With a vote of 3-2, the Highland City Council recently lifted longstanding restrictions that prohibited businesses from operating on Sunday. After much debate and community input, councilmen Tom Butler, Scott Smith, and Tim Irwin ultimately voted in favor of the measure. Their votes were consistent with the most fundamental principles of private property rights and liberty. Individuals and businesses have the right to peaceably do with their own property as they wish. In a previous post, I argued that all of our rights essentially originate with basic private property rights. It is essential that each of us understand and protect these rights, even when we know that others will exercise their rights in ways that we would choose not to.
In the case at hand, we can see that this measure supports private property rights on many levels. The most fundamental private property right is the right to control one’s own body, and as an extension of that, control one’s own actions. If an individual owns and operates a business in Highland, restricting his right to use his property on Sunday is a violation of that fundamental right. Private property rights also demand that individuals be free to enter into transactions involving their property with consenting consumers as they wish. An individual has the right to peaceably and freely trade that which is his so long as he does not infringe on the rights of another. Only if and when such a violation occurs may government legitimately intervene.
People typically accomplish trade by using money. A person will accept money as trade for his own labor, or for the goods and services that he produces with his labor. He will then use that money to trade for the goods and services or labor provided by other people. The government has no legitimate authority to interfere with these peaceful exchanges.
The term private property is often associated with privately owned “real” property. If a man owns a business in Highland, it is his right to operate that business as he sees fit. It is his right to have complete control over his own property, his own building, his own business. No man or institution of men may rightly restrict what he does with that building or when he does it as long as he, in turn, respects the rights of others.
The councilmen that approved this measure are to be applauded. They clearly understand these basic principles. Smith offered the following as part of the reason that he supported the ordinance: “Although I myself would not shop on Sunday, I do not feel I can tell others whether or not they can shop.” This statement is in perfect harmony with principles of private property rights and liberty.
The councilmen and the citizens that oppose the ordinance (meaning they support the previous restriction to Sunday business) claim to do so because of their religious convictions. I think it is worth studying what some leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (to which these individuals belong) have said about the topic.
On May 13, 1995, during a regional priesthood leadership conference for the LDS Church, then-President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke about the importance of keeping the Sabbath Day holy, which is a basic doctrine in the Christian faith. He stated, in part, “I wish I had the power to convert this whole Church to the observance of the Sabbath. I know our people would be more richly blessed of the Lord if they walked in faithfulness in the observance of the Sabbath.”
Note the emphasis on converting people to the practice. There is certainly no mention of compelling people to obey. And of course there wouldn’t be, because another basic doctrine in the LDS Church champions the concept of moral agency. Leaders of the LDS Church have taught, since its formation in 1830, that we were put on this earth to choose for ourselves, and that in order to follow God’s commandments, man must have the option to break those commandments. In fact, LDS doctrine suggests that Satan’s plan was to deny men their unimpeded exercise of this agency. The concept of moral agency is inseparable from God’s plan, according to the Church’s teachings.
A few years after the leadership conference referenced above, Elder Earl C. Tingey of the Presidency of the Seventy for the LDS Church, who had accompanied President Hinckley to the leadership conference, wrote about the same topic. He quoted some of the things that President Hinckley had said (including the quote above), and further expounded on the subject of keeping the Sabbath Day holy. He spoke of the importance of setting an example so that others would see how LDS members observe the Sabbath. He followed that up with this qualifying statement: “We should simply observe the Sabbath day in the proper manner because we know it is correct and because we receive personal joy and strength from doing so.”
This sentence states clearly that people should choose for themselves whether and how to observe the Sabbath day.
He spoke of the example set by the early Mormon pioneers. Here again, Elder Tingey quoted from another talk by President Hinckley:
May I take you back 142 years when there was, of course, no tabernacle here, nor temple, nor Temple Square. On July 24, 1847, the pioneer company of our people came into this valley. An advance group had arrived a day or two earlier. Brigham Young arrived on Saturday. The next day, Sabbath services were held both in the morning and in the afternoon. There was no hall of any kind in which to meet. I suppose that in the blistering heat of that July Sunday they sat on the tongues of their wagons and leaned against the wheels while the Brethren spoke. The season was late, and they were faced with a gargantuan and immediate task if they were to grow seed for the next season. But President Young pleaded with them not to violate the Sabbath then or in the future.
Elder Tingey again added to President Hinckley’s words with the following insight: “Imagine how tempting it must have been for our pioneer forefathers to break the Sabbath day. Their survival depended upon the food they could grow and harvest. Yet their leaders counseled them to exercise faith in the promises of the Lord and to respect the Sabbath day.”
We see here an example of those who observed the Sabbath day. And we see that their example is of importance and their actions were righteous only because they had the option to break the Sabbath.
One of the councilmen that opposed the ordinance (and supports restricting business on Sunday), Councilman Braithwaite, said, “This is not keeping anyone from shopping on Sunday. Anyone in Highland can be at Smith’s or Walmart within five minutes. We need to choose our values and stick to them.”
I’m honestly not even sure what his argument is. Perhaps the councilman is suggesting that he needs to force people to observe the Sabbath within the boundaries of his city, but by so doing he isn’t really forcing them to observe the Sabbath because they can go to a neighboring community to break it? Is that the argument? And what of those that work in Highland? Would he make the same argument, namely, that because of the city’s arbitrary restrictions anyone that wants to break the Sabbath should just go to work in a neighboring community? What about those that own property in Highland? They can hardly be expected to open their businesses in a neighboring community.
Whatever the logic is, apparently Councilman Braighwaite is not alone. Highland resident Rod Mann has launched a counter-measure to reverse the city council’s decision. His group is seeking the signatures of Highland residents on a petition to put the issue on the ballot for the general election in November. Mann argues, “I value the shared day of rest. It is one of the reasons we moved here. It is nice to have a breather.” I’m not sure how having other people working and/or shopping on Sunday really affects his day of rest, or his breather, but apparently his group cannot rest knowing that others are breaking the Sabbath within city limits.
He further asserts, “I think most people know this is a change to our community values and that should not be decided by three council members, it should be decided by the community. I want the residents to vote.” Apparently he does not support the representative form of government upon which America was founded—or perhaps he does support it to the extent that it supports his social and religious preferences. Note that he minimizes the decision by claiming that it was made by three council members, when in fact there were five that voted. This argument betrays the hypocrisy of claiming that it will be decided by “the community”. It will be decided by the majority of voters within the community. If his group prevails, then the majority of Highland voters will strip the remaining residents (in the minority) from their right to choose what they do with their own bodies, what they do with their own money, and what they do with their private property.
Though many proponents of this “blue law” are arguing its validity from a religious standpoint, the principles of the very gospel to which they adhere suggests that they are on the wrong side of the issue. The doctrine of the LDS Church supports promoting its tenets through persuasion, and not through force. Religion aside, the law itself is illegitimate in that it relies upon an authority that individuals do not themselves have, and which they therefore cannot delegate to their government.
We accordingly urge Highland residents to oppose the effort to re-institute a city ordinance that restricts their fellow residents’ rights.