What do parking spaces have to do with property rights?
The Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, "dedicated to providing Islamic religious, educational, cultural and social services to Muslims living or working in Somerset Hills and the surrounding areas," last year sued Bernards Township, New Jersey, several months after its application to build a mosque was denied after more than three years and thirty-nine public hearings.
The stated issue was parking spaces.
The township argued that it was "completely appropriate to insist a mosque provide more off-street parking than a comparably sized church or synagogue because of its unique worship times and traditions."
The Islamic Society's attorney argued that "parking requirements were the tool municipalities used to thwart construction of mosques."
Early this year, a federal court ruled in favor of the Islamic Society. U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp stated that "Bernards Township violated the Religious Land Use and Institutional Persons Act by applying a different standard to Muslims." He found that the township's planning board had "unbridled and unconstitutional discretion" because of its vague parking requirements.
Most liberals no doubt applaud the judge's decision because they look to the federal government to stamp out discrimination in every sphere.
Many conservatives no doubt applaud the efforts of any city to prevent Muslims from building a mosque—by any means, legitimate or otherwise.
Libertarians, whatever their religion, personal feelings about Islam, or concern about the construction of mosques in their communities, see an entirely different and much more important issue here: property rights.
The question that only libertarians are asking is a simple one: who should decide how many parking spaces someone has on his own property?
In a free society, the owner or owners of a business or organization decide how many parking spaces they will provide for themselves, patrons, and guests. Although this principle is a simple one, it serves as the foundation of a free society. In a free society, property owners not only decide how many parking spaces they will provide, but the nature of the parking spaces. It is the property owner who should determine how many parking spaces, if any, should be reserved for the handicapped, pregnant women, parents with young children, employees, the elderly, the sick, veterans, or valet parking. It is the property owner who should determine how wide the parking spaces are. It is the property owner who should determine the color and dimensions of the lines around the parking spaces—or even if there are to be any lines. It is the property owner who should determine whether parking bumpers should be installed, what color they will be, and what material they will be made out of. This doesn't mean that there couldn't be privately established standards and guidelines for these things. It just means that, ultimately, in a free society, it is property owners who should decide these things—not the government.
This fundamental principle extends far beyond parking spaces.
In a free society, property owners decide whom they allow to enter their property.
In a free society, property owners decide whom they will prohibit from entering their property.
In a free society, business owners decide whom they will serve.
In a free society, employers owners decide whom they will hire.
In a free society, employers owners decide whom they will fire.
In a free society, property owners decide whom they will sell or rent to.
In a free society, business owners decide the dress code and standard of conduct for customers.
In a free society, employers owners decide if employees are allowed to wear head coverings or have facial hair.