Good Moves Against Bias

The furor that led to the Dodgers' firing of Al Campanis underscores the depth of the racial problem in the United States. It shows how ingrained are the attitudes of many people who unknowingly and unthinkingly accept an unspoken apartheid--a gentlemen's agreement, if you will--about who holds and wields power.

This sad state of affairs is by no means limited to baseball or to professional sports. It is endemic in society. Last week two state agencies took actions designed to tear down the intransigent barriers to equal opportunity. The Franchise Tax Board moved to prevent members of clubs with discriminatory admission policies from using their membership fees as state income-tax deductions, and Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp ruled that the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has the right to revoke the liquor licenses of discriminatory private clubs.

No club has ever admitted having an admission policy that discriminates on the basis of race, sex or religion, but the names of the Jonathan Club and the California Club in Los Angeles, the Bohemian Club and the Pacific Union Club in San Francisco and the Sutter Club in Sacramento have been prominently mentioned in this regard.

They argue that the constitutional freedom of association should allow individuals to socialize with whomever they want, free of government interference.

But the truth is that these clubs are not just extensions of the living room, where, indeed, people may choose whatever guests they wish. The clubs are centers of power. Those people who cannot get in as full and equal members--blacks, Latinos, women, Jews, to name a few--cannot overcome the handicap. These admission policies help perpetuate the myths that Al Campanis gave voice to on national television the other night. They are contrary to public policy and the public interest.

An income-tax deduction is the equivalent of a tax subsidy. The state treasury forgoes revenue in the interest of some social purpose. But there is no reason why the taxpayers of California should subsidize private clubs that they cannot belong to. So it is altogether appropriate for the Franchise Tax Board to rule that, starting in 1988, payments to discriminatory clubs will not be tax-deductible as business expenses.

In the case of the clubs' liquor licenses, Van de Kamp's ruling tells the alcohol authorities that they may revoke liquor licenses of private clubs just as they can of public accommodations, such as restaurants, that discriminate. Earlier this year the ABC suspended the liquor license of the Red Onion restaurants for barring minorities from their discos, but the board had balked at applying the same rule to private clubs.

Van de Kamp's opinion recognizes the reality that a place selling liquor to a large number of customers is more like a restaurant than a living room, and may be treated as such. The existence of discriminatory clubs is contrary to the public interest, and should get no help from the law.

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