With the resignation of Brendan Eich as CEO of Mozilla after protests, both within and without the Mozilla organization, led, yet again, to mass confusion about the most basic principles of free speech rights. Today, a new shunning, this time of anti-Islam activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who was to receive an honorary degree from Brandeis University, will no doubt add to the confusion.
It so happens I agree with the "shunning" of Eich but disagree with the shunning of Hirsi Ali (I am pretty strongly anti-organized religion). But my personal views on the relative merits of these actions is really not to the point—free speech rights include the right to criticize and yes, shun.
Let me give the most obvious example that in fact everyone agrees with this conception (that non-state actors can shun, boycott, protest, etc. anyone for their speech)—imagine an accomplished person in any field espousing the view that interracial marriage should be outlawed. Who do you suppose would protest in defense against calls for removal of such a person from a position of public leadership? No one, that's who. And therein lies the point—we all agree that lines can be drawn. We often disagree with where the lines are drawn.
Let's discuss the line drawing on the flip.
When it comes to non-state actors, I think it is clear that everyone would draw their lines differently. The trick to getting folks to agree with your line drawing is to have a sufficient group of people to agree with your line and to have them act in a way that establishes your line. It really is as simple as that.
I can accept that folks disagree with where a line is drawn, indeed we engage in disagreement in all aspects of line drawing in any manner and number of things. Why is this treated differently?
Let's go to our resident Slate contrarian who predictably disagrees with the idea of line drawing (except when he doesn't), Will Saletan (I choose not to pull up Andrew Sullivan for the simple reason his arguments are consistently too dumb to address):
That’s the argument: Each company has a right—indeed, it has a market-driven obligation—to make hiring and firing decisions based on “values” and “community standards.” It’s entitled to oust anyone whose conduct, with regard to sexual orientation, is “bad for business” or for employee morale. The argument should sound familiar. It has been used for decades to justify anti-gay workplace discrimination. [Emphasis supplied.]I hope we can all recognize how supremely stupid this argument is. Indeed, Saletan does not realize that this argument completely contradicts his point. Setting aside the fact that gay rights activists fought for legal protections against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation, the fight against Eich was precisely an attempt to set new norms and "community values." That is its precise purpose. It is part of the battle to win hearts and minds.
Here is a simple test for a Saletanista—was the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott something you would support? After all, it was a private enterprise that was shunned for its views on segregation. Or how about the shunning of South Africa during the apartheid era?
It used to be social conservatives who stood for the idea that companies could and should fire employees based on the “values” and “community standards” of their “employees, business partners and customers.” Now it’s liberals. Or, rather, it’s people on the left who, in their exhilaration at finally wielding corporate power, have forgotten what liberalism is.
Someone has forgotten something here without question. I submit it is Will Saletan.
Douthat offers this political deal:I hate to break it to Saletan, but that's not a deal Douthat gets to offer. You see we have these pesky things called laws (I'm think of two in particular, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the Civil Rights Acts) that limit the ability of employers to discriminate n the basis of race, sex, origin, etc. There has been (and continues to be) a great fight about whether those protections should extend to sexual orientation.
In the name of pluralism, and the liberty of groups as well as individuals, I would gladly trade the career prospects of some religious conservatives in some situations—not exempting myself from that list—if doing so would protect my own church’s liberty (and the liberties of other, similarly-situated groups) to run its schools and hospitals and charities as it sees fit.
Would you, Dear Liberal Reader, accept Douthat’s deal? Would you let conservatives run their own companies and organizations by their own rules, even if it means removing a gay CEO?
Now if Saletan wants to stand against gay rights, then let him say so clearly. He claims to be a supporter of gay rights. (his continued diatribes against women's privacy rights make his claims of "support" for women's privacy rights humorous at best). Does he want to stop pretending? Because the way to protect gay rights is by enacting laws that do that. Not demanding "free speech rights" for bigots that include being safe from criticism, protest and shunning.
Here's how we know Saletan is full of it:
Maybe someone will come forward to testify that Eich treated gay and straight couples differently outside the context of defining marriage. But it’s striking that so far, despite all the uproar, nobody has. [Emphasis supplied.]As I suspected, this is a dispute about line drawing, not "free speech rights." To Saletan, opposing gay marriage is no big whoop. Just as opposing women's right to choose is not a big whoop to him. But imagine for a moment this:
Maybe someone will come forward to testify that Eich treated [interracial] couples differently outside the context of defining marriage. But it’s striking that so far, despite all the uproar, nobody has.Would Saletan write those words? I submit he would not. Why? Because opposition to interracial marriage is now beyond the pale of community norms. The hope of gay activists is that opposing gay marriage will be viewed in the same way opposing interracial marriage is now. It's that simple.
Post Script: Regarding the Hirsi Ali shunning, I recognize that community norms do not agree with my anti-organized religious views, but the reality is the support Hirsi Ali will receive will come largely from anti-Islamists, not anti-organized religion people like me. If her statements were anti-organized Christianity, I'm pretty sure Ali Hirsi would not be receiving the Fox News martyr treatment.