Seller, Beware

Is "political correctness" everywhere? If you've recently tried to sell your house, you may think it is, for PC has come to the classifieds. Imagine you've put your house on the market. You place an ad in your local paper. It states: "For Sale. Four-bedroom home, ocean view, one block from Baptist church. Ideal for families. Walk-in closets in master bedroom." Sounds fair enough, doesn't it? Well, would you believe that placing an ad like that could land you in court, charged with being a racist, a sexist, and somebody who discriminates against the disabled? You better believe it, because it's true. The phrase ocean view, for example, could offend the blind. The phrase one block from Baptist church could be interpreted to mean that people who aren't Baptists need not respond. The word families could mean you're opposed to singles or couples without children. Worse, the phrase master bedroom is allegedly both sexist and racist. And what about those walk-in closets? You guessed it: That phrase is supposedly offensive to folks who can't walk. If all this sounds absurd, that's because it is absurd. But it's not absurd to certain so-called "fair housing" bureaucrats and lawyers. They're scouring classified ads to snoop out homeowners they think are biased against just about any special-interest group under the sun. For example, as Randy Lee writes in the Wall Street Journal, the Human Relations Commission of Pennsylvania has prompted realtors and the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association to agree on a list of "unacceptable" words in housing ads. Among them: adults, couples, mature persons, newlyweds, young families, children, executive, private, traditional, established neighborhood, and even integrated. In New Jersey the words professional, non-smoker, and even no dogs are out, according to one paper. And in Oregon a newspaper was charged with religious discrimination because an ad featured a "Happy Easter" greeting. Another lawsuit was filed against an Oregon paper alleging discrimination because of the phrase convenient to jogging trails. That was denounced as discrimination against the disabled. As Lee rightly points out, "Everything is offensive to somebody in this world because individual tastes vary so greatly." But it does not follow, he notes, that such descriptions as traditional dwelling should be offensive to anybody, let alone that they should be banned by law. In Pennsylvania, again, for example, the phrase rare find in an ad was said to be "racist." Why? Because the house was located in a black neighborhood. The alleged implication was that "blacks don't live in nice houses," Lee reports. There are two points I want to make. First, our society is doomed to utter anarchy unless we all abandon this mindless nit-picking and regain our common sense about simple courtesy and civility. Second, property rights and the right of homeowners to sell—and advertise—their homes as they deem fit are bedrock rights of a free and self-respecting people. There is no substitute for common courtesy. And there is no protection against lawsuits and government intrusion if we persist in this ridiculous assault on language and fundamental freedoms


Chuck Colson


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