Thomas Jefferson famously remarked, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” Personal liberties and freedoms aren’t destroyed overnight, but rather eroded incrementally. That’s why you should care about California’s foray into dictating what people can and can’t wear.
On Jan. 1, San Francisco implemented a ban on the sale of new fur clothing — coats, trim, accessories and other products. This fall, California’s governor signed a ban on fur across the state that will take effect in 2023.
Most people don’t own a fur coat. But what’s at stake here is much broader: Your right to eat a chicken sandwich, own a pet or benefit from cancer research.
California politicians are justifying their intrusion into clothing choices not by claiming there is any issue of public health or safety — there isn’t — but by saying they want to force others to follow their morality.
What is that moral code? It’s simply people should not use animals. In the words of PETA, the nation’s leading animal liberation group: “Animals are not ours to experiment on, eat, wear, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way.”
“Businesses need to get with the times,” said then-San Francisco Supervisor Katy Tang, who sponsored the city’s ban. “There is no need for fur in the 21st Century,” mimicked Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, who sponsored the statewide ban.
It doesn’t end with fur. PETA continues to move the goalposts to other clothing items, such as protesting Forever 21 to stop using wool and pressuring Levi’s to stop using leather.
Where these activists can, they continue to pass laws chipping away at animal use. Along with banning fur coats, as of the New Year, California is working on a ban against the sale of alligator and crocodile leather, as well as the sale of foie gras.
These activists understand that the public as a whole rejects their animal liberation agenda. Less than 2 percent of the public identifies as vegan.
Wisely, then, animal liberation activists advance their agenda incrementally. They start by banning products that are less common, such as foie gras and exotic leather, than eating meat or owning pets.
And it’s not just individual lifestyle choices that are affected but also benefits for society as a whole. Rats, mice and other animals are vital for medical research finding cures for cancer, AIDS and other diseases — both for human and veterinary medicine. If you are taking medication for common conditions, including high blood pressure and acid reflux, animals played a key role in developing the treatment.
Ironically, much of this activism is funded by an unwitting general public that thinks groups like PETA or the Humane Society of the United States are “animal welfare” organizations.
The radical animal activists raise millions by running heart-rending commercials or sending direct mail appeals seeking donations for pet shelters. But the money doesn’t support much actual animal care. The Humane Society of the United States gives less to local shelters than their annual funding of executive pensions. PETA kills on average close to 2,000 pets at its headquarters every year, rather than promote adoption. Its kill rate is over 80 percent.
The donations collected also fund big salaries. The CEO of the ASPCA made $850,000 in 2017. In 2018, HSUS had $30 million from donors parked in Caribbean accounts, while donor intent was dismissed.
Conversely, mainstream beliefs support the use of animals for food or other purposes, so long as they are treated humanely. That’s something 99 percent of people can get behind.
But to PETA, HSUS and like-minded groups, selling a fur coat is just as immoral as selling a bacon-and-egg sandwich or fishing for trout.
PETA’s president has even spoken out against pet ownership, suggesting, “If [people] want companionship, they should seek it with their own kind.” The past (disgraced) CEO of HSUS has said, “I don’t want to see another cat or dog born.”
There’s a famous quote about the Holocaust by Martin Niemöller: “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”
You may not wear any fur clothing products. But you should rebel against the idea that government can dictate morality on what you eat or wear — or else it’ll be something you do care about next.
• Richard Berman is the president of Berman and Co., a public relations firm in Washington, D.C.