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Meditation 988
Free Speech, Chicken, and Picketing

by: JT

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I'm all in favour of free speech, defined very broadly. I have to be, as I can be at times quite opinionated and I appreciate the freedom to publish those opinions here and elsewhere. But I also have to recognize that others, whose opinions may be diametrically opposed to mine, have the same broad right to free speech. And I even allow them to exercise that right on this website in discussions and talk back.

Recently the millions of dollars* donated by a chicken fast food restaurant, Chick-fil-A to fund anti-gay organizations have been in the news. The head of the company described these donations as promoting "traditional Christian family values."** Unsurprisingly, the result has been a call for the boycott of the restaurant chain by supporters of same-sex rights.

Image from George Takei, though he may not be originator

As the boycott gathered steam, supporters of Chick-fil-A started re-framing the issue as one of free speech, claiming that the boycott was an attempt to infringe on the free speech of the restaurant chain and its owners. This is a descent into intellectual dishonesty. Strong disagreement is not infringing.

Free speech is a two way street. Chick-fil-A ownership has every right to promote bigotry - and that's what they are doing, however they frame their position. Others of differing views also have every right to express their distaste by refusing to contribute to the profits of this operation and encouraging others to do the same. It's free speech both ways.

Unsurprisingly, some of those lining up to support Chick-fil-A were those politicians who pander to fundamentalist Christians. And yet, many of these same politicians who supported Chick-fil-A voted to block the obnoxious Westboro Baptist Church from picketing military funerals, picketing which has been defined as free speech by the US Supreme Court, and which has precisely the same aims as Dan Cathy's corporate financial support of anti-gay activities.

Under a clause in the The Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 just passed by the House and Senate and awaiting Presidential approval, demonstrators will no longer be allowed to picket military funerals*** two hours before or after a service and protestors are required to be at least 300 feet away from grieving family members. This clause was inserted with the express intent of blocking Westboro Baptist Church picketing.

It's all in the framing. Frame bigotry as a free speech issue - and use it to denounce those who would use their free speech to oppose bigotry. Frame it as a support our troops issue, and use it to stomp all over the right of free speech.

I consider the financial support provided by Chick-fil-A to hate groups to be thoroughly obnoxious. I also find Westboro Baptist Church to be thoroughly obnoxious. But they have the right to exercise that obnoxiousness through free speech, just as I and others have to right to oppose them through free speech.


* The money has been donated to organizations that:

  • Oppose the passage of laws which would give equal rights to same-sex couples
  • Promote the repeal of laws which give equal rights to same-sex couples
  • Which lobbied the US Congress to oppose condemnation of a Ugandan law which made homosexuals subject to the death penalty.

** It remains unclear to me how promotion of a certain view of family values necessarily is achieved through denigration of an alternate view.

*** As a veteran, I see no reason that military / veteran funerals need protections not available to regular civilians.