Alan Keyes has a column at the Worldnutdaily about the Afghani man targeted for the death penalty for converting to Christianity. It sounds very much like something I might write on the subject of liberty and the need to protect it not only from dictators but from democratic majorities as well. I’ll put a long quote from his column and my reaction below the fold:
The principle of democracy is majority rule. Does anyone deny that the overwhelming majority of Afghanistan’s population is Muslim? It is also likely that a majority of the Afghan population supports the decision to bring charges against the Christian convert, and even to put him to death when he is found guilty as charged of abandoning Islam.
This case is not about respect for democratic principle. It is about respect for the principles of unalienable human rights from which the preference for democratic self-government ultimately derives. The doctrine of unalienable rights, which requires that government be based upon consent (i.e., elections decided by majority vote) also prescribes limits upon the legitimate uses of government coercion. Even with the support of an overwhelming majority, government cannot legitimately use or threaten to use force to destroy the unalienable rights of individuals.
The right to individual self-determination in matters of conscience is the first and foremost of these rights, and the one on which depends the very possibility of individual liberty in other respects. There can be no liberty without choice, and there can be no free choice when the threat of violence holds conscience in the iron grip of fear. This is why Jefferson wisely swore “eternal enmity against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”
It is also why terrorism poses a threat to humanity that goes beyond the destruction of physical life. Terrorists seek to inspire fear by systematically employing violence against the innocent, with the ultimate aim of bending to submission the mind and will of targeted populations. In a sense, terrorism is the common principle of all physically despotic regimes, the naked truth at the heart of violent tyranny. If in Afghanistan the United States tolerates the threat or use of force to coerce conscience, we are allowing the principle of terrorism to triumph once again in the very country we say we are reclaiming from the terrorist scourge. Given the sacrifice of life good people have already made, this would be more than tragic irony – it would be criminal neglect of duty.
Hear, hear. I agree with every word of that. Unfortunately, Keyes doesn’t agree with his own words when it comes to a wide range of issues, most obviously gay rights. The man has never seen an anti-gay policy that he didn’t endorse. He railed against the Lawrence v Texas decision as an outrage, cursed those “unelected judges” for daring to overturn the “will of the people”. Where was that concern for unalienable rights that must be protected against democratic majorities then?
Where was the rhetoric about “self-determination in matters of conscience” in that situation? Where was his opposition to the “use of force to coerce conscience” when it comes to throwing people in prison for doing nothing more than choosing a consenting adult lover that Keyes disapproves of? It was non-existent. Why? Because Keyes only cares about unalienable rights when he approves of the people claiming them. When someone actually exercises those unalienable rights to do something Keyes finds morally objectionable, he is all for coercion and the use of force to override the self-determination of the individual.