Point-Counterpoint: Kansas lawmakers fight for liberty of conscience and faith

The question in Kansas and anywhere else good people are trying to make sense of a rapidly changing social landscape boils down to one thing and one thing only: coercion.

Will the state force a florist, a caterer, a photographer, or a baker -- to name only a handful -- to provide goods and services to anyone, contrary to their own consciences and religious beliefs? Kansas legislators are attempting to answer that question in the negative, and they're right to do so.

Maybe the better question is how so many people have simply forgotten the old-fashioned idea of mutual consent.

Some ill-informed commentators have compared what's happening in Kansas to the old Jim Crow laws that marred the South for much of the 20th century before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. They forget that Jim Crow forced businesses to discriminate and segregate by race.

The Kansas bill, by contrast, would do nothing more than free private citizens from legal consequences if they choose not to do business associated with same-sex marriage.

Compulsion versus choice: see the difference?

It would be a different story if you could only choose from one baker or one photographer in your state, rather than simply take your business elsewhere.

And if the government only provided the bakers or photographers, we wouldn't be having this argument. As it happens, one version of the Kansas bill unwisely included government employees under its protections. Government should never discriminate.

In all likelihood, however, the Kansas bill will come to nothing. When the U.S. Supreme Court last year ruled on the gay marriage cases, I wrote in this space: "If the law says there can be no 'rational basis' for treating the union between a man and a woman as something unique ... then it really doesn't matter what your conscience tells you."

Kansas lawmakers are fighting a valiant but doomed effort to preserve a shred of liberty rightly understood -- liberty of conscience, liberty of contract, liberty of property, liberty of association. The courts and the culture have shifted. We have very few of those old liberties left. But, oh goodness, do we have coercion galore.

Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal and the conservative voice of McClatchy Tribune's Red-Blue America feature. Email, bboychuk@city-journal.org. Web site, www.facebook.com/benandjoel.