So You Wanna Talk About Free Speech?

A lot of people have brought up “freedom of speech” and related phrases in discussion of the current expressions of support for and protest against Chick-fil-A and its CEO Dan Cathy. But freedom of speech is only the issue at one very specific point in the controversy.

No one should be denying the free speech of either Dan Cathy to say what he thinks about homosexuality or what he mistakenly considers to be the “Biblical definition of marriage.” Nor should anyone be denying the free speech of those who disagree with him. And apart from the move – obviously of questionable legality – by a couple of politicians to try to resist the expansion of the food chain into their areas, the very vocal outpouring of opinion on both sides shows that freedom of speech is alive and well.

If some people go to eat at Chick-fil-A to express their support for the chain or its CEO – or simply because they are hungry and think that a boycott is misguided – and if others refrain from eating there, both are free to do so. The United States Constitution does not have, nor does it need, an additional free exercise or establishment clause, stating “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of chicken, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

The issue of free speech only comes up in one specific area, namely Dan Cathy’s support for at least one organization (to which his donation was relatively small compared to others) that advocates the recriminalization of homosexual acts and brands all homosexuals as pedophiles. The organization in question is known as the Family Research Council.

I am not sure whether any of the other organizations have taken stances for similar things. And just to be clear, in not focusing on the topic in this blog post, I am not saying that the stances that those organizations do adopt, such as opposing the rights of gays and lesbians to marry, are not problematic. I am focusing here on the one organization which I can say with confidence represents a clear threat to freedom of speech. Because gays and lesbians would not be able to be active, vocal participants in the current discussions if they were all considered criminals.

It is at this point that I wish to mention Sally Ride.

The death of this pioneering astronaut brought the revelation to the public that Ride was a lesbian. And it is appropriate to ask why someone who had the courage to be catapulted by tons of volatile rocket fuel into outer space would keep this aspect of her life relatively secret.

To answer that question, one cannot but mention that Sally Ride grew up in an era the younger generation among us today scarcely remembers, if at all. A time when being a female astronaut was controversial enough. A time when being homosexual could lead to not merely harassment but legal prosecution. Even today, there is bullying and much else that should cause everyone in our society dismay.

If you cannot understand that a courageous individual who has been described as a hero could find herself nervous when it came to the prospect of society knowing that she loved a woman as her life partner, then you are probably a heterosexual who has never really spoken to someone who is gay or lesbian, and who simply does not know and cannot imagine what people still go through, and what still haunts those who grew up at a time when their actions were not merely frowned upon but a felony.

That is where I see freedom of speech as an issue in the whole Chick-fil-A hullabaloo, and nowhere else. Supporting the treatment of gays and lesbians as criminals is not compatible with being a free country with protection of freedom of speech, any more than slavery or segregation were. When you are legally viewed as a second-class citizen, you will always find it hard to have the same liberties of speech and in other respects as those upon whom the law looks more favorably. That it took our society a very long time to realize this doesn’t make the arguments in favor of what is “traditional” any more convincing or any less problematic.

And so, in support of freedom of speech, and to encourage discussion of the issue, let me share an image which came to my attention via a Facebook friend.

If you find the image offensive, please exercise your freedom of speech and say so. If you find it apt, please say so. Or if you feel torn, as I do, but like me you at least find the reference to “Cluckalonians” hilarious, then say so. But no one should suggest that an artist does not have the right to tamper with a group’s sacred imagery in order to express themselves. That would be placing freedom of speech in jeopardy. And once anyone’s freedom of speech is in jeopardy, then all of our freedom of speech is in jeopardy.

In closing, let me encourage those who feel inclined to participate in the Chick-fil-A controversies to try to steer the conversations back to where they need to be. The really crucial issue is not what Dan Cathy thinks, but the move by an organization he supports to move the entire nation backwards, towards the revoking rather than the granting of basic civil and human rights to everyone, whether gay or straight, going far beyond freedom of speech to the freedom to love and to express that love without fear of persecution of prosecution.

It would be a terrible thing if that crucial issue gets lost from sight, obscured from view by discussions about the buying and selling of chicken.

  • Shira Coffee

    This is almost the first sensible thing I’ve seen about this controversy. Thank you.

  • SherryLevine

    Decent family values is such a horrible thing for liberals – they must stamp it out in every way they can…

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Alan-Alexander/502988241 Alan Alexander

      Oh, look, it’s that vile bitch Sherry Levine. This is the THIRD TIME I have been to a site today discussing CFA and found the same damn post from this disgusting woman. Sherry, you don’t know a damn thing about decent family values. I’d bet good money you abuse your kids. You seem like the type.

  • http://twitter.com/d_pardee Darren Pardee

    Good post. This is, indeed, the only way the issue of free speech is relevant. It’s like when political pundits get fired from their network for saying something stupid and they (and their supporters) start crying about their rights to free speech. The First Amendment does not guarantee you the right to a TV or radio show, and it also doesn’t guarantee you the right to a successful food franchise. Exercise your free speech all you like, just get ready for some free speech in return if your message rubs some folks the wrong way.

  • http://twitter.com/d_pardee Darren Pardee

    Oh and I saw this wonderful opinion piece on the subject. Almost teared up. Roughly half of my Facebook feed is as described.
    http://www.theopinionatednation.com/2012/08/02/the-other-side-of-chick-fil-a-appreciation-day-it-really-shook-me/

    • Gary

      From your post, “I don’t know if you’ve ever had an experience in your life where you knew you were absolutely not welcome someplace — not because of anything you said or did, but just not welcome because of who you are.” Connecting this to Sally Ride, PhD in physics, professor at a university, made it through the NASA space program (full of AF and Navy pilots), went into space. My personal opinion….she accomplished a heck of a lot more than a person making a million dollars selling fried chicken. Having a “sterling” (I am quoting the same words as that describing Romney’s Bane career) chicken career, does not lend weight to his consideration (judgement) upon someone else’s life style, based upon a 2000 year old book, that was NOT written by Jesus. The fact that Sally Ride did not want to disclose her life style, tells me that she was adversely affected by social stigma to a major degree. I didn’t think the chicken sandwich controversy was a big deal, until I saw the indirect effect on someone so accomplished in her career. I will pass on the holy pilgrimage to chick-fil-A for a guilt offering. (RSV) Lev 4:7-10 “…he shall bring, as his guilt offering to the Lord for the sin which he has committed, two turtledoves or two young pigeons, one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. He shall bring them to a priest, who shall offer first the one for the sin offering; he shall wring it head from its neck, but shall not sever it, and he shall sprinkle some of the blood on the sin offering on the side of the altar, while the rest of the blood shall be drained out at the base of the altar; it is a sin offering.Then he shall offer the second for a burnt offering according to the ordinance; and the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin which he has committed, and he shall be forgiven”. A chicken will do just fine, if you don’t have a pigeon. I am sure you (we) have all sinned at one time or another. Same book, same judgments. Before eating the chicken, perform the guilt offering. Then try to come into the 21st century.

  • jill

    mcgrath you are aligning yourself with loving comments like that of this last poster. this represents the cause of christ? show me how anyone in the bible did not think homosexuality a perversion–you can’t, you just rant in your hatred, but never address the obvious–and what Jesus said to anyone perverting the truth was sin no more.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      I do not align myself with commenters simply by virtue of the fact that they comment in my blog. If I say that I agree or disagree then that is clear, but in the absence of comment to assume I agree is clearly not only misguided but ridiculous.

      Are you not at all struck by the fact that the Roman centurion who came to Jesus asking him to heal his “honored slave” – an oxymoron unless perhaps it indicated a slave with whom the centurion had an intimate relationship, as was common in Greco-Roman culture – was not told by Jesus “Go and sin no more” but merely praised for his faith? If the Gospels are correct that Jesus interacted with Romans on occasion, he had opportunity to comment. But I would say that, in the absence of explicit comment one way or the other, just as on a blog, so too in the Gospels, it is best not to assume a person thinks this or that, one way or the other.

    • Mary

      Sorry Jill. Jesus never said anything about homosexuality. Paul did, but he never even knew Jesus.

  • jill

    ‘last poster meaning alan alexander,’ who i did not actually want to name as it’s best not to acknowledge a bully by name.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Alan-Alexander/502988241 Alan Alexander

      Wah! Alan Alexander hurt my feelings by saying mean things about homophobic bigots, Wah! Good Lord, I’m so sick of the endless victimized whining of the Religious Right! I don’t CARE what you think about the Bible. I don’t CARE that your attitudes about sex are drawn from the folktales of ignorant, Bronze age goatherders. If you and your poisonous hatred represent the cause of Christ, then Christianity is a lie and Christ died for nothing. And when you meet Christ face-to-face and he asks you what you did for “the least of these,” you be sure to tell him that you did everything you could to demonize all the “perverts” that you hated so much and see what he says. Something along the lines of “Depart, for I never knew you,” I would think.


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