Freedom of association – the Phil Robertson and Jack Phillips cases

Published 23 December 2013  |  
(A&E)

As much as we might not like it, A&E are perfectly entitled to dismiss Phil Robertson from the Duck Dynasty show because of an important right they possess - the right to freedom of association. That is, the ability to choose who you do and do not associate with, which is protected by Article 20 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

The problem is, like all rights, freedom of association has to be applied universally. You cannot offer it to one group and not others. If A&E have the right to disassociate themselves from someone they don't agree with the views of, then so should everyone else. That same right should apply to Jack Phillips.

As a professional baker in Colorado, you wouldn't have thought that Mr Philips would be in a position to face a debate over his freedom to associate or lack thereof. But he has recently lost a court case and has been forced to associate with a wedding ceremony he disagrees with.

He disagrees with gay marriage, but the state of Colorado doesn't. In itself, that shouldn't be a problem. For the longest time, the gay lobby's argument has been "If you don't like gay marriage, it won't affect you, so it doesn't matter". But now it seems that some activist gay couples are attempting to force people to associate with their ceremonies and their ideas about what is and is not right.

If there is to be freedom of any kind, it needs to be universal. Some people cannot have a right that others are denied. In this case, either both A&E and Jack Phillips should have the right to disassociate themselves from that which they don't agree with, or neither of them should.

There are distinctions between the two cases, to deny that would be wrong. In the case of A&E, they are an employer dismissing an employee. In the case of Jack Phillips he is a service refusing the patronage of a customer. However, the right still applies. Just as a Muslim radio station should not be legally expected to give voice to someone who disagrees with Muhammad's prophet status, or a charity may not accept a donation from sources they deem to have acquired the money dishonestly, so all those involved in this instance have the right to deny themselves association if they so wish.

Presently, a double standard is being applied. Until it is fixed, the legal system cannot be considered consistent.

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