Free speech is sometimes hard to hear

The current firestorm raging over comments made by Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy is in some way amusing, but on a deeper level very disturbing. It’s another example of how uncivil and mean American political discourse has become. Politicians and political agitators of all ideologies pervert every issue into a war, which destroys any chance for honest people with differing views to engage in meaningful discussion.

All Cathy said was that he personally believed marriage should be between a man and a woman. He didn’t say gay people should be denied equal rights under the law. He didn’t say gay marriage should be banned.

All he said was what he believed. He also said he was proud of still being married to his “first wife,”  a remark that could be taken as a criticism of divorced people if some person or group wanted to go to war over that issue.

For stating his beliefs, he was immediately branded as a bigot and his company was accused of discrimination (without any proof) and bigotry by gay-rights advocates. An NC State student started circulating a petition to have Chick-fil-A banned from the campus.

That inevitably led to a counter-strike by conservatives and fundamentalist Christians. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee declared today “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” and Triangle Conservatives United put out a call for supporters to “eat mor chikin’” by buying lunch or dinner at an area store.

This was quickly countered by a call from NC Equality to its supporters to donate the money they would spend a Chick-fil-A to “help us in fighting anti-LGBT discrimination,” while at the same time saving themselves over 1,000 calories.

Politicians love to use the rhetoric of war, the “us against them” dynamic, because it helps them avoid having to say anything thoughtful or intelligent. Most of all, it helps them avoid taking a stand or making a decision which might alienate some people they think they may need to get re-elected.

Not being a traditional politician, I don’t have that problem. So this is what I think. First, Cathy has a right to believe and say whatever he wants about gay marriage. There is absolutely no difference between his right to say what he believes, and the right of those who support gay marriage to say what they believe. If people don’t like what Cathy says, they are free to boycott his store.

Of course, this controversy is obviously exacerbated by the fact that the NC constitution now bans gay marriage. But that is not the issue here. The issue here is free speech.

If you truly believe in free speech, the ultimate test of that belief is to defend the right of someone to say even things you may vehemently oppose. “To suppress free speech is a double wrong,” said Frederick Douglas, “It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.”