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Patty Kleban: Government Should not Regulate Personal Opinion, Choice

by on August 06, 2012 6:00 AM

I know this is election season, but, seriously. Has the world gone crazy?

First, we have Mayor Bloomberg telling his constituents in New York City that he thinks they are too fat and so he suggests enacting an ordinance that will limit the size of the sugary soda drinks that can be sold within city limits. If New Yorkers can’t control their sugar intake, Bloomberg has decided he will do it for them.

Jumping on the Bloomberg bandwagon, the mayor of Cambridge, Mass. also decides to save her “peeps” from themselves, and taking it a step further, wants to disallow all sugary drinks, regardless of size, and include popcorn and milkshakes on the list of illegal substances. Dairy Queen and Ben and Jerry’s be damned.

Last week, we returned to Loony Tunes in New York City to hear Bloomberg - a 70-year-old white, male businessman without a minute of medical (and I assume lactation) experience - suggesting that hospital staff should lock up baby formula, a step he believes will pave the way to breastfeeding for all new mothers in the Big Apple.

And then there is Chick-fil-A. Mayors in several big cities are now saying they want to ban the Chick-fil-A franchise within their city limits because they don’t agree with the CEO’s personal position on the definition of marriage.

Can everyone please stop telling other people what to do or what to think?

If I promise not to break the law or take someone else’s stuff or do something that infringes on the rights of the person next to me, would all of you politicians, legislators, candidates and activists just leave me alone?

Let’s look at the Chick-fil-A debate. The national food chain’s CEO publicly states his personal belief that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. Reportedly, he has also spoken with his checkbook, supporting organizations that some believe are anti-gay. The gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender community and their supporters decide to launch a boycott against the Chick-fil-A company, not because he has actually discriminated against anyone but because of those personal views. In response, other people line up at Chick-fil-A to show their support for his opinion and his right to say it. Some people don’t care either way but like his chicken.

I love it. It’s self-expression through our wallets and our patronage. It’s what we love about America.

It’s about accountability and natural consequences. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Where it starts to get uncomfortable is when people try to say “you can’t” express yourself, make your own choices or try to tell you that government knows better. Even more frightening is when people attempt to silence or punish those with different opinions or decisions.

Let’s say I drink a garbage can full of sugar syrup water every day. I get fat. I take up too much room on the subway or in the airplanes. I use up more than my share including medical services. I screw up the actuarial tables that look at “group risk” for insurance companies. Pretty soon everyone is paying more because of my decisions.

Rather than regulate my behavior shouldn’t I just have to pay more? If someone smokes, eats too much, or does other unhealthy stuff, is it the government’s job to impose sanctions or tell that person that they can’t? As parents and teachers, we know that if people aren’t allowed to make their own decisions, eventually they forget how to and end up being dependent and/or feel helpless and angry. Using positive reinforcement rather than punishment by providing incentives for people who don’t smoke, who breastfeed their babies or who are within healthy weight limits would likely have better results.

Similarly, if a CEO or owner puts themselves out there and people don’t like what he says, what she believes or where they spend their money, as long as he or she isn’t discriminating in hiring or employment practices, isn’t the natural consequence that the business may suffer – or it may boom?

I personally despise the Westboro Baptist Church and their stand on just about everything. However, citizen reaction to the attention-seeking antics of this group of bigots demonstrates how it should work. Some cities have enacted regulations about how close Westboro can get to funerals. Others have stood arm in arm to defend against the bigotry.

To attempt to silence opinions or limit behaviors that disagree with our own – regardless of how distasteful those opinions and behaviors may seem to be - is also a form of intolerance.

I have jokingly said, in my world, there are only two people who can tell me what to do. The first is my husband. The other is my boss. The government can set laws to keep me safe and to prevent me from harming or taking from others. We, the people, can work together to change those laws if the majority sees a need, but it is not the government’s job to regulate personal opinion and individual decisions.

In the end, Americans have the right to be fat, unhealthy or even stupid if we want to be.

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Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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