POV: Man’s Rights; The Nature of Government
by Ayn Rand | 1963
The Immigration Debate
by The Editors | April 17, 2017
Charlie Hebdo Two Years Later: Will America Continue to Protect Free Speech?
by Steve Simpson | January 07, 2017
Free Speech Is a Right, Not a Political Weapon
by Steve Simpson | December 06, 2016
One Small Step for Dictatorship: The Significance of Donald Trump’s Election
by Onkar Ghate | November 17, 2016
Overturning Citizens United Would Be a Disaster for Free Speech
by Steve Simpson | September 06, 2016
New Book: Defending Free Speech
by The Editors | July 26, 2016
Defending Free Speech
by Steve Simpson | July 02, 2016
How U.S. Attorneys General Are Like Chinese Censors
by Steve Simpson | July 01, 2016
Standing up for Free Speech
by The Editors | June 17, 2016
Is the First Amendment Enough?
by Steve Simpson | March 22, 2016
Free Speech Under Siege
by Steve Simpson | March 25, 2015
Freedom of Speech or Tyranny of Silence?
by The Editors | January 21, 2015
Free Speech and the Battle for Western Culture
by Yaron Brook | January 21, 2015
Freedom of Speech: We Will Not Cower
by Onkar Ghate | January 07, 2015
Gutting the First Amendment
by Steve Simpson | July 17, 2014
The Myth about Ayn Rand and Social Security
by Onkar Ghate | June 19, 2014
The Campaign Finance Monster That Refuses to Die
by Steve Simpson | June 11, 2014
The “End the Debt Draft” Campaign
by Don Watkins | March 18, 2014
End the debt draft
by Don Watkins | March 13, 2014
Abortion Rights Are Pro-life
by Leonard Peikoff | January 23, 2013
A Liberal Ayn Rand?
by Onkar Ghate | November 02, 2012
Ryan, Rand and Rights
by Don Watkins | August 17, 2012
Repairing Lochner’s Reputation: An Adventure In Historical Revisionism
by Tom Bowden | Fall 2011
Why Should Business Leaders Care about Intellectual Property? — Ayn Rand’s Radical Argument
by Adam Mossoff | November 30, 2010
Elena Kagan: Could She Defend the Constitution’s Purpose?
by Tom Bowden | July 20, 2010
Capitalism: Who Needs It — Ayn Rand and the American System
by Yaron Brook | June 09, 2010
Were the Founding Fathers Media Socialists?
by Don Watkins | March 01, 2010
Justice Holmes and the Empty Constitution
by Tom Bowden | Summer 2009
Nationalization Is Theft
by Tom Bowden | November 07, 2008
Supreme Disappointments
by Tom Bowden | November 03, 2008
Deep-Six the Law of the Sea
by Tom Bowden | November 20, 2007
After Ten Years, States Still Resist Assisted Suicide
by Tom Bowden | November 02, 2007
No Right to “Free” Health Care
by Onkar Ghate | June 11, 2007
The Rise and Fall of Property Rights in America
by Adam Mossoff | May 16, 2007
Free Speech and the Danish Cartoons, a Panel Discussion
by Yaron Brook | April 11, 2006
The Fear to Speak Comes to America’s Shores
by Onkar Ghate | April 04, 2006
The Twilight of Freedom of Speech
by Onkar Ghate | February 21, 2006
The Cartoon Jihad: Free Speech in the Balance
by Christian Beenfeldt | February 10, 2006
The Faith-Based Attack on Rational Government
by Tom Bowden | June 27, 2005
Supreme Court Should Uphold Rights, Not Majority Sentiment in Ten Commandments Cases
by Tom Bowden | February 23, 2005
Campaign Finance Reform Attacks Victims of Corruption
by Onkar Ghate | December 26, 2003
Thought Control
by Onkar Ghate | April 22, 2003
A Supreme Court Overview
by Tom Bowden | January 01, 2000
Blacklists Are Not Censorship
by Tom Bowden | March 23, 1999
Health Care Is Not a Right
by Leonard Peikoff | December 11, 1993
The Age of Mediocrity
by Ayn Rand | April 26, 1981
Censorship: Local and Express
by Ayn Rand | October 21, 1973
A Nation’s Unity
by Ayn Rand | October 22, 1972
Of Living Death
by Ayn Rand | December 08, 1968
The Wreckage of the Consensus
by Ayn Rand | April 16, 1967
by Ayn Rand | September 1963


Government And Business in Voice for Reason
Government & BusinessIndividual Rights

Thought Control

by Onkar Ghate | April 22, 2003

You are jolted awake at 1:00 a.m. by loud knocking on the door. Alarmed, you and your girlfriend rise to answer. The police barge in and arrest you both on suspicion of having had premarital sex. Sound like something that would happen only in a dictatorship like Iraq’s or China’s? Next week the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case that if not overturned will grant legitimacy to such governmental power. (In a disturbing 1986 decision the Court upheld the constitutionality of such power.)

The case is Lawrence v. Texas. In 1998 Texas police, responding to a neighbor’s deliberately false report of an armed intruder in the apartment of John Geddes Lawrence, entered his unlocked apartment. Discovering that Lawrence and Tyron Garner were having consensual sex, the police jailed them on charges of violating Texas’ Homosexual Conduct Law. Lawrence and Garner are now challenging the law.

At issue is not whether a particular sexual practice among consenting adults is in fact moral or immoral. At issue is something much broader: whether the government should have the power to enter your home and arrest you for having sex because it regards your sexual desires as “base,” the power to enter your laboratory and arrest you for running a scientific experiment because it regards your research as “sinful,” or the power to enter your business and arrest you for making money because it regards the profit motive as “wicked.”

At issue is whether the government should have the power to legislate morality.

If you want to live in a free society, the answer is: No.

To answer “No” does not mean we should throw out laws punishing murder. It means the government’s function is not to become the thought police, charged with ensuring that citizens act on correct ideas. The government’s function is only to stop an individual from taking action (e.g., murder) that violates the rights of other individuals. It means that the absolute moral principles at the foundation of a free society preclude the government from becoming policeman of morality.

Our Founding Fathers understood that, like any other form of knowledge, moral knowledge — knowledge of good and evil — requires a mind free to follow the observed facts and evidence wherever they lead. They therefore created a political system that protects the sovereignty of the rational mind — the very source of rights. Each American has the right to think, to express his thoughts in conversations, speeches and books, and then to act on his thought in pursuit of the values his life and happiness require. (So long, of course, as he respects the same rights of others.) He must have these freedoms because knowledge comes not from obedience to authority but from reason. “Fix reason firmly in her seat,” Jefferson explained to his nephew, “and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.”

To incarcerate John Lawrence because he engaged in homosexual sex is to do violence to his reason.

According to Lawrence’s judgment, sex with the right, consenting adult represents an important, moral, life-affirming pleasure. The state demands that he discard this judgment — or face jail. But to force someone to obey produces no moral enlightenment in his mind; it only incapacitates his means of understanding. Even granting for the sake of argument only that homosexuality is immoral, in jailing Lawrence and Garner the government does not persuade them that their action is wrong. It merely makes them fear believing and acting on what they continue to think is right. No knowledge, moral or otherwise, can be implanted by the instruments of coercion. “Force and mind,” in Ayn Rand’s memorable words, “are opposites; morality ends where a gun begins.”

Observe that the need of a mind to be free in order to reach knowledge implies that it has the right to make mistakes (you may think Lawrence and Garner mistaken). There is no such thing as the freedom to think so long as you reach “government approved” ideas. That would make the state guardian of “truth.” That road leads only to what it always has led to: the non-thought of, say, the Taliban’s Afghanistan, Soviet Russia or Europe’s Dark Ages.

In essence the government of a free society bans only one action — the initiation of physical force — precisely because force prevents an individual from following the judgment of his mind. The government of a free society does not seek to control its citizens’ thoughts by, say, jailing homosexuals or hypocrites. Its function is to stop other people from violating one’s rights, not to force them to be good — which is a contradiction in terms.

Force vs. mind, authority vs. reason, obedience vs. thought — that is what is at issue in Lawrence v. Texas. At the birth of this great nation Jefferson swore “eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” Let us hope today’s Supreme Court remembers his words. Otherwise, the government’s next knock on the door may be for me or you.

About The Author

Onkar Ghate

Chief Philosophy Officer and Senior Fellow, Ayn Rand Institute