Last week, the NFL decided to ban public displays of discontent from games involving football teams. The decision drove many on the left mad. After all, the league seems to have given in to President Donald Trump’s pressure. Banning protests during the national anthem is a policy adopted by other professional sports leagues like the NBA – yet, the outrage is directed only at the NFL.
More recently, comedian Roseanne Barr’s hit ABC show “Roseanne” got canned after she compared one of President Barack Obama’s advisers to the lovechild of the movie, “Planet of the Apes” and the Muslim Brotherhood. The left, however, loved the decision.
While in both cases many of the critics have good intentions, both instances are examples of private organizations requiring their employees to follow company policy. They are merely acting on their right to freely associate.
In the NFL case, players also had good intentions with their protests.
By taking a knee during the national anthem, players took a stand against police brutality and impunity. By silently stating that position, they hoped to bring attention to their discontent toward police forces across the country, which often victimize Blacks and Latinos over federal and local drug laws, among others. But the NFL may have thought that bringing up these themes during the game would politicize football and, as such, they acted.
ABC also took a stance against an actress whose politics did not coincide with the company’s own.
Much like the bakers who refused to bake cakes for same-sex couples, these companies took stances that may have offended different political groups. Unfortunately for the bakers and freedom of association, judges found that it was not their right to set their own policies. But so far, both ABC and the NFL have been allowed to act on their right as private institutions. And yet, only one of these organizations is being criticized by left-leaning Americans. The other is also being criticized, but by people who often identify as conservative.
Neither Left Nor Right: Property Rights Are Non-Negotiable
Regardless of where you stand, the truth is that private institutions, companies, mom and pops shops, and even lemonade stands have a right to set their own policies. And that’s because they have a right to associate freely without state-sponsored coercion.
By the same measure, private business owners have the right to require that their employees adhere to their stated policies. And yes, they have the right to let employees go if they do not meet these standards.
So if there’s any controversy regarding these policies and what prompted them, it should never turn into a justification to pressure companies to take stances under orders. Like the bakers who were forced to bake cakes for people they would freely chose not to associate with, forcing ABC to take its announcement back or the NFL to allow protests during the national anthem would be a violation of their property rights. And as we have seen time and again, it is with the violation of this natural right that all other liberties are then taken.
Libertarians recognize that while we might personally disagree with a private organization’s stated policy or decision, it is essential that we respect their decisions enough to not advocate for third-party, coercive intervention to force them to change their positions. For without this fundamental respect for the freedom of association and choice, we put our own liberty and happiness in peril.