Freedom of association

From Academic Kids

Freedom of association is a right granted under the constitution or interpretations thereof of several countries, or under certain international conventions pertaining to civil rights.

United States

Freedom of association is identified under international labor standards as the right of workers' to organize and collectively bargain. The freedom of association is recognized as a fundamental human right by many human rights intraments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Core International Labor Standards #87 and #98.

While the United States Constitution's First Amendment identifies the rights to assemble and to petition the government, the text of the First Amendment itself does not make specific mention of a right to association. The United States Supreme Court jurisprudence names two distinct ways in which the right may be implicated:

1. Freedom of association is recognized and may be protected as a fundamental element of personal liberty when choices to enter into and maintain certain intimate human relationships are at issue.
2. Freedom of association is recognized and may be protected for the purposes of engaging in activities protected by the text of the First Amendment—speech, assembly, petitioning government for a redress of grievances, and the free exercise of religion. Because the role of these relationships (while not explicit in the Constitution's text, see right to privacy) is central to safeguarding individual freedoms central to the Constitution, they may receive protection from undue intrusion by the State. Thus, there is a constitutional freedom to associate as a means of preserving other individual liberties.

However, the implicit First Amendment right of association is not a general right of association. For example, it is illegal in the United States to discriminate on the basis of race in the making and enforcement of private contracts, under Section 1981 of Title 42, and this statute has been upheld against a First Amendment challenge. Runyon v. McCrary, 427 U.S. 160 (1976).

The holding of Runyon is that the defendant private schools were free to express and teach their views, such as white supremacy, 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 schools strongly disliked them, then the schools were required by Section 1981 to admit them. The general rule to be drawn from this is that the First Amendment protects the right to express, including expression of racial discrimination, but people may not practice such ideas within private associations.


Freedom of association is a term popular in libertarian and anarchist literature. It is used to describe the concept of absolute freedom to live in a community whose values, laws, and culture are closely related to what one wants.

Most libertarians and anarchists believe that federally enforced laws and difficulty in moving between countries limits our freedom of association, and are in favor of local control.

Most people associate the concept of freedom of association with direct democracy and confederalism.

See also


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