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Casey at the Court

May 29, 2001

I love to play chess, but I usually lose. My opponents beat me with their knights. The other pieces move in straight lines, but knights move two spaces one way and another space sideways. It confuses me. I can’t foresee what they may do, a terrible disadvantage. If it weren’t for those blasted knights I might be the world chess champion.

The solution to my problem is obvious: I must get the government to change the rules of chess. My inability to cope with the dynamics of knights should qualify as a handicap under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Obviously I’m inspired by the heroic example of the golfer Casey Martin. Martin has struck a blow for misfits everywhere by persuading the U.S. Supreme Court to decree that the Professional Golfers’ Association must set aside its own rules and allow him to compete in a motorized wheelchair.

The federal government, particularly its judicial branch, seldom refuses an invitation to interfere in private institutions. The result is that fewer and fewer institutions are private.

The Court should have told Martin: “No government agency should presume to dictate the rules of a sport, and the federal government in particular has no constitutional authority to do so. Setting aside the practical consideration that a group of people who make a living at golf are probably more competent to formulate its rules than we are, the ruling you seek simply isn’t ours to make. Were we to make it, we would be guilty of what the authors of the Constitution would have called a tyrannical usurpation of power.”

Instead, the Court chose to exercise what the authors of the Constitution would have called a tyrannical usurpation of power. It’s no less tyrannical for being so petty.

[Breaker quote: Betraying golf -- and liberty] C.S. Lewis once observed that it’s no use telling the government to mind its own business, when the government feels that our whole lives are its business. That includes our golf games.

Maybe Martin is right that golfers should be able to motor around the course in a tournament. But if so, it’s up to him to convince the PGA, not coerce it. In trying to improve the game, he has betrayed it. He has undermined its very nature as a voluntary activity, a little exercise of freedom. In doing so, he has also brought the shadow of government coercion over every other voluntary activity and private association.

Martin deserves a special niche in the annals of those who have sought to deprive their fellow citizens of liberties they had traditionally taken for granted. He is the enemy not only of professional golf but of everyone who wants to be left alone by the state. He claims “rights” that trump, and abolish, others’ rights.

It’s only golf? Yes, it’s only golf. That’s what makes it so chilling. Nothing, however innocuous, is now safe from the tentacles of the total state.

Former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan says we have “defined deviancy downward” — tolerating the formerly intolerable, removing stigma from irresponsibility. We have also defined tyranny downward, meekly accepting impositions of government that would once have spurred Americans to angry resistance. A tyrant who stops short of mass murder is no longer considered a tyrant.

No doubt Martin considers his Court victory a triumph for the handicapped. It isn’t — except to those handicapped persons who confuse privileges with rights, and want to give their own disabilities priority over other people’s liberty. But then, that’s exactly what the Americans with Disabilities Act invites them to do.

Personally, I can’t fathom such arrogance. Just as a matter of good manners, I couldn’t bear to demand that the government force my neighbors to surrender a particle of their rights for my sake. I might, appealing to their kindness and mercy, ask them to accommodate me freely; but I’d accept their refusal without complaint. Simple civility would require me to respect their wishes.

But Martin didn’t ask. He chose to bully. He brought the Almighty State to bear on his own colleagues, preferring force to freedom. In this he was not only profoundly uncivil, but also supremely unsportsmanlike. He won’t be remembered for any achievement on the links, but for debasing honest competition with victimology.

As Tiger Woods will always represent the glory of golf, Casey Martin will be its eternal shame.

Joseph Sobran

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Reprinted with permission
Copyright © 2001 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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