John Rocker of WorldNetDaily exemplifies the popular misconceptions about freedom of speech that have been all too common in the ongoing controversy over Chick-fil-A:
Technically, as our Founding Fathers intended, we are all given the undeniable right to voice our thoughts and opinions freely without fear of scorn and/or ridicule derived from non-agreement.
He, and those who share this sentiment, couldn’t be more wrong. As they see it, COO Dan Cathy is perfectly free to declare that supporters of marriage equality are shaking their fist at God and “inviting God’s judgment on our nation”. On this, they’re certainly correct – he has every right to believe and to state publicly that those of us who favor equally recognizing the love and commitment of same-sex couples are literally provoking an all-powerful deity to cast some unspecified but vaguely threatening “judgment” on our country. And the company is entirely within its rights to contribute millions of dollars to groups that oppose LGBT equality, such as the Marriage & Family Foundation, the National Christian Foundation, the Family Research Council, and Exodus International.
Where they go wrong is in assuming that the rest of us are not free to speak out against Cathy’s beliefs and the company’s financial support of these groups. And yes, this freedom does encompass “scorn and/or ridicule”. Never in our nation’s history has the First Amendment been construed so narrowly that expressions of scorn and ridicule are inherently excluded from its protection, and we cannot legitimately expect that we will never be subjected to such scorn and ridicule by those who disagree with us. Freedom of speech encompasses even angry, uncivil, and mocking speech.
In failing to recognize that, Rocker and others are most emphatically not respecting our own “undeniable right to voice our thoughts and opinions freely”. To them, Cathy is free to depict us as being in opposition to a perfectly good God – a “non-agreement” that it’s apparently okay for us to have to fear, and which somehow does not constitute scorn by their estimation – while those of us who disagree with him do not have the freedom to denounce his views and stand up for ourselves. Their concept of freedom, for Cathy, Chick-fil-A and themselves, requires eliminating our freedom. That is not what free speech means. It is not and cannot be freedom from criticism, because criticism – whether it’s claiming we’re shaking our fist at God, or calling Dan Cathy a homophobic twit – is itself free speech. And expecting us not to let Chick-fil-A’s beliefs and actions affect our own beliefs and actions means literally telling us what to think, say and do.
Thanks to this pervasive misunderstanding, supporters of Chick-fil-A have deceived themselves into thinking they’re on some righteous crusade in defense of fundamental rights. They aren’t. The rights of Chick-fil-A, Dan Cathy, anti-gay groups, and bigots in general were never at risk and never in question, because criticism and boycotts do nothing to prevent them from exercising their rights. But they do not have a right to our silence. They do not have a right to our agreement. And they do not have a right to our money. Those who pretend their patronage of Chick-fil-A does anything to protect freedom are cynically using an apparently noble cause as a cover for the less palatable act of consciously choosing to support a business that’s openly and unapologetically hostile to human equality.