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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Free Speech is a Civil Right

Much ink and many pixels have been employed recently over the oppostion of Chick-Fil-A's Chief Operating Officer, Dan Cathy, to marriage equality.  The mayors of Boston, Chicago, and Washington, D. C., have called for the company to be banned from opening stores in their locales.  But pardners, that just ain't the American way.  Giddown off your high horse for a minute and give a listen to Kevin Naff in the Washington Blade:
It’s true that the bigots at Chick-fil-A are on the wrong side of history, but unfortunately so are HRC and the groups that support government retaliation against a citizen on the basis of his political views. Does the LGBT movement really want to find itself on the losing side of a debate over freedom of speech? Sure, criticize Cathy and his views. Organize boycotts and protests of the restaurants. And use this ugly episode to make the case for the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, because surely Cathy’s LGBT employees lack job security. But endorsing government attacks on a business over its president’s views — however offensive and wrong — is reckless and ignores our community’s long, painful history of being victimized by government officials. . . .

Members of the LGBT community ought to be the most aggressive in defending the freedom of speech. We continue to use it in powerful ways to advance our equality. To now applaud politicians who would deny business licenses to companies based on the political views of their owners might feel good, but are we so desperate for validation that we want to stoop to the ugly (and unconstitutional) practices of our opponents?

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg got it right when he said, “trampling on the freedom to marry whoever you want is exactly the same as trampling on your freedom to open a store.” Dan Cathy deserves the right of free speech. He’s entitled to his views and welcome to spend his money funding our enemies. It’s ultimately a losing fight so his money is wasted. We should counter his message of hate and intolerance by pressing for justice. This controversy should be Exhibit A in the case for ENDA.
Let's think this through here, fellas. What is the purpose of a business? To sell a product or service to the public, and thereby make a profit for its owners. As long as the business pays its taxes, complies with the laws that prohibit selling shoddy or dangerous merchandise, as well as the laws regulating pay and treatment of its workers, you're good to go here in the U. S. of A., right?

There is no political or religious test for running a business. And do you really want to see that here, friends? The proprietor can be an atheist or a Holy Roller - a flaming liberal or a die-hard conservative - a member of PETA or the NRA. None of that matters a bit, nor how the proprietor votes or what he thinks about any issue of the day. Our government simply takes no notice of all these irrelevant things. Nor should it.

They don't ask to check your gay card when you walk up to the counter and order a scrumptious chicken sandwich and waffle fries, do they? Which is a treat your Head Trucker dearly loves - but I won't be eating any, anytime soon. That's also my privilege in this land of the free and home of the brave. 

But frankly, this whole uproar is getting much more attention than it deserves - to reduce marriage equality, which means so much to so many, to a goddamn chicken sandwich is just so fucking 5th-grade that I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

So can the government - local, state, federal - take any action against a company run by a bigoted owner? Um, no. No more than the government can tell you what neighborhood you can or can't live in because of your political views, bucko, or where you can or can't buy your groceries. It's called freedom, ya know?

So Russ, you're asking me, does that mean the government can never touch a business that's behaving badly? Well, it can - when the business breaks a duly enacted law. It's called the rule of law, ya know?

Take a little walk with me back to the Civil Rights era of the 1960's, to a controversy involving another Atlanta-based outfit. The government did indeed step up to the plate then to prosecute businesses that broke the law - but it was because they violated the law, not because the owner shot off his mouth in one direction or another. That is always an American's privilege - yours and mine and even the buffoonish bigot, Lester Maddox, whose Pickrick Restaurant in Atlanta was smack-dab in the middle of a major civil rights confrontation back in 1964. From the New Georgia Encyclopedia:
Maddox refused to serve African American patrons. He kept ax handles--called "Pickrick drumsticks" near the restaurant's front door to discourage African Americans seeking to eat at the restaurant.

Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Maddox chased two African Americans away from the Pickrick at gunpoint. Maddox publicly announced he would go to jail before serving African Americans, even after being charged in court for pointing a gun at the men. On July 22 in a case against the Pickrick and the white-only Heart of Atlanta Motel, a federal court upheld the Civil Rights Act and issued an injunction beginning August 11 against both businesses prohibiting them from denying service to customers based on color or race. Lawyers appealed the case to the United States Supreme Court which heard the case in October; while waiting for the court to hear the case, the Heart of Atlanta began accepting African American customers, and Maddox closed the Pickrick on August 13.

On September 26 Maddox opened the Lester Maddox Cafeteria in the Pickrick's old location and announced he would serve "acceptable" Georgians. During a trial for contempt of court on September 29, Maddox argued that he was not in contempt because he was no longer offering service to out-of-state travelers or integrationists. In December 1964 the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Civil Rights Act. On February 5, 1965 a federal court ruled Maddox was in contempt of court for failing to obey the injunction and ordered him fined two hundred dollars a day for failing to serve African Americans. Maddox closed the restaurant February 7, 1965 blaming president Johnson and communism for putting him out of business.
Maddox had to close his restaurant not, be it noted, for his opinions on race, but because he violated the law - though the notoriety got him elected Governor of the state of Georgia at the very next election. And so for four years, he was Bozo-in-Chief of the Peach State, until succeeded by Jimmy Carter in 1971.

Still, it's the rule of law that is the lesson here. White, black, gay, straight - everybody can speak their mind in these United States, even if it's the mind of a dipshit jackass. And if you don't agree with that, you don't deserve the freedom to speak yours.

Picket, protest, abstain, do whatever peaceful thing you want to do - but just remember: what goes around comes around, fellas. We may be gay, but we're Americans first.

Here's some clips of Lester at his asshole best, I thought you boys might get a chuckle out of them. The first is from 1964, when a few black activists tried to enter the Pickrick, and Maddox arrogantly turned them away:

Another clip is from 1968, when then-Governor Maddox was interviewed by Joe Pyne - forgotten now, he was a hard-hitting forerunner of Phil Donahue:

See also: Rob Tisnai's brilliant post, "Hating Hate Speech Laws."

Bonus: The Rev. Baxter Wynn, of First Baptist Church of Greenville, South Carolina, and a nephew of Lester Maddox, compares his uncle with another Atlanta boy, Martin Luther King Jr., in this fascinating excerpt of a talk (I wish someone had posted the whole thing on YT):


Tim said...

The Devil's candy?

Frank said...

Unfortunately, the mayor of Boston and others on this bandwagon may have overstepped their bounds and shot off their mouths before thinking things through. Their intent was mainly to express their views. They rightly cannot enforce those views by arbitrarily denying a restaurant chain the right to operate in their jurisdiction. It is not within their power to do so.

However, I do think the restaurant in question may have some difficulty operating within the established laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts - which prohibits discrimination in and beyond the workplace, recognizes same gender marriage, supports health insurance coverage for spouses, and has a populace that is proud of its civil rights.

Let them open their restaurant - I don't think they'll like the turf.

Theaterdog said...

Russ as always, I am impressed and have learned in an entertaining way.
You should be mandatory reading.
thank you
I am heading back to reread the entire post.

Russ Manley said...

Appreciate ya, Tim. I like to think the Blue Truck provides some good info folks might not have known about otherwise.

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