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Property Rights and Public Accommodations

By       Message Ernest Partridge     Permalink
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In the early sixties, the young black students in the South had had enough.

Enough separate drinking fountains, enough all-night drives because no motel would provide a room, and enough refusal of service at restaurants and lunch counters.

"Screw this," they said, and so they sat at Woolworth's lunch counters anyway, where they were taunted, spat upon, beaten, and arrested.

The white restaurant owners resisted, most notably one Lester Maddox in Atlanta who stood at the door of his Pickrick restaurant, axe handle in hand, threatening to use it on any black citizen who might attempt to enter. Enough white Georgia citizens were sufficiently delighted by Maddox' act of defiance that they elected him Governor of the state.

But the students persisted, organizing "freedom rides" throughout the south, where they were joined by supporters of all ages and races from around the country until, at last, they prevailed. In 1964 the Congress of the United States passed the first Public Accommodations law, which stipulated:

All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, and privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, ... without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.

Today, the right of all persons to access to motels, restaurants, transportation facilities, etc., is settled law and is accepted throughout the land by most citizens.

"Most," but not all. Among the remaining dissenters is Rand Paul, a libertarian and the Republican candidate for the Senate in Kentucky.

Racial discrimination in public facilities is morally wrong, Paul agrees, and those who disapprove have a perfect right to boycott establishments that discriminate.

But the property rights of the owners, he insists, are sacrosanct. And however much we might deplore and protest the owners' decision to refuse service on the basis of race, the facilities are still private property and the owners have the indisputable right to do with their property as they wish.

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Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. Partridge has taught philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The (more...)
 

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