11 February 2014

Mark Adomanis Doesn't Understand Property Rights

The Cathedral Church of Episcopalians in Washington ("The National Cathedral")

Mark Adomanis, the popular Russia blogger over at Forbes writes:
"I personally think that Pussy Riot should have gotten off  without any punishment whatsoever because their actions didn’t harm anyone and because there is no “right” for religious observers not to be offended. The idea that churches should somehow be excluded from free speech protections seems to be a very dangerous one, and so Pussy Riot should have faced the same “consequences” they would have had they given their performance on a street corner (i.e. nothing)."
Adomanis gives this in a post commentating on the "hilarity" that ensued when Samantha Power, the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations, misunderstood the challenge of her Russian counterpart Vitaly Churkin and tweeted she would be proud to go on tour with Pussy Riot, presumably taking her from the National Cathedral in Washington, to St. Peter’s cathedral in Rome and the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem as suggested by Churkin. Indeed it is hilarious what an airhead Power revealed herself to be in totally missing Churkin's point.

At the same time, however, Adomanis reveals himself to lack a comprehension of something very basic himself, namely of property rights. Independent of any right for religious observers not to be offended, there exists a basic right of property. A church is not un-owned public space. A church (the building) is property that belongs to its church (the organisation) and its congregationn and is made open to the public for certain purposes. Eg, anyone who wants to offer a prayer or admire the architecture is usually welcome by the owners to come in and do so. However, if one enters instead with the intent to steal, or to hurl insult at the religious sentiment of its congregation then such a visitor is an unwelcome intruder a trespasser knowingly trampling upon the property rights of its victim.

There is in fact a world of difference between shouting obscenities on a street corner and in a church. To guarantee the "right" to insult religious observers from within a church, there would have to exist an intuitively indefensible situation where the law enforcement would actually have to attack the right of religious organizations to manage access to their property including being able to revoke welcome. Taken to its logical conclusions it leads to justification of utterly bizarre scenarios, such as of armor-clad riot police clearing a path through lines of religious observers at a church, so as to enable fringe professional provocateurs access to the altar, so that they may exercise their "right" to better make themselves offensive to believers by purposefully insulting religious sentiment from within the house of god.


  1. You're right.

    So, what should be the punishment for people who enter a building that's private but open to the public (like a restaurant), cause a 30-second disturbance and then leave when they are asked.

    They worst they would get is a restraining order not to come back to the location

    1. You are right, that is probably what would happen in a situation you describe. Of course that does not mean that is a just outcome. Indeed a restraining order merely puts the aggressor on notice that they are no longer welcome, which should go without saying, but in no way makes the victim whole for the invasion that had already taken place. It implies neither compensation nor retribution. For that at the very least some money should change hands. For an invasion like this the payment of a fine and damages would be eminently appropriate.

    2. Damages for what? Victim? Invasion? Aggressors? What ridiculously hyperbolic language you use.

      They made a 30-second disturbance in a public place and left when they were asked to.

    3. The length of the trespass is meaningless as to its taking place. If there was an unwelcome invasion of property then rights were trampled upon. Surely we can agree a restaurant owner has a right not to suffer 30-second disturbances? If the Nashi had interrupted the recent ex-Pussy Riot performance at the Amnesty International concert in New York, would the AI not be entitled to demand the invaders at least be made to come up with cash to compensate the AI and Barclays Center owners for messing with their concert and venue uninvited?