Fairness Is Not Justice: Three Simple Reasons to Reject Fairness

Justice not FairnessOnce upon a time, our laws were based on justice: “With liberty and justice for all.”  Now, it seems there is a sense of “fairness” encroaching upon our liberty and overtaking justice for all.  Many folks equate one term with the other, thinking that fairness and justice are equally compelling concepts of liberty, but they are not. Here are three important reasons to seek justice in our laws, not fairness.

First, fairness is not a fixed concept. Justice is. Fairness rises and falls with the political fortunes of special interests. Instead of being one fixed, eternal truth to which all attain, fairness is a roaming gnome of special rights given to certain classes of individuals.

Fairness grabs rights for Hispanics (but not Asians?).  Fairness snatches rights for Muslims (but not Hindus?)—for gays and lesbians (but not the celibate or the polygamists?).  Fairness is not fixed in anything eternal.  Think of it in terms of a family.

One child has a birthday party and gets gifts from mom and dad. Another child in the family screams “That’s not fair!” Well, in a sense it is not fair for two equal siblings to be treated differently.  Yet, when the matter is considered from a broader perspective—that of justice—it becomes plain that the parents are perfectly just to give gifts to their children when and how they desire.  No injustice has occurred, even though one child believes his fairness has been violated. Justice fixes truth in institutions and in eternal reality. Fairness fluctuates with the feelings and infatuations of child-like adults. It is not fixed.

Second, fairness is not blind; justice is. As stated above, fairness singles out sub-classes of humanity for particular justice not fairness attention.  By definition, it is not blind. It sees color. It sees sexual preference. It sees—and envies—what others possess.  Fairness cannot maintain unity because it sees too much; it offers preferences too conveniently.

When the United States Supreme Court building was completed in 1935, it featured a prominent engraving to justice across its façade: “Equal Justice Under Law.”  And so, America has historically been a place which sought to call all people equally to the one eternal standard of Justice. Fairness was nowhere etched in Supreme Court stones (and for good reason). Justice is blind; fairness is not.

Finally, Fairness is just not just. I know this sounds circular, but the point must not be missed. Justice is real; it is rooted in an eternal God whose ways are right.  Just as moral law comes from the moral lawgiver, so, too, justice ultimately abides in the one who Himself is just.  Justice is an eternal, divine order to which we all should attain.

Fairness, on the other hand, is a very petulant human standard which we must all exceed. We must be willing to forego our own peevish demands of personal affluence and, instead, call our fellow Americans to uphold justice.

Justice is discovered from within reality.  Fairness is imposed by force on humanity.  Fairness must be imposed by might, not by what is right. It is a political power play, not an eternal truth display.  So, please, let us return to equal justice for all under the law. Exchanging justice for fairness is more foolish than a child offering to trade his family for a shiny, new penny. It’s a sad exchange.

In All Fairness

Here is the story of a wedding (sort of).  One wonders why this particular chapel on the beach was chosen for the union.  Maybe it was the beautiful sunset.  Maybe it was the sandy beach.  Maybe it was the waves.  Or… maybe it was the fact that a Christian ministry owned the seaside chapel.  Maybe a lesbian couple choosing a Christian ministry owned facility would make the headlines. And, what do you know, it did!  Now, the Christian ministry has been found in violation of the New Jersey laws against discrimination for refusing to allow a lesbian civil union at their beachfront chapel.


This case illustrates again the distinction being made in our culture between “fairness” and “justice.”  The two concepts are radically different.  In this instance, justice might say that those who own property have the rights to use or improve it according to their desires.  They own it; they are free to use it.  Fairness, on the other hand, says, “No, no, no… if one person gets to enjoy it, then everyone gets to enjoy it equally.” 


This latter concept—fairness—is completely implausible.  No one can abide by it.  So, for example, no one in the name of fairness says that a mother must be allowed to marry her son (or daughter) in the seaside chapel—even if she wants to or even if the two are consenting adults who love each other.  Likewise, no one in the name of fairness is arguing that I should be allowed to marry three wives at the seaside chapel.  But, why not?  If fairness is the rule, and if fairness means everyone must be treated equally, and if fairness means that each person should equally get that which he lusts after, then why (or how) can we exclude anyone from anything without being unfair?