Some readers may remember Sally Kohn from such articles as “I’m gay. And I want my kid to be gay too.” Kohn’s latest Dispensed Wisdom is an argument that, hey, government’s not forcing you to cater a gay wedding with your pizza, because you don’t have to sell pizza:
This issue of government force is a funny one. You could also argue that the government is forcing you to drive below the speed limit or wear a seatbelt in your car. But it’s not. There isn’t a police officer holding a gun to your head literally forcing you to buckle up. In fact, you are 100 percent free to speed and not wear your seatbelt—and simply deal with the consequences if you’re pulled over. Is the threat of the fine for breaking the law amount to “forcing” you to follow the law? No.
And more to the point, the government certainly isn’t forcing you to drive. If you don’t like the speed limit and seatbelt rules, and don’t want to be subject to the consequences of breaking them, then you can not drive. Whether to drive or not is your choice.
This all seems simple when we talk about driving, but somehow a fringe set of rightwing conservatives want us all to believe that hapless business owners are somehow being forced, against their will, to serve pizza to gay people. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you don’t want to serve pizza to gay people, by all means, don’t—which, by the way, is legal in Indiana and 28 other states, but even where it is illegal, you’re still free to do so and deal with the consequences of breaking the law. That, pizza shop owner, is your choice. And if you don’t want to deal with those consequences, well, no one is forcing you to be in the pizza business. You’re free to do something else.
. . . .
Don’t like following the laws that apply to businesses—including serving all customers equally? Then don’t start a business. That’s your choice.
Yes, I suppose that you could say that people don’t “have” to drive, or sell pizza. By the same logic, people don’t “have” to have sex. So I guess that means that if government wanted to pass laws mandating that any sex be heterosexual, then by Kohn’s logic, that wouldn’t be “forcing” people to have heterosexual sex.
In other words: Don’t like laws that apply to everyone having sex? Then don’t have sex. That’s your “choice.”
Right, Ms. Kohn?
But even if you could mount an argument that such laws would not “force” homosexuals to have heterosexual sex, it’s more difficult to argue that these examples do not involve government coercion. Even if you’re not literally “forced” into the behavior government demands, you are indeed being coerced into either a) performing that behavior, or b) giving up a major life function.
Kohn doesn’t seem to understand that labeling coercive action as coercive (or even as “force”) does not necessarily make that action wrong. Government “forces” those who drive to drive on the correct side of the road, and that is a proper function of government. Rather than make lame arguments that coercive action isn’t coercive, the honest approach is to recognize coercion for what it is, and defend it . . . if you can.
Kohn is busy digging deeper holes on Twitter, and exposing herself further as someone who can’t hold her own in logical debate. For example, she dismisses the example of sodomy laws I give above, which has been raised by many people, with the following “logic”:
Translation: “I dislike your totally relevant analogy because I don’t want to think about the point it makes!”
I had some fun using this #kohnlogic on Twitter against Kohn:
But the cherry on top of this delicious hypocrisy sundae comes courtesy of Sean Davis, who sent me a link to Kohn’s article on the Hobby Lobby decision. You’ll never guess what she said there (OK, actually, you will). Namely, she said that conservatives were trying to “force” their religious beliefs on America.
To put it mildly, our forbearers would be appalled by how right-wing conservatives are trying to use government to force their religious views on all of us.
We’ll place to one side, for the time being, the question: “What the hell is a forbearer?” To put it mildly, our forebears would be appalled at seeing their language mangled like this. But they would also be amused, as I am, by the inconsistency of Kohn’s “laws don’t force people to do stuff!” argument, as contrasted with her Hobby Lobby position.
Ms. Kohn: you don’t like religious freedom laws that apply to Hobby Lobby and other similar closely held corporations? Don’t work for said closely held corporations. That’s your “choice.” Where’s the “force”?
In the end, the Hobby Lobby decision isn’t actually coercive because there is plenty of freedom to work for companies that are not closely held corporations run by highly religious people. By contrast, your life is severely restricted if are told you can’t drive, or engage in your chosen occupation, or even engage in sexual activity. So governmental restrictions on such activities should be absolutely necessary — because they are inherently coercive.
Ultimately, all government laws are coercive, because resistance always ends up with men coming to your door and pointing guns at you. Keeping this precept in the forefront of the minds of the citizenry is critical, because it helps focus our attention on the fact that passing laws is serious business. Laws and government should protect the public. They should not be used for much else. Certainly, laws should not be used to force you to make me a sandwich. Although I would like a sandwich.