On Facebook, there seemed to be some confusion over my use of the term “community standards.” I received a few direct messages, and questions were asked by commenters as well. For background, it all started when I expressed my outrage over the mayor of Boston and his wanting to keep Chick-Fil-A out of his city. A commenter brought up community standards and whether they were applicable to this situation. I am a believer in community standards (we will get to this in a bit) and felt the question was fair.
One of my pet peeves in politics today is the blatant relativistic nature of our discourse. In other words, if it is “my guy” in office, I will tolerate behaviors that I would NEVER tolerate from the “other guy.” I believe in set principles. Principles are my foundation. IF I only apply the natural law of these principles to other people’s situations and not my own…well…it would be intellectually dishonest.
Because of this, I started to think deeper about my belief in community standards. My fellow conservatives were bandying about “free speech,” but I wasn’t quite sure I bought that. Nobody was arguing that Dan Cathy, the COO of Chick-Fil-A, should be thrown in jail for his remarks. The mayor of Boston was just saying that Chick-Fil-A operated its business based on Biblical standards and those standards were incompatible with Boston’s standard. Now, there obviously are a couple of things here. 1. I am not sure a mayor has the full authority to enact community standards. 2. I am not sure that is actually Boston’s community standard.
That said, it is an interesting question. Does a community have the right to set a standard for itself under US law? Let’s start with what a community standard is:
Community standards are local norms bounding acceptable conduct. Source
In the terms of US law, the phrase “community standard” first arose in a Supreme Court case “Miller v. California” (1973). As a matter of course, two things are consequential from this: 1. As a legal concept Community standards only apply to obscenity. 2. A community can be a state, county, or community.
This is basic. If Shelby, OH decides that we don’t want a strip club or porn shop in our downtown, we should be allowed to say no.
Honestly, I wasn’t aware of this very tight definition. So, now we both know. But what if it were more broad?
But, how about other issues. Could an atheistic community decide that they don’t want a church in their downtown? What about New York City and a mosque at Ground Zero? We know that Homeowners Associations set standards from preventing the display of campaign signs to not allowing a flag pole or an American flag or other flags. Could a community with strong ties to coal ban a green energy business?
Going back to earlier, under the legal concept, these wouldn’t be covered. And for that, I am grateful for one reason. The legal definition of a community is too broad. One could argue that a state enacting any of the above examples could be disastrous for the minority. But what if the community was defined as your actual local community?
To put it in perspective, I am going to talk about something that hits close to home: homeschooling.
Would I be happy, as a homeschooler, if my local community banned homeschooling? No. But the question isn’t about my happiness. It is a question of ability. Would my local community have the right to do so if they chose?
Our founders believed in local control. They thought that the most intimate decisions were best decided at the local level. Education was one of these issues. I think the biggest detriment of our educational system is too much control in Washington, DC and our state capitals. So, at first blush, my initial thought is yes. My fellow citizens could rule against homeschooling. Of course, this is a purely intellectual exercise because our local communities have given away their rights to make these major sorts of decisions. And as the Bill of Rights has been applied to the individual governmental levels instead of the Federal government…these questions are just an intellectual exercise.
So, what about you. Take an issue that is important to you and ask. If my community wanted to get rid of this, could they?
I am not saying there is a right or wrong issue here. And I think specific circumstances play a roll as well. IE prayer at a high school football game means something different in Texas than in Michigan. But what say you, if community standards weren’t so tightly defined…what should they be?