increased, unwanted pregnancies -- but that evidence is rejected due to endless, irrational counterarguments.

On the other hand, we must recognize that privacy rights are a vital defense against tyranny. I was reminded of this when, during a medical visit, I was asked whether I have any guns in my house. This was done under the pretense of it being a valid health issue. Forewarned, I knew exactly where this was heading, so I “took the Fifth,” so to speak. Liberals, of course, complain that my Second Amendment rights have a harmful and deadly impact on society, despite overwhelming evidence otherwise.

There are no easy answers. There are, however, effective ones. They begin with rejecting the liberal notion that traditional moral values are outdated.

Does the government have any right, or any compelling interest, in regulating my private behavior?

The libertarian’s default answer is, “no.” In many, if not most cases, the libertarian is correct. There are, however, some important exceptions.

Obviously, if I am beating my wife, then the community, through its government, has not only a right, but a duty to stop me, and to exact just punishment for my crime. Libertarians almost always agree with us on this.

Just as obviously, the government has no right to peek through my windows (or to do the high-tech version thereof) to see what I am reading, or to discover my political opinions, or to see with whom I am associating, without a warrant based on probable cause (for example, communicating with terrorists).

There are, however, situations that are not clearly cut and dried. Illegal drug use, for example, is one of them. It causes me no direct harm if my neighbor is intoxicating himself with various chemicals. If children are in the house, however, I should rightly notify law enforcement. Nor do I have any interest in whether he is inviting people to his house for what I would consider to be immoral purposes, so long as it does not cause a public nuisance.

Each of these cases involves a caveat. The use of drugs may affect child safety, and immoral activities may create a noisy party, and so forth. The spillover from private conduct to public harm is not unusual, which is why we have laws against public intoxication, drunk driving, and other instances where innocent bystanders can be harmed.

What is more difficult to determine is whether a private activity has a subtle, slow, but pernicious effect on the public, and whether the community has a right and legitimate cause to regulate such activity.

For example, the government has outlawed internet gambling in most localities. People who, in the privacy of their own home, place wagers (by credit card) on games of chance, can be penalized by law. Libertarians object, whereas others decry the fact that easy, convenient access to gambling can bankrupt families, especially when someone in the household has an addiction to such behavior. It is no coincidence that among the most active opponents of internet gambling are those who own casinos, which stand to lose money if people gamble from home, instead of in their establishments.

A well-publicized example of privacy rights versus public necessity, involved "Dan Quayle was Right" by Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, the feature article in the Atlantic in April, 1993, a magazine often identified as a liberal platform. The article had to do with whether voluntary, single motherhood, was a purely personal decision, one in which the public has no legitimate involvement -- or a private decision that despite its personal nature, does cause harm to society. The conclusion, surprising in a liberal venue, was that single motherhood does indeed harm children. The conclusion arose from a long-term study which contradicted the claim of liberals, the claim that children growing up in the absence of their fathers are just as well off as children with involved fathers. They are not.

Most of us did not need a study to prove that, but if we did, the past twenty-four years since the article’s publication have removed all reasonable doubt. Not only are children harmed in single-parent households, but so is the society at large, especially when fatherless girls in their teen years give birth to fatherless children, and when boys without paternal role models turn to crime, and to self-destructive behaviors.

It is a tragic irony that the victims of violent crime are often those whom the government has forced, through taxation, to pay support money to those who perpetrate murder, rape, and robbery against them. Imagine it -- being forced to buy the bullets that are then used to murder you or your loved one!

The examples do not stop at single-parent households. A very indirect, but no less demonstrably harmful chain of events, involves what we now term as “LGBTQ rights.” At first, to many people, it seems entirely harmless that two homosexuals might cohabitate. As we have seen, however, gay rights have sped down the slippery slope, and morphed not merely into the right of homosexuals to be free from harassment, but in the requirement that the rest of us affirmatively endorse their behavior, or at the least, refrain from expressing our contrary opinions. Failure to do so can quickly result in sanctions by the government, by universities, and by civil courts.

Young children in public schools are now taught that nearly every sexual behavior is “normal,” and to be, not merely accepted, but celebrated. Abortions can be performed on minor girls with neither the knowledge nor consent of their parents.

Children who go through a temporary phase of gender identity confusion are now identified as “transgendered,” and can be given harmful drugs to prepare them for the irreversible, surgical mutilation known as sexual reassignment. In those for whom the identity confusion seems to be permanent, the disorder is in the brain, but no significant attempt is being made to correct the brain.

All of this is happening with gleeful support from leftist radicals who have gone so far as to justify voluntary single motherhood on the false basis that Jesus was the child of such an arrangement. There is no limit to the absurdity of their arguments.

There is always the anecdote of the child raised by gays who becomes a happily married, heterosexual adult, but the opposite anecdotes receive no publicity.

The bottom line is that these issues are not easily resolved in the current social climate. Proving that gay rights (when morphed as they have) have harmed society, is difficult to do in a brief exposé. As another example, there is strong evidence that the advent of birth control pills did not reduce, but rather increased, unwanted pregnancies -- but that evidence is rejected due to endless, irrational counterarguments.

On the other hand, we must recognize that privacy rights are a vital defense against tyranny. I was reminded of this when, during a medical visit, I was asked whether I have any guns in my house. This was done under the pretense of it being a valid health issue. Forewarned, I knew exactly where this was heading, so I “took the Fifth,” so to speak. Liberals, of course, complain that my Second Amendment rights have a harmful and deadly impact on society, despite overwhelming evidence otherwise.

There are no easy answers. There are, however, effective ones. They begin with rejecting the liberal notion that traditional moral values are outdated.

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