Our rights should not be decided by polls

If 78 percent of people responding to a poll said that criticism of government officials should be limited or prohibited, would that justify infringing on the right to free speech? If that same 78 percent argued law enforcement should be able to enter and search our homes at any time for any reason without a warrant, would that justify government ignoring our Fourth Amendment rights?

I would hope most people would say no to those questions, though I am far from confident that a majority would. But even if that was the case, the reason our Constitution makes it illegal for government to infringe on our rights – and the reason that the amendment process is long and difficult – is so that popular whims do not enable government to overstep the boundaries of its authority.

If we say “no” to the above questions because we value our right to privacy and our right to free speech, why are we willing to cede our private property rights on the basis of a poll?

Of course, I am referring to a report by the Indianapolis Star that 78 percent of people in Marion County support the smoking ban that was enacted in Indianapolis one year ago, banning smoking in public places (including bars) with a few very limited exceptions. The state has a weaker smoking ban, passed by a Republican legislature and signed into law by a Republican governor two years ago.

No serious person questions the harmful effects of smoking, both on smokers themselves and those who inhale secondhand smoke. But the fact remains that the state of Indiana and many local units of government statewide have banned the use of a legal product on private property by consenting adults. Property owners do not have the choice of whether to allow consenting adults to use this product, as government has made the decision about what legal substances may be consumed on private property.

This is a bad law. This decision should not be made by property owners, not government. We have ceded too much authority to government to police what we may and may not do “for our own good.” If you think this will stop with “public places,” you are mistaken. The next step will be apartment buildings, and who knows where after that. Is this nanny state micromanagement really what we want?