Freedom of Expression (of the right views) — 31 July 2012

Recently, a Chicago alderman, Joe Moreno of the 1st ward, raised some controversy by moving to deny a permit to an undesirable company that wanted to open a restaurant in his ward.  He condemned the company’s intolerance and discrimination, and Mayor Rahm Emmanuel was not far behind, saying this company did not share “Chicago’s values.”

What was this dastardly outfit?  Was the Ku Klux Klan trying to get into the soul food business?  Was it the American Nazi Party, opening an anti-kosher deli?  Perhaps an Islamicist falafel joint?

Actually, the company, Chick-fil-A, has been accused of nothing, and no one has produced any evidence that they did anything.  But the CEO, Dan Cathy, son of the founder of the family-run business, gave an interview in which he admitted (“guilty as charged,” he said) that he and his colleagues believe in the Biblical approach to marriage.  “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.

“We operate as a family business … our restaurants are typically led by families; some are single. We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that,” Cathy emphasized.

Well, you can see how that resulted in a hue and cry throughout the reaches of the proper-thinking world.  Bloggers, editorialists, tweeters and the like unleashed a torrent of criticism.  Tom Menino, the mayor of Boston, closed ranks with the Chicagoans, declaring that there would be no Chick-fil-A along that city’s Freedom Trail – apparently without a clue as to the irony in his statement.  Edwin Lee, mayor of San Francisco, couldn’t resist piling on, even though there are no plans for a Chick-fil-A store anywhere near there.

What have we come to, that the mere exercise of one’s First Amendment rights should occasion such a storm of calumny?  Cathy did not even utter the words, “gay marriage,” and yet he has been accused of discrimination with no proof and subject to official sanction.  That, by the way, would be the true case of discrimination in this story, and it shocks the conscience that it could be so casually promised.  Eventually, even the Chicago ward boss acknowledged it would be illegal, not to mention a violation of Cathy’s civil rights, to carry out his threat.  But he promised an investigation to see if he could uncover some real discrimination.

I remember when liberals prided themselves on their tolerance.  The ACLU famously supported the Nazis’ bid to hold a parade in heavily-Jewish Skokie, Illinois.  What happened to Voltaire’s “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”?  That’s all over, apparently.  Now, the mere hint of a politically-incorrect opinion is enough to get your name dragged through the headlines, obscenity-laced tweets dashing around the ether, boycotts of your place of business, and likely threats on your life.

But not always.  Consider this: Boston’s Mayor Menino apparently has no similar problem with an Islamic imam, one Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who had this to say to al-Jazeera concerning gays:  “Some say we should throw them from a high place, some say we should burn them, and so on. There is disagreement. . . . The important thing is to treat this act as a crime.”  Does Boston therefore declare the imam persona non grata and ban him from Beantown?  Hardly – the city not only granted the necessary licenses for the imam’s group to found a mosque, it threw in $1.8 million in city land as a sweetener – doubtless to prove how tolerant Boston is toward unconventional views.

Why the discrimination toward Christians who voice much milder views on the subject?  Perhaps it is because, being a foreign culture, fundamentalist Islam is sufficiently “other” to earn it liberals’ dispensation.  Christians, on the other hand, are American, familiar, and one can always point to the Crusades if you need evidence of the religion’s inherent evil.

I think one explanation arises from one of the hoary old sayings from the sixties: I will tolerate anything but intolerance.  I remember saying something like that myself back in my liberal days.  It’s a great formulation – it neatly divides the good guys, the tolerant, open-minded ones, from the benighted, intolerant bad guys.

But do people mean it, really?  Is it tolerant to be OK with a man who leaves his cancer-stricken wife and children to take up with his mistress?  Is it tolerant to be OK with a parent who takes a five-year-old to a Quentin Tarantino movie?  Is it tolerant to be OK with your teenage daughter going to an oral-sex party?

I didn’t think so.  The problems liberals have with church-going conservatives is something altogether more complicated than tolerance/intolerance.  Everybody acknowledges rules for behavior, but there are profound disagreements over what those rules are.  The intolerance, it seems to me, is on the side of liberals who refuse to countenance the possibility that religious conservatives have reasons other than homophobia to oppose gay marriage.

It’s odd, isn’t it, that until a few weeks ago, opposition to gay marriage was President Obama’s official position.  (One wonders if Mayor Emmanuel would look kindly on an ex-President Obama opening a ribs shack in Hyde Park had he not changed his position.)  Beyond that, gay marriage has been defeated in every single referendum in which ordinary voters have had a chance to voice their opinions, even in true-blue California, and usually by substantial margins.  So even though it is a non-negotiable article of faith among certain coastal elites (including Chicago’s interior coast), that view is simply not shared throughout the land.

And yet, gay marriage is taking on a cultural crusade quality equivalent to abortion in the canon of liberal principles.  If you’re in favor, you’re a good person, if you’re opposed, you’re evil.  Or as Alderman Merino said, in describing Dan Cathy, “ignorant.”

Meanwhile, religious folk are supposed to be tolerant even when their most highly prized beliefs are offended.  Remember the “artist” Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ,” a picture of a crucifix submerged in urine?  Or, at the same show, a portrait of the Virgin Mary was created with daubs of feces?  Mayor Giuliani was outraged, and the glitterati tut-tutted at his provincialism, and, yes, his intolerance.

Fine.  Freedom of expression means giving someone else the right to offend you.  There is no Constitutional protection against being offended.  But that cuts both ways.  Christians have every right to voice opinions, even if that offends the nation’s editorialists.  What is not legitimate is when public officials over-react with threats of using their official powers to punish people for no offense greater than expressing their views.

Incidentally, wouldn’t it be a true Sister Soulja moment for President Obama to break his silence over this flap and come out four-square in favor of Dan Cathy’s right to speak his mind?  The ACLU has done so, to their credit, so Obama would have cover on his left flank.  And breaking with liberal convention would be a big attraction for the critical independents in this election.  Don’t expect it.

Last point: Rahm Emmanuel says Cathy’s views “are not Chicago values.”  Dan Cathy is a Bible-quoting Christian, grounded in the Ten Commandments.  These are not Chicago values?

Have we become Gomorrah-on-the-Lake?

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