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The Creation of a Just Society – Whose Job Is It?

April 10, 2011

There is an interesting connection between this past week’s federal budget battle and Mika LaVaque-Manty’s analysis of sports participation by women and the disabled and their right to have access to meaningful competition (“Being a Woman and Other Disabilities,” in The Playing Fields of Eton, 134). Professor LaVaque-Manty, in discussing the requirement of Title IX of the 1972 Federal Education Amendments (“Title IX”) and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, (“ADA”) notes that each attempts “to correct the world so that having a disability does not mean that someone is entitled to fewer opportunities and respect than nondisabled persons.” (136) Left unexplored is who bears the burden of this attempted correction. It is in this regard that the budget battle becomes relevant since it essentially involves the determination as to who bears the burden of promoting a just society – the government or the private sector.

In a perfect world, people would pay for the services they use. That is, at least in theory, the concept behind a use tax such as that on gasoline. People who drive cars pay a tax on the gasoline they use, with the tax revenues earmarked for building and maintaining roads. Similarly, before managed care co-opted the American medical system, pregnant women would pay their obstetricians who, in turn, would pay malpractice premiums to obtain insurance in the event that a child was born with a birth defect. In each case, the expense of providing the service is borne by those who use that service.

However, such reasoning does not apply to either Title IX or the ADA. While it is true that both acts seek to end discrimination against the targeted groups, the reality is that addressing this discrimination does not benefit these groups alone. On the contrary, ending discrimination promotes the creation of a more just and humane society. It benefits all citizens. Logically, therefore, the cost of enforcing these laws should be borne by society as a whole – i.e., the government.

Yet, neither the ADA nor Title IX is funded by the government. Instead, the ADA requires businesses to incur the cost of accommodating the mandates set forth in the statute concerning making their facilities, programs and services accessible to the disabled. Similarly, Title IX imposes upon educational institutions that receive federal funding the obligation to prevent sex discrimination in any student services or academic programs. As with the ADA, the cost of complying with the federal mandate rests with the institution. This lack of government funding evidences an abdication on the part of the government to promote a just society for all its citizens in favor of leaving that job to the private sector. While the politicians in Washington, D.C. argue about spending cuts, they should instead be debating whether they really wish the government to relinquish its responsibility to foster a fair and equal environment in which its citizens can not only live, but also in which they can prosper.

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