Greenwald, Chick-Fil-A, and The Problem with Free Speech

31 Jul

Glenn Greenwald has stirred my interest about the people vs Chick-Fil-A here.  He’s gone back and forth with Lee Fang over this issue here

I think he’s shown more passion for the first amendment rights of Chick-Fil-A when compared to other liberal commentators, he is a lawyer after all, but I do have a problem with a few points in his article:

1) He’s arguing about something that didn’t happen.  All of the mayors, probably at the urging of their lawyers, realized that they couldn’t personally block Chick-Fil-A specifically because their CEO said he didn’t like homosexuals.  Fair enough. Free speech issue preserved, and even Lee Fang agreed, but you’d think that–by the tone of that article–that we’d come close to obliterating free speech.

2) He characterizes Chick-Fil-A’s donations as “political views,” a lot of people have actually, but if you’ve read about Chick-Fil-A and its groups then you know that this is considerably more complicated.  One of the groups they’ve donated to is Exodus international, an organization whose sole function was to “cure homosexuality” oftentimes using extremely coercive tactics on very young boys and girls who are forced into therapy by parents. There are a great many major medical institutions who are now speaking out against this therapy as harmful. Harmful? Imagine that?  Isn’t there a difference between my right to say anything I want and my harming an entire segment of the population? Is it anti-free speech for California to ban its gay conversion centers?

3) This is a local matter.  I’ve never been prouder of my hometown of Inglewood California when a coalition of voters kept Walmart out of their neighborhood. The issue with Walmart was complex, having to do with zoning and the fear that the store would obliterate the small business owner.  There was no Walmart CEO issuing a hot-button statement to spur people into defending Walmart’s right to open a store, and so too will the opening and closing of Chick-Fil-A’s be left up to the locals like Hilary Dworkoski who started a petition to close the Chick-fil-A in NYU but who was refused by the NYU board who also characterized Chick-Fil-A’s donations as merely “political.”

4) Chick-Fil-A has more rights than gay people.  In the spirit of talking about a controversy that hasn’t happened; Chick-Fil-A could move into town, and they could refuse to hire gay people, or anyone who doesn’t fit into their Christian world view, or allies who refuse to attend religious gatherings, and gay people would just have to take it. After all, discriminatory sexual orientation hires aren’t protected at all on the federal level This isn’t a level playing field, or a theoretical vacuum. Chick-Fil-A’s presence is a boiling point for many people who have already been burned by society.

I appreciate the defenders of free speech (it might be obvious to you by now, but I’m not a lawyer and I don’t pretend to be), but I also understand why government officials spoke out in haste, and it would be the same reason I would do it, and it’s that we don’t see a level playing field. Gay people are harmed by our institutions on a daily basis, and passions flare when injustice and harm encroach in our lives and in the lives of our friends. The problem with free speech is the problem with every form of idealization, and it is that we are in danger of becoming more committed to the idea than to the people that this idea governs.


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