We all have had roommates at some point in our lives. Sometimes those roommates turn out to be our best friends, and other times the can be our greatest headaches. Living with another person is a continuous system of trial and error. If you end up with a particular roommate whose personality severely clashes with your own, typically you part ways and seek a better match. In America, we have the freedom to associate with and live with whomever we choose, right?
Wrong! A woman in Grand Rapids, Michigan is learning this the hard way. Last July she posted a sign on her church bulletin board, requesting a Christian roommate. Somebody clearly looking for trouble, brought this to the attention of the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan and now a civil rights complaint has been filed against her. The reason? According to the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan, “The ad expresses an illegal preference for a Christian roommate, thus excluding people of other faiths...It is a violation to make, print or publish a discriminatory statement. There are no exceptions to that.”
The First Amendment of the Constitution protects freedom of assembly, which is largely attributed to be the defense of the freedom of association. Both freedom of speech and freedom of religion have also been cited in court cases as evidence for freedom of association. Human relationships are voluntary contracts where each person decides with whom he wishes to associate with and this includes the right for a person to decide who they want to have as a roommate. The accusation against this woman was that by announcing a distinct preference for a certain type of roommate, she was spoiling the chances for anyone of a different religious faith to live with her. However, the argument can be made that this woman is now being denied her own rights to associate with whom she chooses. It is evident that her personal preferences are being stolen from her because they are are less important than the agenda of the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan.
The tension here involves government mandate versus personal preference. There is an key distinction though. The law, as dictated by the government, must never discriminate. As Jason Lewis said on his radio show, “The law must remain neutral.” It cannot give preference to one group over another when it comes to issuing justice, employment opportunities, or other protected realms within which the government has legitimate influence. Individuals, however, are a different. Individuals discriminate everyday. They discriminate based on logical conclusions such as which kind of bathroom cleaner works best or which brand of flour makes the tastiest cookies or which kind of person would make the ideal spouse for them. This is called rational discrimination and it is in embedded in everything we decide to do or not to do. When left to their own, most people do not practice irrational discrimination such as refusing to hire minorities or women or committing hate crimes against opposing religions.
Human relationships are voluntary contracts where each person decides with whom he wishes to associate with and this includes the right for a person to decide who they want to have as a roommate.
Yes, in a free society sometimes irrational discrimination exists, but this is more often the exception, rather than the rule. The question is whether we want to live in a truly free society, even if sometimes people do or say things we do not agree with. For the woman in Michigan, I hope freedom of association is upheld, and the justice is served. If citizens are no longer permitted to choose with whom they wish to live with, what is next? I’m afraid to even ask.