Ohio Must Stop Restricting Liberty

Introduction

After Ohio voters approved statewide bans on smoking and gambling in November 2006, some people said they plan to leave the state.

One of them told The Columbus Dispatch that “my family and I have decided it’s time to look elsewhere for a place to live. That way, no Ohioan will have to be bothered by my smoking or gambling.”

Their attitude illustrates that if Ohio is serious about economic development, the state should be more tolerant of individual differences and tastes. A strong economy is not created by driving people away. .

Even before the bans, Ohio’s economy had been struggling for years. And on an average day, 45 more people left the state than moved into it.

Many of those who left are young adults having their most productive years ahead of them. Over 79,000 persons aged 20 to 44 left Ohio between 2000 and 2003.

Recent restrictions

By approving the bans, Ohio withdrew a welcome mat from people who enjoy smoking in bars, playing slot machines, or betting on table games such as blackjack or roulette.

Two years earlier, the same was done to people who want to marry someone of the same sex or enter a civil union. And for 2007, attempts are being made at the state level to stop people from working in or patronizing adult entertainment. After that, the next targets reportedly will be to prevent gays from adopting children and being foster parents.

As a result, persons having any of those preferences – and others who value liberty – are less likely to settle, work, visit, attend school, or open a business in the state.

For example, talented and law-abiding homosexuals will move from Ohio and other states to Canada in order to have civil rights such as being able to marry. A Toronto immigration lawyer told the San Francisco Chronicle: “As long as the United States is continuing to be oppressive in their lack of sanctity of unions for gays and lesbians, then they’re going to continue to lose really good citizens.” She added, “Your loss, our gain.”

Similarly, the Associated Press reported that after Ohio’s smoking ban started being enforced, bars near the state’s borders have been hurting because some of their former customers are patronizing bars in other states. The report said bar workers have also transferred to those states in order to make more money.

A much larger outflow of customers, workers, and money has occurred for many years as a result of gambling being illegal in Ohio but allowed in neighboring states.

Because much of the opposition to gambling is based on religious teachings, one can almost hear the governmental and business leaders in those states saying about Ohio: “You saps keep the faith. We’ll just keep the money.”

Likewise, many workers in the adult entertainment industry have said they will leave Ohio if the proposed restrictions go into effect. Some of their customers will surely do the same.

Before continuing down this road of restricting liberty, Ohioans should consider not only the present economic situation but also the harm such acts have caused in the state’s history.

Restrictions on blacks and women in Ohio history

Ohio’s first constitution was approved in 1802 and limited the right to vote to white males. This made Ohio the first northern state, and only the second in the nation, to have a constitutional provision restricting voting rights based on race. The constitution also left the legislature free to limit other rights of blacks, which soon began happening.

Ohio’s second constitutional convention was held in 1850-1851 and took further acts that embarrass the state today. When a proposal was made to give blacks the right to vote, the delegates defeated it by a margin of 75-13.

The views expressed by one of the delegates apparently carried the day. He said blacks were an inferior race that benefited from slavery. As for the statement in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal,” he said it applied to only the Anglo-Saxon race.

In accepting such thinking, the convention rejected the views of two delegates who argued that denying blacks the right to vote was “unjust,” “anti-democratic,” and “hostile to everything that elevates and dignifies the name of man.”

The convention’s racism was supplemented by disrespect for representative government, when the delegates denied the legislature any power to grant blacks the ability to vote. Similar to the 2004 denial of family rights to homosexuals, the 1851 denial of voting rights to blacks was considered so fundamental that it belonged in the constitution.

The 1851 constitution was also hostile to women. Although women’s rights groups were outside, and the convention received petitions signed by hundreds of women seeking the right to vote, the delegates denied them suffrage by a vote of 72-7.

Ohio’s official policies of racism and sexism continued throughout the 19th century and into the 20th. In regard to blacks, the policy was supplemented by disrespect for the U.S. Constitution.

In 1870 the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gave blacks the right to vote. That seems like the least that could be done, after more than 68,000 of them were killed fighting to save the Union in the Civil War.

Nevertheless, Ohio voters chose in 1912 to keep in their constitution the provision limiting voting rights to white males – 42 years after the U.S. Constitution gave blacks that right.

Also in 1912, Ohio voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have given women the right to vote. They did the same in 1914.

Ohio continued such treatment of women until 1920, when the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gave voting rights to women throughout the nation. But Ohio kept other restrictions on women and blacks.

Not until 1923 did Ohio eliminate the state constitutional provision limiting the voting right to white males. Almost 40 more years would pass before all restrictions based on race or sex were removed from the Ohio constitution.

Experience has shown that Ohio’s policies of racism and sexism served no useful purpose. Instead, they denied the state the contributions and benefits that many intelligent and talented blacks and women could have provided.

As a result, business was less productive and government less efficient than would have otherwise been the case. That’s in addition to the harm caused to the lives of the blacks and women whose liberty had been restricted.

Restrictions on alcohol sales in Ohio history

Although Ohio was slower than the U.S. Constitution in granting rights to blacks and women, the same was not true in regard to taking away rights from drinkers and the alcohol industry.

Ohio voters chose in 1918 to amend their constitution to ban alcohol. Prohibition did not become part of the U.S. Constitution until 1920, when the 18th Amendment banned “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors.”

Many religious Ohioans and other Americans who supported Prohibition believed that it would cause God to bestow wonderful blessings on the state and nation. What occurred, though, was anything but that.

As Herbert Asbury explains in his book The Great Illusion: “The American people had expected to be greeted, when the great day came, by a covey of angels bearing gifts of peace, happiness, prosperity and salvation, which they had been assured would be theirs when the rum demon had been scotched.

“Instead, they were met by a horde of bootleggers, moonshiners, rum-runners, hijackers, gangsters, racketeers, triggermen, venal judges, corrupt police, crooked politicians, and speakeasy operators, all bearing the twin symbols of the eighteenth amendment – the Tommy gun and the poisoned cup.”

In addition to the crime and corruption ushered in by Prohibition, the Great Depression began in 1929 and threw millions of Americans out of work. If there was any divine involvement in all this, it must have been punishment rather than blessings.

To reduce the crime and other social problems, create jobs in a legal alcohol industry, and improve the economy, the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution repealed Prohibition in 1933.

No divinity was angered by the repeal. The U.S. went on to win World War II, come out of the Great Depression, and experience decades of unparalleled prosperity – all of which were accompanied by and celebrated with alcohol consumption.

Westerville kept the anti-alcohol faith

After Prohibition ended, opposition to alcohol sales continued in some parts of Ohio. One such place was the Columbus suburb of Westerville, where the national Anti-Saloon League was based.

Along with the Christian Temperance Union and the Prohibition Party, the Anti-Saloon League was instrumental in getting Prohibition into the U.S. Constitution. After that disaster ended, the group founded the Temperance Education Foundation and focused on researching the effects of alcohol and informing the public of its views.

As a hotbed of anti-alcohol activism, Westerville continued to ban sales of liquor for the rest of the 20th century. When proposals were made to allow bars in Westerville, or to permit restaurants and stores to sell alcohol, the same tired arguments were trotted out in opposition.

It was argued that crime, delinquency, alcoholism, and other social scourges would increase; small businesses would have to leave town; the community would no longer be safe for children; traffic safety would decrease because of drunk drivers; and the police would be burdened by dealing with all the problems.

When the demographics of Westerville had changed by the first decade of the 21st century, however, the city’s voters finally allowed certain businesses to sell alcohol. Proponents of the sales pointed out that uptown Westerville had become a “ghost town,” and that businesses needed to sell alcohol to compete with areas allowing it.

The proponents turned out to be right: the sales spurred a revitalization of uptown Westerville. Two years after the vote, the president of the Westerville Uptown Merchants Association said no one could argue that liquor had not been good for uptown.

Additionally, the social blight that the alcohol opponents had predicted did not occur. The executive director of a Westerville mental health and substance abuse counseling center said she had seen no increase in drug or alcohol abuse after the ban was lifted.

In fact, she asserted that making alcohol “taboo” contributes to social problems. She explained: “There’s still a lot of closet drinking in Westerville. We see kids using alcohol simply to anger their parents.”

In regard to the people still opposing the sales, she added: “I understand the tradition in our community and how people hold that so dear. But I think it’s time to let loose on it.”

The outcome of selling alcohol in Westerville was so favorable that the voters allowed more establishments to do so in subsequent years. Even former opponents of the sales – including five ministers – became virtually silent about the proposals. Two of them admitted they had seen no harmful effects of the sales.

Thus, as was the case with national Prohibition, the alcohol ban in Westerville turned out to be counterproductive. It caused economic hardship; promoted substance abuse by giving alcohol the allure of forbidden fruit; and deprived people of what can be a source of stress reduction, sociability, and health when used moderately and sensibly.

Conclusion

Ohio’s history shows that restricting liberty has caused great harm to the state and its citizens. Proposals to take away liberty today should not, therefore, be viewed lightly.

The proposals should be approached rationally, cautiously, and skeptically. A thorough analysis and discussion should occur, including the use of unbiased scientific and historical research from a variety of sources.

None of that happened in Ohio’s first few statewide elections of the 21st century. Too many Ohioans had little or no concern about the continuing erosion of freedom in their state.

Those persons apparently fail to understand that liberty is one of the most important requirements for human happiness, progress, and morality. As the great nineteenth-century lawyer and orator Robert Ingersoll said: “What air is to the lungs, what light is to the eyes, what love is to the heart, liberty is to the soul of man.”

He further stated: “Liberty is the one priceless jewel,” “Without liberty there is no such thing as real happiness,” and “Liberty is my religion, and at its altar I worship, and will worship.”

Most Ohioans now recognize that the state’s previous opposition to blacks, women’s rights, and alcohol was wrong and harmful. How long will it take for Ohio to realize that the same is true of its opposition to smoking in bars, gambling, gay marriage, civil unions, adult businesses, and other rights of consenting adults to do what they choose?

The recent restrictions and proposed restrictions intrude into people’s personal lives and violate their fundamental rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Such laws have no place in a free society, and are divisive, exclusionary, and demoralizing.

Ohioans seem to forget that liberty and a willingness to tolerate differences helped make America an economic power by attracting talented and productive workers from all over the world.

Moreover, a live-and-let-live attitude has contributed to Nevada being the fastest growing state in the nation for about the last 20 years. It’s also a reason why Las Vegas continues to be one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas.

Ohioans have a responsibility to help make their state economically attractive by supporting individual liberty and tolerance of others. That includes not jumping on the bandwagon of every self-righteous group wanting to impose its morality and preferences on the entire state.

As Judge Learned Hand said: “Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; if it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it.”

And where liberty dies, economic strength is unlikely to live.

[Much of the information in this article is from the book The Ohio Constitution, by Steven H. Steinglass and Gino J. Scarselli; the book Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in a Free Society, by Peter McWilliams; and the article “Liquor opposition now seems all but gone,” by Angie Schmitt, Westerville News & Public Opinion, October 18, 2006.]