I’m going to let people in on a deep, dark secret. I don’t like chicken. I don’t hate it; I just don’t care much for it for a whole bunch of reasons. I do like coffee. Very, very much. So the odds of me visiting Starbucks and not Chick-Fil-A on any given day are very high and have nothing to do with politics. In that light, I think there are a couple of things folks on both sides should consider before everyone just sits down and shuts up already.
- Yes, you have the right to express your opinion. You, I, and everyone else in this country has the spectacular right to say whatever idiotic thing comes into our heads. It’s what makes reality TV and 24 hour cable news networks possible (think about it—if people didn’t have the right to say stupid, mean, or obnoxious things, no one would watch either one of these programming formats). You are allowed to say whatever profound, profoundly ignorant, mean, kind, or flat out wrong thing you want without—and here’s the important point—fear of government interference or reprisal. You cannot be prevented from speaking your mind, except under very specific circumstances that would endanger others’ lives (fire in a crowded theater, for example) and the government cannot punish you for doing so. This is why it’s legal to say horrible things about the President and why it’s still legal (and should remain so) to say you were a veteran if you weren’t. Stupid? Absolutely. Wrong? You bet. But illegal? Nope. As one member of my family likes to say “It’s not against the law to be an idiot.” In that respect, the mayors of cities who threatened to block Chick-Fil-A from opening in their cities were wrong, and should have known they were wrong. We are bound by law to tolerate the Klan rallies, the Occupy movement, and Chick-Fil-A. It’s what allows me the freedom to say publically I don’t like any of them.
- Freedom of speech does NOT guarantee you freedom from others disagreeing with you, or freedom from reaction. This seems to be the part where the wheels fall off the wagon for many people. You have the right to say that you do not agree with businesses who serve shrimp because you take a Biblical view on dietary restrictions (look it up, I’ll wait). This in no way guarantees that shrimp cocktail lovers will not unite in outrage and stage an eat-in at their local Red Lobster. They have the right to disagree with you. Vehemently. And act on that disagreement, possibly with clever signs and annoying chants. No one has prevented you from saying what you think, feel, or believe. You still got to speak your mind. Now they get to speak theirs. That’s how it works. Isn’t it great??? In this light, everyone screaming about Dan Cathay and how he’s being picked on for expressing his opinion and how oppressed he is, is wrong. He’s not oppressed. He said what he thinks. Good for him. Now the rest of the country is allowed to say what they think, even if what they think is that he’s a mean-spirited fool. The government can’t arrest him for saying what he believes, nor can they tell him he can’t open any more stores, but I CAN say my family and I won’t be eating there anymore if I want and that’s not infringing on his rights at all. Which brings me to my next point…
- Money is speech. The Supreme Court said so (again, look it up. I’ll wait), which means that boycotts or “appreciation days” are themselves free speech. All those people lined up last week to buy a mediocre chicken sandwich were exercising their right to show their opinion by voting with their wallets. Fair enough. You don’t get to cry about it when another group of people decides they do not want to spend their hard earned money on a mediocre chicken sandwich from someone who doesn’t like people who don’t feel like he does. Well, you can cry about it, but you kinda lose all credibility if you do.
- There is no guaranteed right that you will never be offended by other people. In fact, in a society where every single person is guaranteed the right to say whatever fool thought crosses their mind, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be offended at some point. You won’t like everything everybody says. You know what’s cool, though? You have the right to not listen. Your tv changes channels. Your computer has an off switch (honest, I swear it does!). Your radio has a dial (or at least buttons). If you have trouble understanding this concept, I know a room full of 3 year olds who would be more than happy to demonstrate this particular skill to you.
- “Free speech” and “hate speech” are not mutually exclusive. Internet memes are, almost by definition, annoying, but perhaps the most annoying one to stem from the whole chicken debacle is the one that goes to the tune of “how-come-what-you-say-is-free-speech-what-I-say-is-hate?” It is possible for speech to be both protected and hateful; see the aforementioned Klan. Actually, it might be the one and only quasi-respectable thing about the Klan. They aren’t running around whining “You can’t say we encourage hate; that’s infringes on our rights!” Instead their attitude is an almost refreshingly honest “Damn Skippy we hate you and everyone else who isn’t us. Deal.” Hateful speech is usually the speech that is most in need of protection. No one wants to stop you from saying “Puppies are fuzzy and cute!” If you’re feeling defensive about this, it might be worth considering the following: What if Mr. Cathay had expressed his agreement with the Biblical instructions on selling his children? Or sleeping with your brother’s widow? Or keeping concubines? Would anyone be so quick to rush to his defense then? Those opinions would be equally protected, even if none of us would care much for them.
It’s well within your rights to adhere to an unpopular, unkind, or unpleasant opinion. The right exists to protect just such opinions. You have the right to be offensive; and everyone else has the right to let you know that you’ve succeeded.
Now, if you want a chicken sandwich, go get a chicken sandwich. Me, I think I could use a cup of coffee. And maybe some shrimp.