Needles C of C Exercises Its Right Of Free Association

A circumstance at the eastern extreme of San Bernardino County illustrates the prerogatives of free association and disassociation yet exist in American society, and that even quasi-public institutions can exclude individuals from what are essentially public gatherings if they are so inclined.
The Needles Chamber of Commerce has for nine years running held what is called the “Hot Boat & Car Show,” an event which is particularly well-suited for that community, given its location at the nexus of Historic Route 66 and the Colorado River. The power event has grown to involve over 200 entrants with vendors paying $100 for a single booth positioned near the park’s boat launch and viewing area. Many of those booths consist of food vendors catering to the event
This year, as in the last five years, two Needles residents, David Buckley and his mother Jean, were turned away when they applied for a booth for their volunteer organization “Guardians of the East Mojave,”which engages in trash and liter collection in the eastern Mojave Desert as part of CalTrans’ Adopt-A-Highway program.
The rejection of the Buckleys has a backstory. After David Buckley obtained a county health permit for a food-vending booth at a chamber event several years ago, he learned that none of the other food vendors had secured permits. He reported that to the county health department, which thereafter required that vendors secure the permits to sell food at the events, held at Jack Smith Park.
This generated hostility toward Buckley and his mother, and from that point on they have been deemed persona non grata at chamber functions, including the Hot Boat & Car Show. This year was no different.
Some feel the chamber and its members, by excluding Buckley, are not only acting inappropriately and punishing him for having acted to ensure that health safety guidelines were met and others functioning within a public venue adhered to the same standard he had, it is acting contrary to its charter, which is to attract and support local entrepreneurship. Nevertheless, a majority of the chamber’s members or at least its controlling contingent feels he violated the terms and spirit of their collegiality. Accordingly, they have shunned him.
Modernist philosopher Ric James says he believes that in the United States groups can legally bar from their midst people they do not get along with.
“The US Constitution does not mention in its text the term ‘freedom of association,’” according to James. “The Supreme Court, however, has ruled that such a thing is Constitutionally protected in that such a freedom is necessary in order to preserve other freedoms. I would argue that private groups must be free to exclude persons from their association. Associations are made to gather like-minded persons together for some purpose.
“People with a common interest working toward a common goal gather to join in their mutual pursuits,” James continued. “Such groups must be able to deny membership to those they conclude do not share their common interest and to sever their association with persons already a member who demonstrate interests counter to the group’s stated goal.”
This year, before the Hot Boat & Car Show, Buckley, with the assistance of a sympathetic chamber member, succeeded in paying the $100 fee and registering for a booth. When he attempted to attend the event on Saturday February 25, a chamber officer told him to leave.

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