Dr. Rand Paul (son of Dr. Ron Paul) of Kentucky secured the Republican nomination for the United States Senate last Tuesday. His nomination has sparked a media firestorm. Jack Conway, the Democratic nominee for Senate, claims that Rand Paul plans to “repeal” the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He cites an interview Paul did with Kentucky’s Courier-Journal Editorial Board. I found the video Conway references and at no point does Paul ever call for the repeal of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, nor could I locate any video of Paul calling for such action.
Paul’s position on the 1964 Civil Rights Act is clear: he supports nine of the 10 sections that dealt with removing discrimination by the government. The Jim Crow laws are a perfect example of institutionalized racism on the part of the government; the majority of what the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did was remove any government discrimination. However, Title II of the act deals with discrimination by “public accommodations” which gets into how private business owners can run their businesses.
Specifically, 42 U.S.C. §2000a states: “All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination on the ground of race, color, religion or national origin.”
This is the part of the act that Paul has an objection with. While he does not support racism in any form, he strongly believes in private ownership.
Business owners ought to be able to run their businesses the way they want. This position does in no way, shape or form endorse racism. As Paul said, “We should work to end all racism in American society and staunchly defend the inherent rights of every person. I have clearly stated in prior interviews that I abhor racial discrimination and would have worked to end segregation.”
There is a big difference between supporting people’s right to act a certain way and supporting their actual actions. The First Amendment is a great example of this; while many people believe strongly in our First Amendment rights, that doesn’t mean that they agree with what everybody says.
“In a free society, we will tolerate boorish people who have abhorrent behavior,” Paul said.
This is exactly the spirit of America. We are a country that allows people to express their views, even if we disagree with them. Similarly, we should allow places of public accommodation to be run as their owners see fit, but if in the case they make what we determine to be poor decisions (discrimination based on race for example) then we can boycott them and speak out against them.
An interesting argument that Paul raised is the controversy with Starbucks allowing people to carry firearms into their stores where it is legal. Some customers have called for Starbucks to prohibit firearms from being carried into their stores, regardless of whether it is legal or not. I’m very much pro-second amendment, but even I think that if Starbucks wants to prohibit their customers from carrying firearms into their stores, that they should be able to. However, this thinking conflicts with the thinking of people who believe places of public accommodation should not be able to discriminate based on race; either the government controls how businesses are run and prohibits discrimination, or the government allows businesses to be run by their owners and leaves the decisions up to them.
One of the reasons why I wanted to share this story is because I think it is somewhat typical of recent political discussions on race. Racial discrimination is still a serious problem in this country and I recognize that. I also recognize however, that in order to move past racial discrimination we need to be able to talk about race openly and respectfully. When people like Paul speak about racial discrimination (and are even opposed to it) but get derailed by any seemingly discriminatory views, it undermines the entire movement to eliminate racial discrimination. I think we need more open discussions on race and not less, and that’s only going to happen if people are open-minded.