Saturday, August 4, 2012

Dan Cathy has the right to remain silent, or not

The more people talk about freedom of speech, the more I am forced to conclude that the average person does not know what freedom of speech really mean, or what rights it grants. It has been coming up a lot in response to Chick-fil-A COO Dan Cathy being a homophobe and saying homophobic things and donating money to homophobic organizations, and people deciding to boycott Chick-fil-A as a result (easy for me to do, as they don't have any locations in Canada), and other people countering that by making a point to visit Chick-fil-A to support Cathy and his free speech and blah blah blah.

Why do Cathy's supporters keep talking about freedom of speech in this context? His freedom of speech is not being threatened, and yet Cathy's allies keep citing that as a reason to support him. Some of his fiercest advocates are politicians, and they really should know better than to frame this as a free speech issue, seeing as the First Amendment (or Section 2 of the Charter, if you're Canadian) states that the government cannot prohibit people from expressing their opinions and beliefs. The government is not going to be passing laws anytime soon that will put Dan Cathy's right to spew homophobic vitriol at risk*, nor will the government stop him from donating money to homophobic organizations. Furthermore, because of his aforementioned support from various politicians, and the fact that he is free to donate obscene amounts of money to political campaigns and lobbyists who either agree with Cathy's statements, or at the very least wish to protect his right to say those things, I imagine that his First Amendment rights are safer than those of many of the people speaking out against him.

Nobody, least of all the government, is trying to take away Cathy's freedom of speech. Furthermore, if that was the intention, a boycott of Chick-fil-A isn't a very effective method of doing so. This isn't about free speech, and it never was.

What I think people are doing- perhaps intentionally so- is telling the public that because Cathy has the right to freedom of speech, he also has the right to be free from criticism of that speech. Here is a lesson for those many people who don't understand the First Amendment: if  you talk like an asshole, other people are equally free to tell you to shut the fuck up. Both Cathy and his opponents are protected by the same rights that many idiots seem to think people are trying to take away from Cathy. I feel like this should be blindingly obvious, but I guess not; I suspect some people are deliberately misinforming others about these rights, which is contributing to the confusion. Either way, the result is that people are hiding their homophobia behind this veil of free speech. People say they're standing behind Cathy and/or Chick-fil-A because they want to protect his rights; really, they just don't like gay people. They're supporting Cathy because they agree. in whole or in part, with the things he is saying, and pretend that they're sticking up for the First Amendement when really what they're doing is trying to silence those who would boycott Chick-fil-A. (What about their free speech, hmm?)

A boycott of Chick-fil-A doesn't threaten anybody's free speech, but it will cost Dan Cathy money. A successful boycott would mean that Cathy no longer has huge profits from this company that he can turn around and donate to homophobic organizations. If the result is just one less person being subjected to harmful "pray away the gay" techniques, that's a success.

Obviously I understand that some people may not support Cathy, but might still visit Chick-fil-A for reasons that may be outside of their control; personally, I hate that so many clothes and shoes are made in sweat shops, and I absolutely do not want to support companies that exploit their workforce, but I'm also low income and because of my back problems, there are very specific things I need when buying shoes. Sometimes, I have to give my hard-earned money to companies with practices I do not support because there's no affordable alternative. Many people, however, are in a position where eating at Chick-fil-A is a choice, and those people should be aware that their money is going to homophobic organizations. If you do not support those organizations, you should not spend your money there.

Finally, to the people who try and claim that this is a free speech issue, please shut up-- and I say that not because I'm trying to take away your precious rights, but because you need to stop talking and learn more about what the First Amendment actually means.

* I realize that hate speech laws may limit the vitriol a person can spew, but I'm not familiar with how they work in the United States, nor do I know whether or not LGBTQI people are protected by hate speech laws. From what I know of Canadian hate speech laws though, I'm pretty sure Cathy's statements, however repugnant, are not in violation of those laws.

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