What the school wars are really about

There is inconsistency aplenty, on both sides.

Conservatives who insist on the majority’s right to govern school library shelves often develop a passion for their individual rights — as when state legislatures bar them from discriminating against LGBTQ customers in a business setting, or from carrying and concealing firearms.

Liberals who insist that the individual’s right to free speech or expression cannot be legislated away by the Florida state Legislature sometimes find no issue with restrictions against hate speech or incitement.

Some of the inconsistency can be dismissed as rank hypocrisy. But as we learned during the Scopes trial, freedom and liberty are malleable ideas. For Americans, the tension between civil rights and majority rule has long been bound up with discussions about race, religion, gender and ethnicity. In other national cultures, rights are more affirmative — the right to certain things, rather than the right to be protected from something. Hence, the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) provision that “[e]veryone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”