There is, perhaps, no club in America more private than Augusta National. One need not bother applying, since there is no application process. If the clubs 300 longtime members choose to invite you to join, theyll call, but dont wait by the phone. Founded in 1931 by golf legend Bobby Jones and businessman Cliff Roberts, Augustas members are both fiercely proud and protective of their clubs exclusivity and storied tradition.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grants Augusta Nationals members, and every other private club for that matter, the right to choose with whom they wish to freely associate -- whether they be white, African-American, Asian, Hispanic, tall, short, fat, thin, or even male or female. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, "freedom of association receives [constitutional] protection as a fundamental element of personal liberty" and "freedom of association therefore plainly presupposes a freedom not to associate."
The fact that Augusta National hosts the enormously popular Masters golf tournament during one week every June, and makes a profit from it, does not render it a "for profit corporation" or a "place of public accommodation" subject to laws governing gender discrimination. Surely Ms. Burk knows that, but lets face it, few had ever heard of the National Council of Womens Organizations before it picked a fight with Augusta Chairman William "Hootie" Johnson, so shes letting the good times roll.
Having no legal leg to stand on, but desperately wishing to remain in the limelight, Burk has turned the media circus into a morality crusade, thus launching us down that familiar slippery slope where ideologues spend much of their time dawdling.
If Augusta National were forced into accepting a woman as a member, would one be enough to serve Ms. Burks purposes? The Club has already been criticized for having few African-American members. Whats to stop Muslims, Jewish or other ethnic and religious groups from demanding equal representation among the clubs ranks?
If special interest groups get to dictate the internal policies of private clubs based on their own moral litmus tests, the value of the Founding Fathers carefully crafted right of free association will be forever lost.
The much-maligned Hootie Johnson is holding the line against an inevitable onslaught that all private clubs in America will be forced to confront if he allows Burk to get her way by force.
Women are allowed as guests at Augusta National and last year women played more than 1,000 rounds of golf there without any restricted tee times. The time may come when Augusta National welcomes its first woman member, but it should be on the clubs own terms, not on Martha Burks.
According to Ms. Burk, this war started after she watched last years Masters trophy presentation on television and decided it would be a cause worthy of her organizations combined 7 million members. This year we invite them to exercise their constitutional right to change the channel.October 3, 2002