Discrimination laws—as applied to private parties—play on the fear that, without government to keep people from favoring one person or group over another, social progress would be set back by decades. They fear that protected groups would be excluded from jobs, schools, neighborhoods and places of business.
The criteria that prompt inclusion in the so-called “protected classes” are not just the old “race, creed and color” divisions. Discrimination laws continue to create more privileged categories based on national origin, age, sex, family composition, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation or gender identity, and even a person’s genetic code.
These laws proliferate in a downward spiral of ridiculousness, and there is a long way to fall. Recently the government of Greece added to its definition of “disabled” persons. The list now includes the categories of pyromaniacs, compulsive gamblers, fetishists, sadomasochists, pedophiles, exhibitionists and kleptomaniacs. It would be pointless trying to guess where this fire will jump next, for imagination simply fails.
Many discrimination laws seem to be advocated more for political advantage or to push a social agenda that many find abhorrent, but no one disagrees with the underlying truth that people ought to be treated with justice and dignity.
Like every law that attempts to force people to be nice to one another, discrimination laws are doomed to fail at anything but a superficial level. We may prevent or punish direct harm, but people are not made compassionate by threats of violence. As Dr. Martin Luther King once said:
It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me.
~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Western Michigan University speech (1963)
The Church recognizes both the Christian duty to treat other people with respect and the inability of government to create that result by force of law:
Respect for the human person proceeds by way of respect for the principle that “everyone should look upon his neighbor (without any exception) as ‘another self,’ above all bearing in mind his life and the means necessary for living it with dignity.” No legislation could by itself do away with the fears, prejudices, and attitudes of pride and selfishness which obstruct the establishment of truly fraternal societies. Such behavior will cease only through the charity that finds in every man a “neighbor,” a brother.
~ Catechism of the Catholic Church ¶ 1931
When considering modern anti-discrimination laws, we should be mindful that the discrimination laws of an earlier era—the malignant Jim Crow laws—were also brought to us by government: racial segregation of restrooms, restaurants, and drinking fountains, segregation of the military, public schools, public places, and public transportation. All of it deservedly came to an end in the sixties.
If equality under the law had been the end of it, the wounds of that injustice might have begun to heal by now, but the government hardly missed a beat in moving from segregation into a quota system and affirmative action, thereby enshrining the evil it sought to eliminate.
Discrimination laws are counterproductive. The one place that favoring one person over another ought to be forbidden is in government. Unfortunately government at its core is an institution hopelessly dedicated to favoring one man over another; taking from one and giving to another.
On the other hand, attempting to punish discrimination by private individuals is a futile exercise that does more harm than good. With the expansion of protected classes of workers, employers must be careful in hiring. Not many managers are likely to hire a person who may not work out when they know that the applicant cannot be fired without raising the possibility of a discrimination lawsuit.
Of course no employer would admit—and we will never know—how many pregnant women, blacks or old guys like me might have been given jobs if it were not for discrimination laws that make us radioactive.
The government could not have designed a better system to keep hatreds alive. If the federal government had stopped with the repeal of earlier discrimination laws, there was a chance that old hurts would heal and new resentments would not be fed, but government cannot leave well enough alone. Equality under the law might have been as simple as letting everyone stand up and be free, but within the logic of government, equality under the law is achieved just as well when every man is trampled as when every man is free.
[excerpted from Free is Beautiful]