[This column, an op-ed piece, appeared in the Dallas Morning News on November 28, 1987.]

 

Why An Optimist Calls it Quits After 21 Years 

 

By Dwight D. Murphey 

 

            After twenty-one years of selling Christmas trees in all kinds of weather, of leading kids through Optimist Club bike-safety courses, of selling bingo cards to raise thousands of dollars for youth projects, and enjoying weekly breakfasts with men who have become my close friends, I quit.

            I’m giving up—in protest.

          During my years as an Optimist, I have served as president of two clubs and as lieutenant governor.  But now I’m packing off my life-membership card with a letter of sadness and anger to the national office.

            Why?  Because I believe that men have a right to have organizations such as Optimists—just as women have the right to have the Women’s Council of Realtors or the National Association of Women Accountants—and that they should stand up and fight for that right when it is taken from them.

            This past summer, Optimist International caved in under threat of suit.  It removed the bylaw limiting its membership to men.  Optimist International is no longer to be an association composed solely of men, with all the unique fraternalism that that implies.

            I’ll be quick to add that I have no objection to organizations that mix men and women.  Nor do I object to groups that are limited to one or the other sex.  All three types of associations are fine, and each serves its own purpose.

            What I find so terribly disturbing is:

·        That under the “public accommodations” laws of a number of states, and the recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions upholding them, men are no longer allowed to have groups of their own unless the group in any given case is limited to a relationship of almost family-like intimacy.

·        That, in the milieu of double standards that has become so common now in matters of so-called civil rights, there will be no similar restriction on the right of women to associate.  (Please understand, I don’t favor putting women under such a restriction.  Two wrongs don’t make a right.  But I do object to the double standard.)

·        That the United States Supreme Court has, since Justice Harlan Stone’s famous footnote in a 1938 case, embarked on a double-tracked system of rights.  As the law has developed during the past half-century, “discrete and insular minorities” (to use Stone’s phrase) have one set of rights, jealously guarded by the court; the majority of Americans have another set of rights of lesser importance, which can be set aside whenever the judiciary agrees that a legislature has a “rational basis” for doing so.

·        That even the “conservatives” on the court—such justices as William Rehnquist, Sandra Day O’Connor and Antonin Scalia—concur in this bifurcation of rights and the resulting double standards.

            This has all come to a head in two recent Supreme Court decisions.  The first was the case against the Jaycees in 1984, in which Justice William Brennan wrote that “freedom of association” is a right that exists in full measure only for intimate associations that meet criteria for smallness, selectivity and seclusion.

            The second case was decided in May of this year and was against Rotary International.  It was Justice Lewis Powell, on the President Richard Nixon’s appointees, who wrote the decision.  Powell reiterated the rationale that freedom of association is not an important general right, but is to be protected by searching judicial scrutiny only where it involves “deep attachments and commitments” of an intimate nature.

            Thus it was that California’s Unruh Act, that state’s “public accommodations” statute, was allowed to become the basis for outlawing the all-male membership criterion for Rotary International.

            It is time that we took a long, hard look at the court, and even at the “conservatives” who are on their way to becoming a majority on it.  The “conservatism” of the new justices would appear to be in disarray after years of liberal domination.  It is a conservatism that reacts to certain over-extensions by liberal courts.

            It is not, however, a conservatism founded fully upon a modernized version of the old “classical liberal” tradition.  Classical liberalism sought limited government, economic freedom and personal liberty.  This was reflected in a quest, as found in the writings of the likes of John Stuart Mill and Frederic Bastiat, for a unitary theory of a free society.  It never entered their minds to formulate a dual system of rights that would favor one group, class, majority—or even a minority.

            To these “liberals” in the classic sense, “individual liberty” was indivisible.  And “freedom of association” was clearly part of it.  Here are the words of Alexis de Tocqueville, writing in Democracy in America: “The most natural privilege of man, next to the right of acting for himself, is that of combining his exertions with those of his fellow creatures and of acting in common with them.  The right of association therefore appears to me almost as inalienable in its nature as the right to personal liberty.  No legislator can attack it without impairing the foundations of society.”