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Supreme Court Rules: Golf Is Not A Sport

Why individual rights and individual liberty aren't the same.


by James Leroy Wilson
June 6, 2001

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Supreme Court Rules: Golf Is Not A Sport_James Leroy Wilson-Why individual rights and individual liberty aren't the same. Well, it's official: golf is not a sport. Never mind the five-mile walk of the course. ESPN should kick Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer off its Top 50 Athletes of the 20th Century list. For the absolute minimum requirement of an athlete - in its original, track-and-field meaning of the word - is the ability to walk. The Supreme Court, by allowing Casey Martin - the man with a degenerative circulatory ailment in his right leg that prevents him from walking - to compete on the PGA Tour with a cart on account of the "reasonable accommodation" requirement of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), has made it official. Tiger Woods may win every tournament until 2015, but he's no athlete. If his game allows non-walkers to compete, how can he be?

A classic Dudley Moore & Peter Cook skit has Moore playing a one-legged man auditioning for the role of Tarzan. Cook, in charge of casting, explains what Tarzan does, and concludes in a polite English voice something like: "Just so you might understand, we would normally consider having two legs to be the minimal requirement."

Well, yes, you'd think so. But under the ADA, the obvious is no longer so. The issue is not what is in the best interests of the studio as that studio sees it, but what is both "fair" for the applicant yet "reasonable" for the company, according to federal judges interpreting vague law. My vision impairments disqualify me as an airline pilot, unless I can persuade a federal judge. Mr. Martin, no doubt talented with the golf swing, got a raw deal with his unfortunate and painful disability. But that doesn't mean that the rules of a sport should be changed for him. Especially a sport that existed long before the invention of motorized carts.

If an enterprise like the PGA deems that top-flight golfers walk the course, that's unimportant under the ADA as interpreted by Supreme Court Justices empowered to judge what is reasonable for the handicapped. The legal rights of the person with disabilities is the trump card. Unelected, lifetime-tenured judges are asked to apply the law according to what they think, or feel, is "reasonable" or right. What we have with the ADA, the Supreme Court-created national abortion license, and, yes, Civil Rights laws, is the triumph of individual "rights" over individual liberty.

For individual liberty has three elements:
-security. The public use of law and mutual defense to protect one's own life and property by deterrence.
-movement; The ability to move about without fear of danger for your life or your unattended property. This allows you to improve your lot through personal initiative and interpersonal exchanges, i.e., through freedom.
-participation. Your ability to affect changes and give assent to institutions to which you belong. This allows you to not only improve your lot through public action, but holds your actions accountable to the public.

Liberty allows individuals, and societies, to move forward through freedom of association, freedom of conscience, and local, democratic government. Liberal institutions are flexible, meaning they can adopt to new realities. The drawback is that there are risks, particularly that as society moves forward, there will be a small minority who are "left behind." A compassionate society will give comfort and aid to those who are unable to enter the mainstream of society.

Whereas the Left's agenda of "individual rights" is to make those less well-off to feel like they are, indeed, part of the mainstream. The rest of society is compelled not just to give aid, but to change their own rules to accommodate those who can't, for whatever reason, cut it. The Leftist version of rights contains one element: insistence that everyone, and every institution, organization, or business, should serve your own best interests as you see fit.

The classical liberal, or conservative, interpretation of "individual rights," - life, liberty, and property - can be boiled down to "do no harm" or the Golden Rule. The new regime is something different. It claims that the public, meaning other individuals, are obligated to provide you every opportunity at a satisfactory life as you think it ought to be. It is society's - other people's - obligation to help you do what you want to do, even if that means lowering or altogether repealing traditional standards of merit and qualification. So that more people feel included and fulfilled, society must abandon the very rules that made it strong and prosperous in the first place.

But what goes around comes around. "Rights" is the replacement of the socialism of economic redistribution with the socialism of regulation. Political Correctness is nothing more than the concession of the Left that market economics work, and to achieve their goals they must abandon public ownership of everything with regulations intended to achieve the same result. Instead of the heavy, stifling direct taxes on private enterprises and public ownership of many means of production with the purpose of redistributing wealth, they impose the indirect tax of stifling regulations: if you employ people, you MUST provide this, provide that, accommodate thusly; if you provide services, you MUST provide ALL potential customers this and that. If your employees aren't able to do the job or your clients are obnoxious and disruptive, there's nothing you can do about it. They have "rights," and you are obligated to respect them. If you don't, you will be sued, probably by a federal government agency, and in the process of defending yourself will lose everything.

Time alone will prove the utter stupidity, inefficiency, and cruelty of the regulatory, rights-based Left, just as it took time to conquer communism and democratic socialism. At least I hope so. Catering to the individual was never what the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were about. With the Casey Martin ruling, the Supreme Court did not set a bad precendent, it just provided another in a long chain of abuses against genuine liberty. And a society without that will not long survive.

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