The PJ Tatler

Ban the Ban: Let Employers (and Everyone Else) Discriminate

Whatever spirit swept the nation on November 4th, cleansing the political makeup of government, it passed over my home state of Minnesota. While Republicans managed to retake control of the state house, the senate and governor’s office remain in Democrat hands.

During two years of one-party rule, many radical policies were advanced and passed into law. One of those policies, seemingly innocuous compared to many others, bans employers from inquiring on initial application forms whether perspective employees have a past criminal conviction. It’s called “ban the box,” has been passed in 12 other states, and was intended to provide former convicts with “a fairer shot in the hiring process.”

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that the law has been “tripping up Minnesota employers:”

The one company fined so far was Elgin Milk Service Inc., a trucking company in the southern Minnesota town of Elgin. It was fined $500 for not complying in a timely manner. The company paid up. Account manager Lynette Bruske said the company just didn’t know about the law change. The fine surprised her.

“I just thought that was real steep for just eliminating a page out of the application,” Bruske said.

Morrie’s Automotive Group, based in Minnetonka, was also fined but appealed. The fine was overturned, the applications fixed and the matter resolved, [the Minnesota Department of] Human Rights said.

So far, more than 50 companies have been harassed by the state for continuing to ask applicants whether or not they have past convictions. Most “responded favorably,” submitting to the force imposed upon them.

It may seem like a relatively minor mandate, and it is. However, that just reinforces how intrusive the nanny state has become. The answer to any perceived problem in our culture has become the passage of a new law. It’s an incredibly lazy and downright silly approach to cultural activism.

If the goal of “ban the box” is to provide former convicts with more employment opportunities, it fails on its face. All it does is waste the time of everyone involved when employers ask the question at the interview instead of on the application.

More importantly, laws like “ban the box” presume a public claim upon a private decision making process. The choice of how to define a relationship involves the consent of those in that relationship, not anyone outside of it. Imagine a law which banned people on first dates from inquiring about their perspective partner’s sexual history, or a law banning consumers from asking car dealers whether their product has been in an accident. Were such laws proposed, they would be dismissed out of hand as ridiculous. What makes an employment relationship any different? Why should anyone outside a perspective relationship, including government – especially government, have anything whatsoever to say about its establishment?

Proponents of laws like “ban the box” will tell you it’s an effort to combat discrimination. But that’s precisely the problem. We each have the right to discriminate. The choice to enter any given relationship, particularly exclusive ones like employment, is an act of discrimination. The employer chooses this candidate and not the others. You choose to marry this girl and forsake every other. You call certain people friend and others not. It’s all discriminatory!

At some point, we have to decide whether individuals may properly discriminate in the formation of their own relationships, or if the state holds some moral claim to the terms under which we live. For the time being, we have yielded much of our personal autonomy to the state in the name of “fairness” and “anti-discrimination.” But when you realize that human relationships among free people are not subject to outside judgments, that they are defined primarily by the thoughtful discrimination of their consenting members, it becomes clear that “anti-discrimination” is really anti-consent, anti-choice, and anti-liberty.

(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here.)