I’ve never made a secret of my support for marriage equality. I don’t believe the government should be in the business of denying what our Supreme Court described in Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 12 (1967), as “one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men” on such an irrational basis as sexual orientation.
It goes without saying that I also believe in freedom of speech, and I believe that right belongs to the sane and rational among us, and to the bigoted idiots alike. In fact, I prefer that bigoted idiots speak their minds. They’re much easier to spot that way.
But nothing infuriates me more than the fundamental constitutional illiteracy that plagues America today, and few issues illustrate that constitutional illiteracy more dramatically than our almost willful ignorance on the subject of the First Amendment. So I’m going to say this as bluntly as I possibly can without unleashing the torrent of obscenity that forms between my ears whenever people suggest that the First Amendment somehow operates to insulate anyone – including bigots – from criticism.
It does not.
In fact, nothing could be more contrary to the First Amendment than to suggest that when one person speaks, everyone else has to shut up and listen.
It’s never worked that way; it shouldn’t work that way; and if you think it should work that way, you haven’t got even the most rudimentary understanding of liberty in the first place.
Case in point: In a masterstroke of corporate manipulation, supporters and fans of Chick-fil-A, Inc., the company that franchises and operates various fast-food chicken restaurants throughout the country, declared yesterday to be “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” in response to a loosely organized boycott of Chick-fil-A restaurants – a boycott spurred by anti-gay views espoused the company’s CEO, Dan Cathy. Actually, it’s not just Cathy’s bigoted statements that caused Chick-fil-A’s PR problem, as Joe My God reported last month:
“I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say ‘we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage’ and I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.” - Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-Fil-A, who this week replied “guilty as charged” when asked about the millions his company donates annually to hate groups.
In fact, it’s that latter point – the company’s donations to anti-gay civil rights groups – that really spurred the boycott, much more so than Dan Cathy’s holier-than-thou piety. According to Equality Matters:
Though Chick-fil-A continues to deny supporting an anti-gay agenda, the company has donated over $3 million to organizations like the Family Research Council and Exodus International between 2003 and 2009. And in 2010 alone, Chick-fil-A donated over $1.9 million to anti-gay causes, more than any other year for which public records are available.
So, when you patronize a Chick-fil-A restaurant, you’re not simply giving old Dan Cathy a pat on the back; you’re helping him and his company fund groups that are actively working to deny civil rights to gay and lesbian Americans.
But the Chick-fil-A people and their supporters, like former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, aren’t stupid. They know most Americans won’t bother to research the real reasons for the boycott – i.e., the company’s financial support for anti-civil rights organizations – and they know all too many Americans believe that the First Amendment somehow protects people like Dan Cathy from criticism. And this was the whole idea behind the Huckabee-inspired “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day,” which got millions of Americans to buy fatty, deep fried chicken sandwiches on the false premise that they were supporting Cathy’s and Chick-fil-A’s right to freedom of speech.
Because, as that great constitutional scholar and half-term governor Sarah Palin tried to explain, “calling for the boycott is a real—has a chilling effect on our First Amendment rights.”
So, I’m supposed to give my hard earned cash to Dan Cathy’s company so he can give my money to organizations that advocate positions I vehemently disagree with, and if I don’t I’m violating his right to freedom of speech?
Yes, this is what some Americans think the First Amendment means. Or, at least they pretend to.
Of course, the very idea is absurd on its face. Indeed, the Supreme Court recognized in NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co., 458 U.S. 886 (1982), that boycotting itself is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment.
I suspect that Chick-fil-A’s supporters already know that. They know nobody’s obligated to give money to a company if they don’t like the way the company’s going to spend that money. But it’s easier to pretend that they oppose the boycott on free speech grounds – even though that’s an inherently deceptive argument – than it is to say that they agree with a bigot like Dan Cathy. Because if you say you support Chick-fil-A because you agree with Cathy, that makes you a bigot, too.
So Chick-fil-A’s supporters, including the millions of people who stood in line to buy greasy chicken sandwiches yesterday, would rather engage in that patently absurd legal fiction than to simply admit they also support anti-gay discrimination.
That doesn’t mean they’re not bigots; it just means they’re liars and cowards too.