05/24/2010 05:43 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Where's my Right to be Racist?

The evening of May 18th, 2010, was one of celebration and joy. Republican Tea Party candidate Rand Paul soundly won the Kentucky Republican Senatorial primary by a crushing 23%, allowing him to go toe-to-toe with Kentucky's Attorney General, Jack Conway, a Democrat, come November. The wine flowed, the hugs were endless, and Rand swore to bring the government back to the people.

"We're not done yet," Rand grinned, rolling up his sleeves while addressing the crowd cheering him on. "We have a lot of business still to attend to, and I propose we get started off on the right foot by writing a law that would allow us to dig up Rosa Parks' grave and move her to the back of the cemetery she's in. I'm not racist - I'm merely a Libertarian, and the man who owns the cemetery has made it known to me that he wants her in the back."

Rand Paul didn't actually make the above comment, but he used that exact logic on The Rachel Maddow Show last week. Paul had publicly criticized parts of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Maddow had some questions on his stance. Paul started off on the right foot by stating, "I'm not in favor of any discrimination of any form," though his answer quickly fell into a tailspin. In only twenty-four hours after his primary election victory, Paul made national headlines for his criticism of a law that played a crucial role in bringing along racial equality in the United States. He further explained his criticism to Rachel Maddow:

"But I think what's important in this debate is not getting into any specific 'gotcha' on this, but asking the question 'What about freedom of speech?' Should we limit speech from people we find abhorrent. Should we limit racists from speaking. I don't want to be associated with those people, but I also don't want to limit their speech in any way in the sense that we tolerate boorish and uncivilized behavior because that's one of the things that freedom requires is that we allow people to be boorish and uncivilized, but that doesn't mean we approve of it..."

Well said, Paul. The Civil Rights Act has been for too long denying business owners their first amendment right to discriminate, even if it violates African-Americans' right to, you know, live an equal life. I can't tell you how many business owners I've spoken to who have said to me, "It's bad enough that I have to serve black coffee, but serving black people too is just too much. It's like, put some cream in there or get out of here, you know? When President Obama won the election in 2008 I wanted to rename our coffee with cream as 'The Obama,' because he's mixed too, but I was told it might be in bad taste. The only bad taste is black coffee. I'm not racist - I just have a right as a business owner to say, hey, government, stay out of my business and let me make my diner as white as my intentions."

In fairness to Rand Paul, he did say he's not racist and this argument has been made before. Republican Barry Goldwater made the exact same objection to the Civil Rights Act when it was being debated in 1964. Goldwater said on the Senate floor that he's opposed to discrimination but was against the bill because it "would embark the Federal Government on a regulatory course of action with regard to private enterprise and in the area of so-called 'public accommodations' and in the area of employment." In other words, the federal government would be telling private businesses who they could and couldn't serve or hire, which is none of their business.

One of the major criticisms of the Tea Party to date has been their hostile racial overtones and their overwhelmingly white members. Rand Paul's primary victory may have caused celebration within the Tea Party ranks, yet their spokesperson came under fire for questioning the Civil Rights Act in less than one day after his victory. That does nothing but bolster an already negative reputation to the rest of the country, and was a serious enough blunder that even RNC Chairman Michael Steele criticized Rand's comment publicly and warned him about what it means to be a member of the Republican Party.

Rand Paul may hate discrimination, but not as much as he loves businesses having the right to do what they please, even if that means they discriminate.

Scott Janssen is a graduate student, blogger, and all-around drain on society. Follow him at his blog at