It was never about free speech 8/5/12

On August 1, after the suggestion by Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, lines formed around Chick-fil-A restaurants around the United States for a “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day”.  Huckabee’s suggestion was in response to the negative press being generated by Chick-fil-A  COO (Chief Operating Officer) Dan Cathy’s comments to religious media that the company was “guilty as charged” when asked if it had an established position on marriage equality.  “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 know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.”

When LGBT media, as well as generally left-wing sites, began taking Cathy to task for his comments, and pointed out how much money Chick-fil-A had donated from the corporation’s funds to support groups openly hostile to LGBTQ equality, right wing sites and outlets began trumpeting the “freedom of speech” mantra.  In an attempt to frame the controversy as one of the right defending Cathy’s Constitutional right to speak versus the LGBTQ community’s attempt to stifle that speech, the right wing began a media offensive seldom seen.  Every right wing site that mentioned the story kept harping on the speech aspect, as if that was what the story was all about.  Of course, it wasn’t, but with the resources behind the conservative echo-chamber, it soon became that to most listeners.

We can be sure that the speech straw-man was a successful ploy, simply by viewing the reports from television stations around the country, whose reporters diligently interviewed people who stood in line for hours, often in searing heat, to buy unhealthy fast food.  Almost without exception, those interviewed said they were there not to be anti-gay, but to protest the attack on freedom of speech.  Even those roped into commenting about the “kiss-in” counter-protest held at many of the same Chick-fil-A’s on the following Friday, most still repeated the “freedom of speech” talking point.

Some, to be sure, where there to express their disdain for LGBTQ people.  The comments in newspaper online articles clearly show that there are still a number of people quite firm in their animosity and animus towards the gay community.

The issue, however, is not one of Mr. Cathy’s free speech.  Mr. Cathy, and Chick-fil-A, were being chastised for supporting at least one SPLC certified anti-gay hate group, and other organizations who make it their business to actively work against equality for LGBTQ Americans.  Using corporate funds, as opposed to personal donations, to support groups with these goals is not, in the opinion of many, a good idea for a business.  It tells an entire community that their lives are not of equal value to the company, and that efforts to marginalize them are corporate goals.  It tells friends and families of the LGBTQ community that this company is hostile to the freedoms of their loved ones.

It is telling how many on the right employ a double standard when it comes to suggestions of boycotts.  The right wing was outraged that some parts of the LGBTQ community, and their friends and family, openly promised never to be customers of Chick-fil-A after hearing of their donations, and of Mr. Cathy’s comments.  The right went on about boycotts punishing a corporation for the “private” beliefs of one of it’s officers, claiming it was an attempt to infringe on his First Amendment rights.  Many of those same people, however, were completely happy to harangue and boycott JC Penny when they hired Ellen Degeneres to be a spokesperson.  They were fine with boycotting Home Depot and Target for their support of various LGBTQ events and organizations.  General Mills, Proctor and Gamble, Disney, and a long list of other companies have come under fire for their support of the LGBTQ community as well.  The right seems to find completely acceptable attempts to “violate a  corporation’s rights” when they don’t like the recipients of their largess, but scream bloody murder if those same tactics are turned on someone with whom they agree.

Perhaps someone from the Christian community, or the right wing, can explain why it’s acceptable to boycott JC Penny, but not Chick-fil-A.

I think the right “doth protest too much”.

It’s not about attacking free speech.  It’s about exercising that same right in response to someone actively working against us.  Mr. Cathy has every right to speak his mind, and donate to causes as he sees fit.  It’s even Chick-fil-A’s right to donate to groups as they choose, even if it insults a segment of their customer base.  It might not be smart, or politically correct, but they are certainly free to do so.  They are not free from the results of that speech, however.  Just as Mr. Cathy and Chick-fil-A are free to tell us what they think, the rest of us are just as free to respond.

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