Did you participate in Chick-Fil-A appreciation day? I didn’t, but I can’t resist the urge comment at the close of it—primarily because most posts and blogs I’ve seen have paid scant attention to what I consider the issue at the heart of the controversy. What I am about to say will probably be a disappointment to my friends on both sides of the controversy.
The issue involved is not the sanctity of marriage. The issue involved is not gay-lesbian-transgender rights. The issue is freedom of speech and whether or not we as individuals understand how our actions affect freedom of speech.
What scares me about this controversy is the call to boycott Chick-Fil-A because of its statement in support of traditional marriage between a man and a woman. Not because I agree with the statement, but because such a statement is not considered to be politically correct. Should a company be boycotted because of a politically incorrect statement, or a statement with which some people disagree? What are the consequences of such a boycott?
If a call to boycott had been made because Chick-Fil-A had fired employees who were gay or lesbian, a boycott would conceivably put economic pressure on the company to treat all employees equally regardless of sexual orientation. Such a boycott would be directed to the actions of the company—actions that can reasonably be seen as unfair.
Here the boycott is against the company, not because of its actions towards employees or customers, but because of its speech. Yes, your right to free speech gives you the right to express your opinions in response to Chick-Fil-A’s opinions, and you have the right to do that in the form of a boycott. But make no mistake: this boycott is repressive of free speech. Its message is clear: if you say something we don’t like, we will do our best to shut you down.
Repression of free speech doesn’t change people’s opinions: it merely discourages them from stating their opinions. It stops the conversation about the underlying issues. Only conversation has a chance of persuasion, and only if that conversation does not disparage the others’ points of view.
In the past week, Chick-Fil-A is the third example of what I perceive as repression of free speech. The first was the ban of athlete Voula Papachristou from the Olympics because of her racist, xenophobic tweet. The second example was a comment made to me regarding a local political campaign suggesting I should agree politically with an individual if I were his/her friend. Does our country, does the world, no longer value freedom of speech? Must we censor those who disagree with us, or those whose opinions we find disagreeable in some way? Certainly, we can ask that differing opinions be voiced with respect to those in the conversation, but should anyone be pressured into NOT voicing an opinion? How many Russian authors were executed, jailed, or had to seek political asylum because they wrote something that was not politically correct to the regime of the USSR?
As a combat veteran said in an on-line conversation on-line about Papachristou, “To support the constitution and free speech, you must protect and support a person’s right to say things that you absolutely detest . . . you can’t have freedom any other way.”
The Chick-Fil-A controversy is about freedom of speech, even if we don’t recognize it now. I hope that everyone who doesn’t recognize the free speech issue will take the time to consider how she/he would feel if his/her point of view was repressed by other individuals. It’s only a short step from repression by people to suppression by the government, and that idea scares me speechless.