Freedom of association

Freedom of association

Freedom of association is the individual right to come together with other individuals and collectively express, promote, pursue and defend common interests.Jeremy McBride, Foredoom of Association, The Essentials of Human Rights, Hodder Arnold, London, 2005, pg.18] The right to freedom of association has been included in a number of national constitutions and human rights instruments, including the US constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Freedom of association in the sense of workers' right to organize and collectively bargain is also recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Labor Organization Conventions.

The right to freedom of association is sometimes used interchangeably with the freedom of assembly. More specifically the freedom of assembly is understood in a political context, although depending on the source (constitution, human rights instrument etc) the right to freedom of association may be understood to include the right to freedom of assembly.


Democracy and Civil Society

Jeremy McBride argues that respect for the freedom of association by all public authorities and the exercising of this freedom by all sections of society are essential both to establish a "genuine democracy" and to ensure that, once achieved, it remains "healthy and flourishing". In this regard he sees the formation of political parties as a significant manifestation of the freedom of association.

The freedom of association is however not only exercised in the political sense, but also for a vast array of interests - such as culture, recreation, sport and social and humanitarian assistance. Jeremey McBride agues that the formation of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), which he equates with civil society, is the "fruit of associational activity".


Freedom of association is a term popular in libertarian literature. It is used to describe the concept of absolute freedom to live in a community or be part of an organization whose values or culture are closely related to one's preferences; or, on a more basic level, to associate with any individual one chooses.

The libertarian concept of freedom of association is often rebuked from a moral/ethical context. Under laws in such a system, businessowners could refuse service to anyone for whatever reason. Opponents argue that such practices are regressive and would lead to greater prejudice within society. Right-libertarians sympathetic to freedom of association, such as Richard Epstein, respond that in a case of refusing service (which thus is a case of the freedom of contract) unjustified discrimination incurs a cost and therefore a competitive disadvantage.

Libertarians also argue that freedom of association, in a political context, is merely the extension of the right to determine with whom to associate in one's personal life. For example, somebody who valued good manners or etiquette may not relish associating with someone who was not decent or was uncouth. Or, a homophobe probably would not enjoy associating with gay people. In both instances, a person is voluntarily deciding with whom to associate, based on his/her own volition. Libertarians believe that freedom of association, in the political sphere, is not such a fanciful or unrealistic notion, since individual human beings already choose with whom they would like to associate based on a variety of reasons.


South African Constitution - Bill of Rights

See main article:

The South African Constitution's Bill of Rights enshrines the right to freedom of association in Section 18, which states “Everyone has the right to freedom of association.” Furthermore Section 17 states “Everyone has the right, peacefully and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket and to present petitions”, effectively enshrining the right freedom of assembly. Workers' right to freedom of association in terms of the right to form trade unions and collective bargaining is recognised in Section 17. []

US Constitution

See main article: US Constitution

While the United States Constitution's First Amendment identifies the rights to assemble and to petition the government, the text of the First Amendment does not make specific mention of a right to association. Nevertheless, the United States Supreme Court has held that the freedom of association is an essential part of the Freedom of Speech because, in many cases, people can engage in effective speech only when they join with others. The Supreme Court has found the Constitution to protect the freedom of association in two casesFact|date=July 2008:: 1. "Intimate Associations." A fundamental element of personal liberty is the right to choose to enter into and maintain certain intimate human relationships. These intimate human relationships are known as "intimate associations." The paradigmatic "intimate association" is the family.: 2. "Expressive Associations." Expressive associations are groups that engage in activities protected by the First Amendment—speech, assembly, petitioning government for a redress of grievances, and the free exercise of religion.


However, the implicit First Amendment right of association in the U.S. Constitution has been limited by court rulings. For example, it is illegal in the United States to consider race in the making and enforcement of private contracts other than marriage or taking affirmative action. This limit on freedom of association results from Section 1981 of Title 42 of the United States Code, as balanced against the First Amendment in the 1976 decision of "Runyon v. McCrary". [ussc|427|160|1976.]

The holding of "Runyon" is that the defendant private schools were free to "express" and teach their views, such as white separatism, but could not discriminate on the basis of race in the "provision" of services to the general public. So, if the plaintiff African-American children wished to attend such private schools, "and" were clearly qualified in all respects (but race) and were able to pay the fees, "and" were willing to attend "despite" the fact that the school's professed principles were inconsistent with admitting them, then the schools were required by Section 1981 to admit them. This doctrine rests on the interpretation of a private contract as a "badge" of slavery when either party considers race in choosing the other.

Workers' Freedom of Association

The organisation of labour was commonly resisted during the 19th century, with even relatively liberal countries such as the United Kingdom banning it for various periods (in the UK's case, between 1820 and 1824). [CathEncy| wstitle = Right of Voluntary Association | short = yes]

In the international labour movement, the freedom of association is a right identified under international labour standards as the right of workers to organize and collectively bargain. Freedom of association, in this sense, is recognized as a fundamental human right by a number of documents including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Labor Organization Convention C87 and Convention C98 -- two of the eight fundamental, core international labour standards.

ee also

* Freedom of assembly
* Self-determination
* Right to work
* Free State Project


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