A Fundamental Right to Offend

Reason’s Nick Gillespie reminds us of the pivotal value of unfettered free speech, including speech that offends sensibilities and hurts feelings. He cites Jonathan Rauch on why this has been so vital for gay people and the advancement of gay social acceptance and legal equality, noting:

Rauch tells the story of Franklin Kameny, a government astronomer who lost his job for being gay. How Kameny won it back is an epic story of slow-moving but ultimately triumphant justice. More important, Kameny and others like him never supported laws that would limit speech. Instead, writes Rauch, “They had arguments, and they had the right to make them.”

Gillespie’s post also quotes Rauch, author of the seminal work Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought, who writes:

In any case, we can be quite certain that hate-speech laws did not change America’s attitude toward its gay and lesbian minority, because there were no hate-speech laws. Today, firm majorities accept the morality of homosexuality, know and esteem gay people, and endorse gay unions and families.

For more, a link in Gillespie’s post takes you to an excerpt from Rauch’s forward to Kindly Inquisitors, in which he wrote:

Gay people have lived in a world where we were forced, day in and day out, to betray our consciences and shut our mouths in the name of public morality. Not so long ago, everybody thought we were wrong. Now our duty is to protect others’ freedom to be wrong, the better to ensure society’s odds of being right.

But as Gillespie notes, threats to free speech “are more likely in America to come from people you know and respect,” by way of efforts to prevent exposure to what, in another context, George Will referred to as restrictions perpetrated “in the name of a new entitlement, not to have your intellectual serenity disturbed, your emotional equilibrium upset, or your feelings hurt.”

More. It’s behind the WSJ’s firewall, but google “The Scandal of Free Speech” site:wsj.com to read Bret Stephens’ column on politically correct suppression of speech. Excerpt:

Last May, sex-advice columnist Dan Savage gave a talk at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics in which he used a term so infamous that it caused members of the audience to walk out “in a state of distress.” Later, a petition was put forward to demand that the institute apologize “for failing to stop” Mr. Savage from using the term, and to “assert a commitment to preventing the use of slurs and hate speech in the future.”…

The word is “tranny,” meaning a transgender, or transsexual, or transvestite person. So hideously offensive is this word nowadays that, when I arrived at an Institute of Politics event a few weeks later, a group called Queers United in Power—or QUIP, minus the humor—held a protest outside and handed out fliers denouncing (without spelling out) the use of the “T word.” I had to ask around to find out just what the word was; I got the answer in a whisper. …

I was reminded of this small episode following last week’s massacre of journalists in France, after which it has become fashionable to “be” Charlie Hebdo. Sorry, but QUIP is not Charlie Hebdo: QUIP is al Qaeda with a different list of moral objections and a milder set of criminal penalties. Otherwise, like al Qaeda, it’s the same unattractive mix of quavering personal sensitivity and totalitarian demands for ideological conformity.

Furthermore. “Knowledge starts as offendedness”: Jonathan Rauch on free speech and the speech code mentality (video clip).

Still more. The mirror image of arbitrarily declaring what can be said (and except on public university campuses, this typically involves thuggery but not state power) is to force people to engage in expressive activity in support of ideas they don’t, you know, support (which does involve state prosecution and criminal punishment of those who refuse to comply). Which then leads to competing grievance claims.

Final Word on this tangent. The Wall Street Journal‘s James Taranto takes on the New York Times’ Frank Bruni in Call the Cake Police! (It, too, is behind the paper’s firewall, so google “Call the Cake Police” site:wsj.com:

Without harboring animus toward gays or sharing the eccentric baker’s social and religious views, one may reasonably ask: If a baker is uncomfortable baking a cake for you, why call the cake police? Why not just find another baker who’s happy to have your business? …

Bruni’s purpose here is not to vindicate his personal dignity as a gay man. Rather, it is—and he makes this explicit by the end of the column—to reject the principle of religious freedom almost totally. … To do that, he reduces the religious-liberty claim to a nullity, too weak to withstand even the most ludicrous counterclaim he can think of. If he’s right, our Muslim baker [in a hypothetical , requested to bake a cake with an image of Muhammad] is out of luck. (At least he won’t have to worry about the New York Times’s printing a picture of the offending cake.)

I also liked Taranto’s description of the kind of slippery slope arguments that “starts with something seemingly benign and leads by steps, usually of declining plausibility, to 1930s Germany or 1950s Mississippi.” LGBT activists that mock arguments that predict marriage equality must inevitably lead to a right to marry your dog are cheerleaders for arguments that allowing traditionalist religious believers not to bake same-sex wedding cakes (note: they are willing to make any other kind of cake for gay customers) will lead promptly to sexual-orientation segregation.

Ok, one last addition: Reason’s Scott Shackford also parses Bruni’s illogic.

Politics as Blood Sport

We’ll see how this pans out. I do know that the anti-gay right and the “progressive” gay left (especially) would do anything—yes, anything—to keep openly gay Republican Carl DeMaio from being elected to Congress from San Diego. And he had been leading in the polls.

DeMaio calls himself a proud gay American, but he earned the everlasting ire of the left when he spearheaded efforts by the San Diego City Council to reform bloated public employee pension obligations. The unions and their LGBT-left allies went bonkers.

As noted here (and I’m not apologizing for citing a Fox News columnist):

One false attack drew the attention of the San Diego Ethics Commission. An anonymous left-wing group funded a SuperPac and sent mailers of DeMaio Photoshopped next to a drag queen to neighborhoods with a majority of elderly and African-American voters, knowing that such a photo would depress support for DeMaio. …

The Victory Fund, which is a group that says it supports any openly gay candidate, first told him that he couldn’t win when he was considering running for mayor in 2008 against the now disgraced former winner of that contest, Bob Filner.

The Victory Fund not only declined to endorse DeMaio, it’s common knowledge in San Diego that it then gave his confidential campaign information to the Democrats and bragged about it. The Human Rights Campaign also has declined to endorse DeMaio in either his mayoral or congressional race.

And this: Screens Smashed, Cords Cut inside DeMaio’s Campaign Office.

And this. “The post on the freshman Democrat’s campaign site referred to DeMaio, a gay Republican, as a ‘Mary.’ … a staff member uploaded the post about a week ago from the liberal website AmericaBlog…”

So unless these allegations are shown to have substance, I’ll remain skeptical.