Former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, in an interview with Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner, calls religious freedom “a black hole” and endorses a federal role in preventing “discrimination” in all its guises. More specifically, he’s okay with fining a wedding photographer for not working a gay wedding – a case from New Mexico where Cato and every libertarian I know supported the photographer – and forcing the Little Sisters of the Poor to pay for contraceptives (where again Cato and libertarians supported religious liberty).But as John Holbo explains, this is a case where libertarian doctrine and actual liberty may be on opposite sides:
I can’t say that Johnson’s ‘black hole’ metaphor was entirely clear, but it ought to be clear what he is worried about. If I can refuse to serve a gay person, on religious grounds, why not a Jew, a Catholic, an African-American? To adapt Sinclair: it’s hard to get a man NOT to believe something sincerely, on religious grounds, if believing it, sincerely, on religious grounds, will permit him to push around his neighbor, whom he dislikes, with legal impunity he would not otherwise enjoy. Does anyone doubt that the Bob Jones folks sincerely believed the Bible supported them? . . .Many libertarians don't like to admit it, but sometimes governments act to increase freedom. When the Federal army crushed the Confederacy and put an end to slavery in North America, that led to a great increase in human liberty.
The thought-experiment is easy and obvious: suppose a crushing form of Jim Crow were maintained, not by the government, but by a powerful, coordinated coalition of private actors who, for good measure, sincerely believe their religion demands no less of them? Would that be acceptable? Would this be ‘freedom’, technically, not just for those maintaining the system but also for those kept down by it? If so, is it obvious we should care about maximizing ‘freedom’ – rather than something more, you know, free.
If you are serious about freedom, you can't just focus on restraining the actions of governments. As things are right now, governments make a great many of the rules and limit our freedom quite a lot. But if we didn't have governments, we might not find ourselves more free; instead we might find that giant corporations, neighborhood associations and so on stepped into the breech with even more burdensome rules.
Johnson may or may not be right in his choices; I agree with him, but then I am not especially obsessed with liberty. But he is absolutely right that if the goal is to maximize freedom, minimizing government alone with not get us there.