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What is a Private Membership Association?

Written by Christopher Ripple

Private Membership Association (PMA)

In the public domain you must operate under the jurisdiction of the regulatory agencies designed to protect the public. In the private domain of a private membership association PMA, you can operate outside the jurisdiction of those same agencies, as long as there is not clear and present danger of substantive evil.

While not explicitly defined in the Consti- tution, the Supreme Court has acknowledged that certain implicit rights, such as association, privacy, and presumed innocence, share constitutional protection in common with explicit guarantees such as free speech. Specifically, the Supreme Court has described the right to associate as insep- arable from the right to free speech.

The right of association under the Con- stitution was heavily litigated in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and association members’ rights were consistently upheld by the Court. In fact, the right of association became a cornerstone of the civil rights movement.

In general, members of an association do not fall under the jurisdiction of local, state, and federal governments and corresponding laws and regulations. The exception to this general rule is when the activities of the private membership association “present a clear and present danger of substantive evil”.

Those freedoms include the right of self-determination, home schooling, choice of suppliers of products and/or services, choice of lifestyle, food, drink and any right or freedom that does not infringe on the rights and freedoms of others or is a threat. In a private membership association, the members have all the rights and privileges not specifically banned by the associa- tion

In Thomas v. Collins, 323 U.S. (an im- portant Supreme Court case) it was determined: “Great secular causes, with small ones, are guard- ed. The grievences for redress of which the right of

partition was insured, and with it the right to assemble, are not solely religious or political ones. And the rights of free speech and a free press are not confined to any field of human interest”.

It is important to note that the right to associate is not limited to social or political activities. According to the Supreme Court, this right can be utilized for business activities (e.g. sale of alcohol). Members of a private membership association have the right to private contract under the due process liberty clause of the 5th and 14th Amendments, and states may not pass laws that impair the obligation of a contract.

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Christopher Ripple

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