Election 2024

No, Vivek Ramaswamy, 'Political Expression' Shouldn't Be a 'Civil Right'

There can be no freedom of association without the freedom to disassociate from views you find erroneous, dangerous, or repulsive.


Shortly after announcing his candidacy for president on Tuesday, the biotech founder and anti-woke crusader Vivek Ramaswamy tweeted a short list of his goals. Alongside such items as imposing term limits on federal bureaucrats and achieving "total Independence from China" was one that might look unobjectionable but deserves a thorough rebuke: "Make political expression a civil right."

The precise choice of language and larger context here are critical: Ramaswamy isn't saying he wants to stop the government from punishing citizens for their political views, something that is obviously already proscribed by the First Amendment (and something that certain anti-woke Republicans have themselves flirted with recently despite the crystal-clear constitutional prohibition). Instead, "civil rights" is a reference to laws such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which reach into civil society and constrain what private organizations, such as clubs and businesses, may do.

In essence, Ramaswamy is suggesting that the government treat political opinions the same way it treats race, which under federal law is a protected class. Employers may not make hiring and firing decisions on the basis of skin color; same goes for landlords deciding whom to rent to, hotel or restaurant owners turning away customers, and so on.

To treat viewpoints in the same way would amount to an egregious infringement on the right of free association—that is, our ability to join together with others who share our values or beliefs for a common purpose. Churches, charities, social clubs, and yes, even political entities such as advocacy organizations are all examples. 

A healthy, pluralistic society is one that has space for all manner of social institutions, many of which we may not individually be fans of. Some (though by no means all) will be based upon mutual affinities that might be described as political. Inconvenient as it may be for those who desire to end all discrimination, though, there can be no association without disassociation. The right not to be affiliated with views we find erroneous, dangerous, or repulsive is no less worth defending than is the right to speak our minds. 

Ask yourself whether a pro-life group should be required by law to accept a job candidate who loudly espouses a right to abortion. How about the reverse? Should an environmentalist nonprofit have to admit members who deny the existence of climate change? Should the libertarian club on campus be compelled to take those who want a larger welfare state and more aggressive intervention in foreign wars? And if an entrepreneur doesn't want to work with a Trump supporter at the small business she founded and pours her time and energy into, is that any of the government's business? What if it's an Antifa rioter she objects to? What about a neo-Nazi? 

Like it or not, one person's right to disaffiliate from white supremacists depends upon another person's right to disaffiliate from conservatives—or communists. The government is not empowered to decide which substantive views are out of bounds, and thank God for that. A law (or worse yet, an executive action) that purports to turn "political expression" into a "civil right" is no modest threat to liberty. It's a direct assault on one of the bedrock principles of a free society.