Debate Right, 8/7

Free speech only OK when liberals agree with it

By Rob Scott

One of the greatest pillars of a nation is its Freedom of Speech.

The famous French writer and historian Voltaire wrote on the topic stating “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

The Founding Fathers of the United States believed so strongly in this right, it was put first in the Bill of Rights. President George Washington said “If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which is the model for several other countries’ constitutions, states:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The operative phrase is “abridging the freedom of speech” by the federal government, which includes the states and other political subdivisions through the Fourteenth Amendment.

What this means is the First Amendment protects you from government action suppressing your right to free speech. However, it does not protect you from private individuals’ negative reaction to your speech nor does it protect you from criticism.

This issue came to a head when Chick-fil-A’s COO Dan Cathy made several comments in support of “traditional marriage.” Cathy was not representing Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A’s corporate views or policies on the issue but rather his personal view on a radio show. He said:

“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 try to redefine what marriage is about.”

These comments ignited a firestorm from lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) advocates, and in counter-response a rally of support for the corporate executive and the company came from the Christian right. In response, several liberal Democrat mayors said that Chick-fil-A was not welcome in their cities, including the mayor of Boston Thomas Menino, mayor of San Francisco Edwin Lee, and mayor of Chicago Rahm Emmanuel.

Chick-fil-A issued a statement regarding their corporate philosophy “to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender,” saying, “Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”

Though there are diverging views on same-sex marriage, one fundamental remains: there truly are different views on the subject. The many opinions on same-sex marriage are no different than the many views on abortion, war, taxes or government entitlement programs, to list a few.

What makes the United States, and so many countries following us, different is that our country believes that our citizenry is able to be free thinkers and to express their thoughts freely. This right is regardless of whether someone agrees with those thoughts and expressions, and we as Americans have the fundamental right to say what we believe and not be arrested for it.

Other examples of free speech include the burning American flags, the views from the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Tea Party movement, the freedom of the Press, and many more.

For any municipality, or any government for that matter, to ban a business from opening up in their city due to personal comments made by the business’s COO is very anti-American and obviously illegal. Unlike Chick-fila-A Cathy’s comments, the mayors did not say that they personally disagree with Cathy. They said Chick-fil-A does not have their cities’ values and should not be in their cities.

The ban proposals from the Mayors were so silly that even the Americans for Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sided with Cathy’s free speech right and against the banning of Chick-fil-A by the city governments.

The liberal Mayors’ response to the controversy was simply that they did not agree with Cathy’s speech and they sought to restrict it for their own political benefit.

These same Mayors would be championing a business owner if they said they accepted same-sex marriage. Where would these Mayors be at on banning adult-oriented book stores? Or what about a mayor saying mosques are not welcome in the city? Of course, all of these examples are ridiculous, but are similar.

As long as Chick-fil-A does not discriminate in employment or other workplace laws, the company is not breaking the law. Cathy never said Chick-fil-A does not hire someone that is for same-sex marriage or is part of the LGBT community, but rather he stated his personal views on the topic.

This controversy over Cathy’s comments should be a huge learning experience for the U.S. and those calling for the ban of a business that employs thousands. The difficulty in being an American is that someone can be screaming at the top of their lungs about something you completely disagree with but yet has the right to hold that view.

Someone should tell liberals this.

Rob Scott is a practicing attorney at Oldham & Deitering, LLC. Scott is the Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party and the founder of the Dayton Tea Party. He can be contacted at rob@oldhamdeitering.com or www.gemcitylaw.com.

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