As France recovers from last week’s terrorist attacks against the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the Western world, including journalists and social media spectators across the political spectrum, are rallying around freedom of speech – even offensive speech.
While they are rightly united in the conviction that objectionable expression should be safe from violent retaliation, it is increasingly clear that the freedom of speech often works only at that bare minimum — protecting us from imprisonment and decapitation by governments, but not from social and economic destruction by our fellow Americans, including government officials.
Take the case of Kelvin Cochran, Atlanta’s former fire chief. Cochran was fired by Mayor Kasim Reed last week after 30 years of service for writing a book on morality, with a passage on homosexuality, in his private time for a Bible study group.
Another mayor who has targeted those with certain beliefs is Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who last October moved to subpoena sermons from pastors who had opposed an ordinance that would make public bathrooms gender-neutral. After a national outcry, Parker backed-off.
Two leading businesspeople have also faced the wrath of the outrage industry. Last year, Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich — who along with 52 percent of California voters backed the pro-marriage Proposition 8 in 2008– was forced to resign over his beliefs.
Memorably in 2012, Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy was the object of public rage for maintaining traditional views on marriage, as well as the target of vindictive mayors Tom Menino of Boston and Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, who threatened to exile his business.
It’s not just public officials who engage in this behavior. Marquette University’s Professor John McAdams was banned from campus for blog posts criticizing fellow faculty member Cheryl Abbate. McAdams criticized Abbate for saying — in a class discussion on controversial ethical issues, at a Catholic university — that “everybody agrees on [gay rights], and there is no need to discuss it.”
Perhaps surprisingly, no punishment has come to Abatte, who told a student, “you don’t have the right in this class to make homophobic comments” — which appear to include any divergence from the LGBT agenda.
The purge continues in the media, where Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson was suspended for quoting the Bible on marriage, and the show Flip It Forward was cancelled over the pro-life, pro-family, views of Jason and David Benham.
And the list goes on. Civil suits abound to force Christian bakers, florists, photographers, and chapel operators to implement the new definition of marriage. Religious organizations have been forced to shut-down charitable adoption agencies in light of same-sex “marriage” laws. More recently, our nation’s capital removed religious liberty protections to potentially force religious organizations to pay for abortions, as well as make Catholic schools promote LGBT activities.
The public crusade for unanimity on controversial issues goes beyond sexuality. Last year, a curiously high number of conservative university commencement speakers were disinvited by angry student bodies over their politics.
The attacks can get quite personal. Questioning climate change (despite the scientific community’s backing away from the “hockey stick,” rethinking the thermal absorbency of the ocean, adjusting 20th century temperature readings, massaging data, making a host of failed predictions, and changing the phenomenon’s very name) is to be dubbed the village idiot. Anything short of fully standing behind the media and government’s particular conceptualization of the campus rape problem is declared to be misogyny, as is suggesting solutions contrary to sexual libertinism. To give the benefit of the doubt to police officers dealing with unruly suspects is racist. And to maintain that marriage is what it was universally considered until 2003 is not only bigotry, but high blasphemy.
Once labeled, offenders face peril in their employment and communities. While the First Amendment does not protect one from private discrimination – government officials like Emanuel, Parker, and Reed may want to check their pocket Constitutions, however — nor does society benefit from targeting those whose opinions are merely politically incorrect or unpopular.
So while events in France have rightly energized all sides to cheer the freedom to express unpopular opinions, the West should take the opportunity to ask whether the bare minimum of not executing those who profess unpopular speech is enough. Indeed, we should consider whether it is not still a violation of fundamental liberties for society to deny its citizens the opportunity to use the breath they have been allowed to keep.
Robert Vega is a congressional staffer in Washington, D.C., and a 2011 graduate of Harvard Law School who has been published by American Thinker, Catholic News Agency, and other publications. His summer associate work contributed to a victory in the lawsuit against the Obamacare individual mandate.
Siggins is the D.C. correspondent for LifeSiteNews, a leading pro-life and pro-family daily news site. He is a co-author of the book America’s Bankrupt Legacy: The Future of the Debt-Paying Generation, to be published in 2015. Siggins has been published by USA TODAY, Roll Call, National Review Online, Huffington Post, and many other publications.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the authors.