Why Aren’t Opponents of SSM Expected To Support Free Speech?

robert-george-double-small

I didn’t link to Freedom to Marry, Freedom to Dissent: Why We Must Have Both when it came out because I have mixed feelings about it. The statement, signed by about fifty prominent supporters of marriage equality, calls for the use of persuasion rather than going after people’s jobs. I passionately agree with the central point of the statement, but I still have some quibbles. Why is it only when billionaire Brandon Eich suffers that this list of notables signed a petition? I understand that things that happen to famous people get, by definition, more attention, but let’s face it: nothing is going to shut Brandon Eich up if he wants to speak. The real threat to freedom of speech is when people who aren’t billionaire celebrities are targeted, and it would have been nice if the statement had acknowledged any case other than Eich’s.

I’m also bothered that the statement doesn’t acknowledge people who have been fired for favoring same-sex marriage. This is a bit unfair of me to criticize, because the statement drafters made the right choice – talking about ordinary people who are fired every year for being gay, or for just favoring gay rights, would have made the “Freedom to Dissent” statement seem like an attack on those who oppose SSM, rather than an elevated statement of principle. But even though it was the right thing for this statement, it still contributes to the general rule that threats to the free speech of right-wing views are widely castigated (by both the left and the right) as bullying and a threat to free speech, while those who fire people for being gay or for supporting marriage equality – which happens much more frequently – are given a pass by both sides, and barely even reported on.

I’d love to see some of the nation’s most prominent opponents of same-sex marriage – Robert George, Ryan Anderson, Maggie Gallagher, and so on – join together to write a similar statement defending the free speech of those who have lost jobs due to favoring marriage equality, or whose employers force them to sign statements opposing marriage equality. It could simply reword the “Freedom to Dissent” statement, like so:

As a viewpoint, advocacy of gay marriage is not a punishable offense. We strongly believe that support of same-sex marriage is wrong, but the consequence of holding a wrong opinion should not be the loss of a job.

But I don’t expect they ever will, nor will they ever be pressured to. This double-standard is bad for a culture of free speech; to have real freedom of speech, everyone, including people employed by right-wingers, should feel free to publicly say their political views without fear of being fired.1

Ryan Anderson and Robert George, two leading opponents of marriage equality, responded to the “Freedom To Dissent” statement:

In April, more than 50 scholars and leaders, all self-identified same-sex marriage supporters, called their allies to higher moral ground. Prompted by the bullying of Brendan Eich and his resignation as CEO of Mozilla for his 2008 donation to California’s Proposition 8 campaign, they wrote to decry the “deeply illiberal impulse” to “punish rather than to criticize or to persuade” political dissenters. Because “opposition to gay marriage” can be “expressed respectfully,” they urged, it should not be “a punishable offense.” No one should lose a job for “holding a wrong opinion.” Trying to purge the workplace or the public square of dissent is, as they see it, political “oppress[ion].”

As supporters of marriage as the union of husband and wife, we applaud the signatories’ support for a free society. In any healthy civic order, citizens will be able to disagree with each other even about important matters without intimidation and recrimination. The right to dissent will be honored and those who express dissent will be respected not bullied into submission or silence. We thank the signatories of “Freedom to Marry, Freedom to Dissent” for their defense of civility.

That’s nice, but I have to ask: When have Anderson and George ever used their powerful status and platform to call on their own allies to stop “trying to purge the workplace” of “dissent”? There have been plenty of opportunities, but as far as I can tell, neither Anderson nor George has ever publicly defended a person fired for being pro-gay, pro-gay-marriage, or gay.2

Robert George himself was quick to call for a boycott – what he would call “bullying” if it was coming from gay rights proponents – because he was infuriated by Eich’s boilerplate I-respect-all-people-including-gays statement.3

See also:

William Saletan points out that if you read George and Anderson’s piece carefully, what they call for is not merely a culture in which we can disagree on politics without losing our jobs, but for a general right for businesses to discriminate against same-sex couples.

Balkinization: Cold Respect, Gay Rights, and Religious Toleration

  1. I can think of exceptions to this generalization, mainly when someone’s speech significantly impacts their ability to do their job. []
  2. Indeed, years ago, Robert George was the nation’s leading defender of the government’s legal right to throw people in prison for having gay sex. It’s hard to see how that viewpoint combines with any substantive support of freedom. []
  3. You can read George’s full call for a boycott on his Facebook page, or here in screencap form. []
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44 Responses to Why Aren’t Opponents of SSM Expected To Support Free Speech?

  1. 1
    Decnavda says:

    Two points:
    1. Those who support gay marriage but think Eich was unfairly treated for making financial contributions to a bigoted political campaign need to state whether or not they believe Sterling is being unfairly treated for making private bigoted comments, and if not, what is the rational difference.
    2. The “Freedom to Dissent” statement implicitly accepts the position of the conservative members of the Supreme Court that campaign contributions are speech. I disagree. I think they are a way for the wealthy to exercise political control over the rest of us. If Eich had just spoken and wrote in favor of Prop 8, I would not feel treated unfairly politically. I could speak and write against Prop 8. But Eich gave $1,000 dollars to the Prop 8 campaign. I certainly could not afford to give $1,000 to No on 8, and I am not poor. We live in a nation where business leaders get to use the great wealth they earn from the stuff we buy from them not only to buy cool stuff the rest of cannot afford, but to actually wield political power over the rest of us. And now these “Freedom to Dissent” people think we are somehow bullying the plutocrats if we try to use the little purse strings we have in our buying decisions to punish them for trying to impose policies on us we do not like? How about this: Make it illegal for anyone to contribute any money to any political campaign, except for the $100 of campaign contribution vouchers that the government issues to everyone each year, and then come back to me and have a discussion about whether or not it is bullying to force someone out of their job for giving their $100 dollars to a candidate or cause I despise. I might agree with you then.

  2. 2
    KellyK says:

    It’s the same double standard as always. Boycotting Chik-Fil-A is bullying, but boycotting JCPenney for having Ellen as a spokesperson is fine. When the religious right does it, it’s free speech, but when anybody left of center does it, it’s bullying. It’s exactly the same as the politicians who have said after the recent (awful) Supreme Court decision that we have to have public Christian prayers for Christians to have freedom of religion, but non-Christians’ freedom of religion isn’t at all harmed by their being deliberately excluded. (Example.)

    And it’s the same as the people who feel that their religious freedoms are being violated because same-sex marriage even exists, but that a UCC church, or Episcopal church, or Quaker meeting that wants to perform same-sex marriages isn’t having its freedoms violated at all.

    I don’t know how you even begin to argue it or appeal to people’s sense of fairness, because the double standard itself rests on a skewed sense of fairness.

  3. 3
    Ben David says:

    Wow.
    1. Despite your claim, there is really no Right-wing parallel to the Left’s witch-hunting of gay-rights dissenters. No conservative groups hunting down and openly threatening voters and donors as was done in California around Prop 8.

    (Similarly – no parallel to the publication of gun-license owners in an attempt to shame them. No parallel to the intolerant exclusion of Conservative voices on campuses. Etc.)

    2. You have not even begun to substantiate the claim that pro SSM people suffer more discrimination – it’s just another variation of the protean, all-purpose assertions by the left that raaacism and hate are everywhere (which is why feminists and gays have resorted to fabricating fake-but-accurate “hate crimes” I guess…) and that anyone who disagrees with the Left is inherently evil.

    A good number of the “proof” cases in the post you link to involve Catholic institutions and private organizations like the Boy Scouts whose well-established policies were purposely flouted by activists to generate pity-mongering sound bites.

    Sorry – politically-motivated grandstanding that sets out to damage your employer isn’t the same thing as suffering unprovoked discrimination.

    Decnadva:

    Those who support gay marriage but think Eich was unfairly treated for making financial contributions to a bigoted political campaign need to state whether or not they believe Sterling is being unfairly treated for making private bigoted comments, and if not, what is the rational difference.

    1. I’ve never heard of anyone suing for damages based on an expectation of privacy or confidentiality – a hot topic nowadays – and maybe Sterling could sue on that basis. From this point we could start talking about the NSA …

    2. I think the Sterling case is a very good example of how well free speech works – disciplinary action by the NFL is a postscript. American society – using the instruments of free speech – pretty clearly established that those statements were beyond the pale without any help from officialdom.

    3. The NFL is at best being hypocritically selective in applying any vestigal “ethics” requirements for franchise ownership…. something about a broken clock being right twice a day…

  4. 4
    RonF says:

    but that a UCC church, or Episcopal church, or Quaker meeting that wants to perform same-sex marriages isn’t having its freedoms violated at all.

    They can go ahead and hold all the SSM’s they want. They won’t have civic applicability, but then they never have had the right to have any rite they care to define as marriage accepted as a civil marriage in the first place, so there’s no right being violated.

  5. 5
    Jake Squid says:

    Ben David,

    You, of course, mean the NBA. The NFL is the one that has a franchise called the Redskins. Sterling would’ve been in no danger of losing his franchise if he’d owned one of the NFL’s.

    KellyK:

    It’s the same double standard as always. Boycotting Chik-Fil-A is bullying, but boycotting JCPenney for having Ellen as a spokesperson is fine.

    Confirmation bias is a powerful thing in people. We don’t notice what doesn’t match our opinion and we do notice what does. It happens to all of us. But it’s really irritating when you raise the issue and still get ignored.

  6. 6
    JutGory says:

    Amp,
    A request for clarification: What do you think about Chris Kluwe? This may be the closest thing to a high-profile example of what you are talking about.

    [Background: In 2012, Kluwe was a punter for the Minnesota Vikings and was quite outspoken about his support of SSM in Minnesota. He also altered his uniform during a game to support a punter's admission into the Football Hall of Fame. He was released by the Vikings after the end of the season. He asserts that his vocal support for SSM got him fired.]

    Here is his account.

    Anyway, wherever you fall on the issue, right or wrong, Kluwe seems like a pain in the ass and a distraction.

    So, while I think I agree with your general point, would your position extend to someone like Chris Kluwe?

    -Jut

  7. 7
    Ampersand says:

    I read Kluwe’s account when it came out. As I understand it, Kluwe claims he was let go for being pro-gay, but the Vikings claim that he was let go for the same reasons they’d let go any other football player?

    If Kluwe is right that he was let go by a homophobic coach for speaking out, then that’s obviously disgraceful behavior on the part of the Vikings. And Kluwe’s account seems plausible to me. But I don’t know enough about football to really judge – maybe Kluwe really wasn’t a good enough player, and any player with his abilities would have been let go. Jake Squid, do you have a take on this?

  8. 8
    Jake Squid says:

    Kluwe was a perfectly adequate punter. He’s also, from all the accounts and reporting that I’ve read, a more credible source than anyone in the Vikings front office. The kicker (Ha, ha! Get it? Kicker? Ha!) for me is that he didn’t even get a try out (unless I missed that) with a single team after his release. That’s really, really unusual. The NFL is, as is well recorded, extremely homophobic. From owners down through front offices and players. Kluwe’s actions and speech seem like a lot less of a distraction than the various murders, assaults and illegal drug crimes committed by players who still have jobs in the NFL.

    I can’t say with 100% confidence that he was fired for being vocally pro-marriage equality and pro-gay, but the evidence I’ve seen backs up Kluwe’s claims very strongly.

  9. 9
    Jake Squid says:

    Oh, he did get a tryout with Chicago in October. It looks like he had tryouts with 2 other teams as well. I was wrong about that. That makes my position a little less firm than it was but I still feel that his pro-gay stance was the most likely reason he was cut from the team.

  10. 10
    KellyK says:

    Ron wrote:

    They can go ahead and hold all the SSM’s they want. They won’t have civic applicability, but then they never have had the right to have any rite they care to define as marriage accepted as a civil marriage in the first place, so there’s no right being violated.

    Actually, not in North Carolina they can’t.

    North Carolina saw fit to pass Amendment One in 2012, and thus it became a crime in the State of North Carolina for clergy to officiate a marriage ceremony without determining whether the couple involved has a valid marriage license.

    (This, as part of the amendment banning same-sex marriage, seems pretty blatantly designed to prevent same-sex couples from having even a religious ceremony.)

    I’d also argue that using one religion’s definition of marriage as the civil definition is privileging that religion above others. If there were an actual secular reason not to allow same-sex marriage, I might be convinced it wasn’t just about religion, but so far nobody claiming to have a secular reason has put forth anything remotely convincing.

  11. 11
    Phil says:

    Ben David,

    I think you’re wrong about several of the points that you made. Here are some ideas:

    Similarly – no parallel to the publication of gun-license owners in an attempt to shame them.

    From the Wall Street Journal: “Mr. Horsley runs a Web site devoted to deterring “homicidal mothers” from seeking abortions by posting photos of women seen entering abortion clinics. New pictures he gets are often on the Web within days.”

    From the BMJ: Antiabortionists in the United States have won the right to run a website publicising the names and addresses of doctors who provide abortions to pregnant women.

    No parallel to the intolerant exclusion of Conservative voices on campuses.

    From Baylor University’s web site: “Soulforce members arrested on campus.”

    From the Washington Blade: “Catholic University of America announced last week it would not officially recognize an LGBT student organization. “

    And finally, this ridiculous claim:

    Despite your claim, there is really no Right-wing parallel to the Left’s witch-hunting of gay-rights dissenters

    Really? If you look at United States history, I think you’ll see thousands of examples of witch-hunts against gay people and supporters of gay rights.

    The U.S. military actively investigated and destroyed the careers of gay and lesbian servicemembers.

    Police departments in major cities all over the country (San Francisco, New York, Miami) raided gay bars and arrested patrons.

    Hell, the Baton Rouge police department was arresting gay men for attempting to legally make plans to meet with other gay men in 2013!

    A teacher was fired from Holy Ghost Preparatory school in Pennyslvania in 2013 for marrying his partner. Private institutions absolutely fire people for pro-gay positions.

    How can you possibly believe that the right has never conducted witch-hunts against supporters of gay rights? Holy crap, Ben, some of the actual witch hunts in the colonies involved conservative religious folks murdering lesbian women.

  12. 12
    Phil says:

    Hey Amp–

    Off-topic, but: I intentionally omitted URL’s from my comment so that it wouldn’t get stuck in moderation. Was there some other red flag?

  13. 13
    Myca says:

    A teacher was fired from Holy Ghost Preparatory school in Pennyslvania in 2013 for marrying his partner. Private institutions absolutely fire people for pro-gay positions.

    Well, and once again, I’d like to emphasize that whatever you may think of the boycott, Brandon Eich was not fired.

    —Myca

  14. 14
    Yvain says:

    Compare “A lot of people condemn Islamophobia and hate crimes against Muslims. So how come those same people aren’t spending the same amount of effort condemning Muslims who commit terrorist acts, or who murder apostates in their own country?”

    Everyone already agrees terrorists and apostate-murderers are bad people and should stop doing their things. The people who do those things aren’t reading Slate, waiting to see whether the liberal public will condemn them and intending to back off if they do. They’re hard to reach, already ossified in their beliefs, and whatever negative reinforcement we can deploy against them has already been deployed.

    “People who fight hate crimes against Muslims need to spend an exactly equal amount of time condemning every Christian murdered in the Sudan” is a way of silencing people who worry about hate crimes against Muslims by saying they’re not allowed to do their thing unless they waste their time fighting against something already way outside the Overton Window.

    And yes, the average person firing gays is closer to home than the average Saudi. But the distance is still there. How many of your blog readers do you think want to fire gay employees? Political bubbles are as good as a Saudi border for all practical purposes.

    A conservative blogger who writes against gay marriage ought to, every time a gay person is fired for being gay, talk about how outrageous that is and how it violates various conservative principles. Just like a mullah in Sudan ought to speak out strongly against Muslims killing non-Muslims.

    But we have a responsibility to be more ethical than our enemies. If you say “No mullah in Sudan has spoken out against Muslims killing non-Muslims yet, so it’s VERY SUSPICIOUS that all these Americans are speaking out against hate crimes”, you’re making it impossible to ever go beyond a moral lowest common denominator.

  15. 15
    Ben Lehman says:

    Your supposition “A lot of people condemn Islamophobia and hate crimes against Muslims. So how come those same people aren’t spending the same amount of effort condemning Muslims who commit terrorist acts, or who murder apostates in their own country?” is untrue.

    Massive numbers of people, Muslim and non-Muslim, condemn terrorism. Our (primarily non-Muslim) media spends _far_ more time condemning Islamic terrorism than even covering the existence of anti-Muslim violence at all (witness the massacres of the Rohinga in Burma: if it had been Muslims massacring Buddhists it would have gotten 24/7 coverage on Fox. As it is it got maybe two column inches.) People who critique Islamophobia generally make an _extra_ point of condemning Islamic terrorism, otherwise they’re written off as terror-lovers.

    Most Islamic terrorism is the subject of widespread, lockstep criticism, both in its countries of origin and in the foreign media (including the US media). Your basic premise is simply wrong.

    yrs–
    –Ben

    P.S. I specify “Islamic” terrorism to differentiate it from, say, the IRA.

  16. 16
    Myca says:

    Everyone already agrees terrorists and apostate-murderers are bad people and should stop doing their things.

    These situations are not analogous.

    I do not think that there is general agreement that it should be illegal to fire gay people for being gay, or fire supporters of SSM for supporting SSM. Indeed, some of the same people who find it oh-so-offensive that Brandon Eich chose to resign in the face of criticism have, in the past, supported jailing gay people for having consensual sex.

    Even those who wouldn’t oppose actual criminal charges for those who disagree with them certainly don’t support employment protections.

    So yes. There is not agreement, and these situations are not analogous.

    —Myca

  17. 17
    Chris says:

    Myca, I thought Yvain’s whole point was that the two complaints are not analogous, because not everyone agrees that it should be illegal to fire people for being gay, while everyone agrees that Islamic terrorism is bad. One of us is misreading Yvain’s comment, I’m just not sure who.

  18. 18
    Yvain says:

    Ben, I think you misunderstand my point.

    Homophobia has also been subject to widespread massive media criticism. And one assumes that every signer of the petition Barry linked (most of whom are gay) also condemn homophobia.

    I see this post’s thesis as being not “no one ever condemns homophobia” (any more than my analogous point was “no one ever condemns terrorism”) but as being “why aren’t the people who are being vocal and activist about this Eich issue also leading voices and activists against the most similar cases of homophobia?”

    Here the analogy holds. The leading crusaders against anti-Muslim hate crimes probably all condemn Muslims killing Christians, but they are not the leading voices and activists against atrocities in Muslim countries. This is not something that should be held against them. They have their hands full already dealing with Islamophobia in the US. There is no general duty for them to say “Wait, there are worse things happening in Muslim countries, I should only use ten percent of my time being an activist against Islamophobia in the US and use ninety percent of my time being an activist against the murder of Christian converts in Saudi Arabia because that seems nine times as bad.”

  19. 19
    Ben Lehman says:

    You must live in a very different world, one where apparently there is widespread public blowback, including calls for boycotts, when companies fire employees for supporting same sex marriage. But, in the world I live in, this happens fairly constantly and there’s no blowback for it and it barely goes mentioned except in obscure corners of the internet.

    A world with freedom of conscience for right-wing views but not left-wing views is a shitty-ass world. Let’s not do that.

    I… really don’t know what to make of your terrorism analogy. You’re continually claiming something untrue (that activists for Muslim rights don’t condemn terrorism, which they do, loudly, and furthermore their work is directly related to cutting off money and recruits to terrorist organizations) and, even if it were true, the point you are making is so muddled by the fact that you brought, you know, the murder of innocents into the argument that I can’t really make sense of it.

  20. 20
    ozymandias says:

    I am very confused by what you’re getting at, Yvain. It is virtuous for people who advocate gay marriage to condemn firing people who disagree with gay marriage. It is also virtuous for people who advocate keeping gay marriage illegal to condemn firing gay marriage advocates. Both sides would be taking a break from their current advocacy to point out that their own side should stop doing bad things; it is strictly analogous to the anti-Islamophobia advocate condemning doing violence to Danish cartoonists. I mean, I guess you could be arguing for the consistent position “people should not have to criticize their own side doing bad things,” but I feel like if gay marriage advocates hadn’t written anything about why firing people for their ideological position is bad, you would not have responded with “well, that’s fair, people don’t have to criticize their own side doing bad things.” That seems like an ordinary hypocrisy if you supported keeping gay marriage illegal, but is a deeply puzzling hypocrisy for a gay marriage supporter.

    [I edited Ozy's comment very slightly, to alter the name they referred to Yvain as. Apologies for doing that; I'm not certain if Yvain wants to be referred to by his real-life name in this forum, and decided to err on the side of over-caution. --Amp]

  21. 21
    Ampersand says:

    Phil -

    There’s no problem with including URLs on “Alas” comments. I’m not sure why your comment was held in moderation – sorry about that.

  22. 22
    Ampersand says:

    Hi, Yvain! Welcome to “Alas.”

    First of all, what Ozy said.

    Secondly, I think that when anti-SSM leaders like Robert George make a point of publicly thanking the signers of the “Right To Dissent” statement for saying that it’s wrong to fire people for being anti-SSM, it legitimately brings up the question of why, if Robert George thinks that sort of position is so admirable, he hasn’t taken a similar position against firing people for being pro-SSM.

    I’m not at all suggesting he should give the matter “equal time.” Obviously, he has other priorities, and it would be unreasonable to expect him to devote equal time to this one issue. But given his standing in the anti-SSM community, if he spent just a little time organizing a “Right To Dissent” statement and asking his allies to sign, that could go a long way.

    Third, I don’t really know enough about worldwide Muslim communities to address your analogy in detail, but one thing I do know is that not all Muslims are part of one community. So asking one Muslim leader to police or criticize what other Muslims do may be unfair, among other reasons, because it may be that she actually has no substantial connection to or standing in the movement she’s being asked to criticize.

    In contrast, I think it’s meaningful that so many leaders of the pro-marriage equality movement [*] chose to take a public stand against economic punishment of equality opponents, because they have real connections and standing within the movement they’re speaking to. They are part of those movements, not outsiders.

    It seems to be to be reasonable to ask or demand that leaders of movements object to abuses that are being committed by the movements they are a part of.

    There must be limits to this, obviously – in any movement with thousands or millions of members, there are some jerks, and as a practical matter it’s not desirable for President Obama or Mitt Romney to address rude things anonymous partisans say on Tumblr. OTOH, if Democrats were running around systematically murdering Republicans (or vice versa), I would expect the leaders of the party to publicly condemn such acts. I’m not exactly sure where the threshold lies, but as a matter of principle, I think that it’s fair to expect leaders of movements to condemn serious abuses coming from their own movements.

    Fourth, I also think that there’s a problem within the pro-marriage-equality movement when our leaders are so quick to defend our opponents’ free speech, but don’t seem willing to defend our own free speech. I think that they’re so determined to be noble and to Defend The Noble Principle Of Free Speech Even When It Means Going Against Ones Own Team that they sort of forgot that objecting to people being fired for being pro-equality is also something they should be doing.

    [* Actually, not everyone who signed the "Right To Dissent" statement is a leader of the marriage equality movement. Some of them, like Christina Hoff Sommers, are conservatives who have virtually never said a word in their lives in support of SSM, before signing this statement.]

  23. 23
    mythago says:

    It’s not even just a double standard; it’s a deliberate double standard pushed by bullies and liars. As you noted, Amp, Robert George was happy to call for a boycott. He doesn’t believe boycotts are wrong unless his ideological opponents use them. He’s the bully who goes screaming to the teacher when someone he tries to beat up hits back.

    Speaking of liars, the whine that Eich was fired for being anti-SSM ignores that Eich was CTO of Mozilla for years after his views on Prop 8 were known.

  24. 24
    closetpuritan says:

    mythago:
    Speaking of liars, the whine that Eich was fired for being anti-SSM ignores that Eich was CTO of Mozilla for years after his views on Prop 8 were known.

    I’m not sure what you’re getting at. That him supporting Prop 8 was a necessary but not sufficient condition for people to boycott Firefox? I’m not sure anyone is claiming otherwise. The ” Freedom to Marry, Freedom to Dissent: Why We Must Have Both” statement doesn’t specifically state/acknowledge that, but I’m not sure it’s relevant to their point.

    Decnavda:
    1. Those who support gay marriage but think Eich was unfairly treated for making financial contributions to a bigoted political campaign need to state whether or not they believe Sterling is being unfairly treated for making private bigoted comments, and if not, what is the rational difference.

    This is intended as an explanation of my thinking, rather than an argument to convince you/others to agree with me.
    -I don’t think Sterling is being treated unfairly.
    -Some similarities between Sterling and Eich: in both cases, their legal rights were not trampled on according to my understanding (because the NBA is a franchise rather than simple private property, Sterling does not have a right to continue owning the Clippers); people other than Sterling and Eich brought their views to the public.
    -Some differences: Sterling also had lawsuits against him for housing discrimination, proving that he didn’t do a good job of keeping his views from influencing his business-related actions, while up until the campaign pressuring him to resign, Eich’s gay coworkers viewed him favorably. But even if I hadn’t heard about the lawsuits, I think my opinion would be mostly the same, because Eich’s heternormative views seem rather bloodless based on his general conduct and actions. Sterling’s seem actively hateful. I admit, it’s a difference of degree and not something where there’s a bright line between the two.
    -Eich’s situation seems more relevant to my life. Giving a small portion of my income to controversial causes: I do that!

    2. The “Freedom to Dissent” statement implicitly accepts the position of the conservative members of the Supreme Court that campaign contributions are speech. I disagree. I think they are a way for the wealthy to exercise political control over the rest of us. If Eich had just spoken and wrote in favor of Prop 8, I would not feel treated unfairly politically. I could speak and write against Prop 8. But Eich gave $1,000 dollars to the Prop 8 campaign. I certainly could not afford to give $1,000 to No on 8, and I am not poor. We live in a nation where business leaders get to use the great wealth they earn from the stuff we buy from them not only to buy cool stuff the rest of cannot afford, but to actually wield political power over the rest of us. And now these “Freedom to Dissent” people think we are somehow bullying the plutocrats if we try to use the little purse strings we have in our buying decisions to punish them for trying to impose policies on us we do not like? How about this: Make it illegal for anyone to contribute any money to any political campaign, except for the $100 of campaign contribution vouchers that the government issues to everyone each year, and then come back to me and have a discussion about whether or not it is bullying to force someone out of their job for giving their $100 dollars to a candidate or cause I despise. I might agree with you then.

    So if I contribute $100 of non-voucher money to Planned Parenthood, and my boss thinks that abortion, and maybe even birth control pills (that he believes prevent implantation of a fertilized egg) is murdering babies, and therefore I’m a baby-murderer by proxy, is it okay if he fires me? Or if the public decides to boycott his business until he fires me or I resign?

    I’m not sure the “plutocrat” argument works in this case. Eich contributed $1000. I don’t make a 6-figure salary, but I’ve contributed up to $500 at once to nonprofits I care about, during times when my financial responsibilities were low. One prominent Prop 8 donor contributed $1 million to the Prop 8 campaign–that’s 3 orders of magnitude more than Eich. $1000 was less than .01% of the total contributions to the Prop 8 campaign.

    I don’t think we’ll have much practical freedom of speech if, the minute you contribute a penny of your own money to an unpopular cause, you can be fired for your political views.

  25. 25
    mythago says:

    closetpuritan @24: The claim was that Eich was “fired” because Mozilla does not tolerate employees who disfavor SSM. In fact, he was CTO for many years even though his views were well-known.

  26. 26
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    So if I contribute $100 of non-voucher money to Planned Parenthood, and my boss thinks that abortion, and maybe even birth control pills (that he believes prevent implantation of a fertilized egg) is murdering babies, and therefore I’m a baby-murderer by proxy, is it okay if he fires me? Or if the public decides to boycott his business until he fires me or I resign?

    Yes, absolutely, if he runs a smallish business. Your boss has the right to be an asshole, and your boss has the right to decide who he wants to keep paying. (Similarly, you have the right to quit if your boss is an asshole, even if you don’t give notice and even if doing so will hurt his business.)

    Nobody seems to be talking about company size but that seems to clearly be a very important factor in the analysis. Most people work for large companies, but most businesses are small ones. Going from memory it’s something like “80% of people work for businesses larger than 10; 80% of businesses are not larger than 10.”

    This is important: large companies have a disproportional effect on employees because of their size; and they also have a lessened justification for caring about their employees’ private lives, again because of their size.

    In any case, you have to watch out for viewpoint discrimination. Ask yourself: How large a business would you have to own before you wouldn’t care if you had an employee who you knew to be ____? (insert your own most-detested trait here, be it “leader of your local KKK chapter” or something else.) If you would care no matter what (I would,) how large a business would you have to own before you think it makes sense for the government to forbid you from considering that trait in hiring/firing?

  27. 27
    Ampersand says:
    , is it okay if he fires me? Or if the public decides to boycott his business until he fires me or I resign?

    Yes, absolutely, if he runs a smallish business. Your boss has the right to be an asshole

    You’re assuming “okay” means “within his legal rights.” That’s one possible meaning of “okay.” Another is that firing someone for their political views, or boycotting to demand someone be fired for their politics, is an asshole thing to do (as you said), and therefore is NOT “okay.” It’s unacceptable behavior that we should socially condemn, even though it’s legal behavior.

  28. 28
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Like most people, I don’t really mind in my heart if someone gets fired for holding views which I find abhorrent.
    Like most people, I get unusually annoyed if someone gets fired for holding views which I like.
    Unlike most people, I’m willing to link the two, including in social settings. You should be, too. Laws and prohibitions don’t just spring whole from the paper; they are formed through social discourse. I think that arguing against it is generally going to make it more likely that laws will be passed that restrict the behavior; I think it would be naive to suggest otherwise. (It may be that such laws will not actually be passed, but the general trend of the world, and the left, is to move away from free speech. See, e.g., most of Europe.)

    Since I believe that the value of free speech outweighs the value of protecting jobs, I think you’re on the wrong side.

  29. 29
    Ampersand says:

    Like most people, I don’t really mind in my heart if someone gets fired for holding views which I find abhorrent.
    Like most people, I get unusually annoyed if someone gets fired for holding views which I like.
    Unlike most people, I’m willing to link the two, including in social settings. You should be, too.

    1. Try using your head instead of your heart.

    2. I do link the two – I’m against firing people for their political beliefs, regardless of whether or not I agree with those beliefs.

    I think that arguing against it is generally going to make it more likely that laws will be passed that restrict the behavior; I think it would be naive to suggest otherwise. (It may be that such laws will not actually be passed, but the general trend of the world, and the left, is to move away from free speech. See, e.g., most of Europe.)

    Since I believe that the value of free speech outweighs the value of protecting jobs, I think you’re on the wrong side.

    But your belief is absolutely anti-free speech. If you want bosses to go around firing people for their political opinions, that is being against free speech, in my view. And the right to fire people is NOT a free speech right.

  30. 30
    Jake Squid says:

    I don’t believe anybody should be fired for their political views. Unless, of course, those political views interfere with the work environment. Which I’ve seen happen. It makes it miserable for everybody when that happens.

  31. 31
    Ampersand says:

    I was in a big rush when I wrote my last comment, and it came out rather rude. I’m sorry for that, g&w.

  32. 32
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    eh, I’m relatively certain that I have been equally snarky, myself.* No big deal.

    I’m against firing people for their political beliefs, regardless of whether or not I agree with those beliefs.

    If you say “you can’t fire someone for their political belief” that seems to me to be functionally akin to saying “you cannot fire someone for anything which they claim is a political belief” And that is akin to “you can’t fire someone for saying things you hate,” because”political belief,” unlike, say, “gender” or the other protected classes, is an incredibly ill defined and wide ranging thing.

    But let me explore this a bit, because perhaps there are qualifiers which you haven’t mentioned which would reduce our disagreement:

    1) Do you apply this to employers of all size? If not, what’s your cutoff?

    2) Do you really apply this universally? In other words, is there no belief at all which you think justifies firing by any employer in #1? (Do you think GLAAD should be prevented from firing their paralegal, if said paralegal joins the Westboro Baptist Church as a volunteer gay-hater? And so on.You can think of your own example, I’m sure. )

    3) Do you apply this to hiring as well as firing? (In other words, must I, GLAAD, or any employer in #1 not only refrain from firing the bigoted paralegal but also be obliged to hire him?) If not, why do you distinguish between the two?

    *Only once, mind you. Back when I was nine. Since then I have been the e-pit-o-me of politeness at all times.

  33. 33
    mythago says:

    because”political belief,” unlike, say, “gender” or the other protected classes, is an incredibly ill defined and wide ranging thing

    Kind of like “religion”.

  34. 34
    ozymandias says:

    It seems like a GLAAD employee who joins the WBC has a political belief which is related to their job: if you don’t think gay rights is good, you’ll probably do a worse job of advocating for gay rights. Similarly, the WBC should be allowed to fire any GLAAD supporters among their staff. However, supporting or disagreeing with gay marriage is not obviously connected to one’s ability to make software, so Mozilla is not allowed to fire people for their gay marriage beliefs.

  35. 35
    JutGory says:

    ozymandias:

    It seems like a GLAAD employee who joins the WBC has a political belief which is related to their job: if you don’t think gay rights is good, you’ll probably do a worse job of advocating for gay rights. Similarly, the WBC should be allowed to fire any GLAAD supporters among their staff.

    At first glance, your position makes sense. However, if they do a worse job, let them go for that. But, if you know about the conflicting belief, it may be a legitimate basis of inquiry before you hire the person.

    I guess where I would draw the line is between belief and speech (specifically speech that interferes with the operations of the business). It does not matter if a Mozilla employee is a devout Luddite if he can code like a fiend. Same is true of an NRA employee who donates to PETA, or the whole GLAAD/WBC example. But, if advocacy/activity/speech begins to interfere with the way the company functions (which is why I brought up the Chris Kluwe as a possible example of that), I think it is a legitimate basis for a business decision.

    -Jut

  36. 36
    mythago says:

    so Mozilla is not allowed to fire people for their gay marriage beliefs

    I assume you mean “should not be allowed to fire people”. In the US, the default rule is that absent certain prohibited reasons (like your race or having an employment contract limiting the reasons you can be fired), your employer can fire you for any reason at all, even a stupid one.

    Also, did you believe the job of Mozilla’s CEO was to write code?

  37. 37
    closetpuritan says:

    closetpuritan @24: The claim was that Eich was “fired” because Mozilla does not tolerate employees who disfavor SSM. In fact, he was CTO for many years even though his views were well-known.

    Who claimed “Mozilla does not tolerate [any] employees who disfavor SSM”? (This claim is also disproven by the fact that it took outside pressure for Eich to resign.) Robert George?

    g&w:
    What Amp said re: “okay” not meaning “has the legal right”.

    Like most people, I don’t really mind in my heart if someone gets fired for holding views which I find abhorrent.
    Like most people, I get unusually annoyed if someone gets fired for holding views which I like.
    Unlike most people, I’m willing to link the two, including in social settings. You should be, too.

    Amp and I are both pro-SSM, and opposed to boycotting companies with the goal of removing people for simply being anti-SSM. What’s all this stuff about caring whether someone gets fired for their views based on whether you like their views?

    Both of these points seem like you’re reading my comment in isolation from the context of the discussion.

    WRT to the fear that bad laws will be passed because I don’t like the idea of people being removed from their jobs for their political views–there are examples of this happening right now; to me it seems silly to refuse to point out current harms because of the potential harm that it might shift the Overton window enough to allow bad, overly broad laws to be passed sometime in the future.

  38. 38
    KellyK says:

    At first glance, your position makes sense. However, if they do a worse job, let them go for that. But, if you know about the conflicting belief, it may be a legitimate basis of inquiry before you hire the person.

    I guess where I would draw the line is between belief and speech (specifically speech that interferes with the operations of the business). It does not matter if a Mozilla employee is a devout Luddite if he can code like a fiend. Same is true of an NRA employee who donates to PETA, or the whole GLAAD/WBC example. But, if advocacy/activity/speech begins to interfere with the way the company functions (which is why I brought up the Chris Kluwe as a possible example of that), I think it is a legitimate basis for a business decision.

    I think you’re inappropriately conflating businesses and other organizations here. For a non-profit with a specific mission, “believe sincerely in our mission” is a valid job qualification. For a for-profit business whose primary mission is to make money, there are a lot fewer cases where a political or religious disagreement is at all relevant.

    I would also point out that the hypothetical GLAAD employee/WBC volunteer is *already* acting directly against the organization’s interests by going to funerals with “God Hates Fags” signs. Even if none of their coworkers run into them at a counter-protest or see them in full hate-mode on Facebook.

    For an organization with a social or political mission*, I’m not sure your distinction between beliefs and speech works. Both because you have to engage in some sort of speech for anyone to know about your belief and because commitment to a cause is a reasonable thing for an employer who’s all about that cause to ask for.

    For a for-profit company, or even an organization whose mission is totally unrelated to the issue, I would draw the line a little further down the speech side. Public speech that negatively impacts the company is very different from semi-private or semi-anonymous speech. (And not all public speech is likely to have any sort of a negative impact.) Going to a controversial rally, unless you’re a high-level executive or you’re wearing your company polo, is really unlikely to hurt your company’s reputation. Screaming obscenities at that rally and ending up on the evening news might. Likewise, a vitriolic op-ed piece that goes viral is a lot more likely to have an impact than a random blog comment.

    I think this is really complicated because everything you do or say gives others an idea of the sort of person you are, and I don’t think there should be any prohibitions against firing someone for being a jerk, even if the specific ways in which they’re being a jerk may not yet have any direct impact on the organization. That is, it would be wrong, morally speaking, to fire someone for disagreeing with their employer about same-sex marriage. It would not be wrong, morally speaking, to fire someone for loudly and publicly being an ass about their opinions regarding same-sex marriage.

    Whether it’s possible to legally define the difference between having a political opinion and being an ass about that political opinion, I’m not sure. I would expect it to work similarly to the existing protected class of religion, though. That is, you can’t fire someone for their membership in a given religion. But, as far as I can tell, you can fire them for bad behavior or poor judgment, even if those things are religiously motivated. (There would be a huge difference for firing someone for being anti-abortion because of their Catholic faith and firing someone for spending their Saturday morning harassing patients and employees of the local Planned Parenthood.)

    *(I’m using that rather than “non-profit” because the NFL is a non-profit, and I’m thinking more of charity and/or advocacy groups.)

  39. 39
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Religion is a sticky exception, and gives rise to some of the more problematic interference with two intelligent adults trying to contract for something. But that comes from both our longstanding deference to religion (problematic that it is) and the equally-deferential concept that religion, like the other protected classes, is “what you are” rather than “what you choose.” In my view, the religious exceptions are problematic, and are a bad base for any future laws. (And of course, even in the context of religion, we generally don’t enforce it against small employers.)

    Political beliefs are not in same category, of course. Not only are they fully mutable in theory, but they are mutable in practice: people change their beliefs all the time. Given their mutability, there’s no particular reason to protect outward expressions of political belief, especially given the fact that we already permit secret voting.

    Moreover, what I don’t see here is a lot of discussion about the fact that this is a two way street. I wonder, sometimes, about how many folks here actually employ people, or work with others who employ people. Because this is really a zero sum game: what is “freedom” to one person is “restrictions on freedom” to another person.

    In a world where there are multiple employees available; where employees can leave without being forced to stay (and properly so,) it is a serious imposition to force a business owner to keep and pay someone, when she wants them gone. Why are folks so willing to limit the desire of business owners to control who they work with? Do you think it’s wise to try to insert the government (or someone else) into determining what is, and what is not, an actual business need, even if the owner disagrees? After all, we have–and should have–a wide variety of business, with a wide variety of internal cultures. What I think of as a need (‘work with people who I like personally, and would be happy to drink wine with on weekends’) is different from my neighbor (‘hire any asshole so long as she can code’) and his neighbor (‘hire good looking people for the front desk’) and her neighbor, and so on. Do you think that is the same for all businesses, including small ones?

    Still: I asked those questions for a reason, which is that they help to define what the issue and disagreement actually are. They tend to focus on specifics instead of having a lot of loosey-goosey discussion. It would certainly help if you’d consider answering them.

  40. 40
    JutGory says:

    KellyK:

    I think you’re inappropriately conflating businesses and other organizations here.

    Maybe, I was trying to speak generally, without getting bogged down in exceptions. For example, I did not want to bring up the way religious organizations may require “members only,” or, at least, people who are not in open violation of religious teachings. That exception, and the sort you mentioned, are fine by me.

    I was just trying to articulate the “rule,” not the “exceptions.”

    g&w:

    I wonder, sometimes, about how many folks here actually employ people, or work with others who employ people.

    I have 5.5 employees.

    Why are folks so willing to limit the desire of business owners to control who they work with? Do you think it’s wise to try to insert the government (or someone else) into determining what is, and what is not, an actual business need, even if the owner disagrees?

    I was not suggesting that, though your comment appears to be directed at my “side of the fence,” if you will. I don’t want to “limit” people. I just believe that basing employment decisions on crap like political beliefs is (generally speaking) stupid. If you can’t work with someone who disagrees with you politically, then you are a pretty pathetic person. (Not you, g&w. And, I overstated my point a bit for effect.) So, no, I don’t want anyone controlling that; I just think it is dumb to act that way.

    I have one partner who is from Wisconsin, a Packer fan, and was raised Missouri Synod (now atheist); I give him shit about that stuff all the time; it does not prevent me from being his partner. Now, my other partner is from Poland (an immigrant), and Catholic. So, there is nothing to really make fun of him about.

    But, I know what you mean. Every time we make an employment decision, we only find out, weeks later, that the person does not drink alcohol. These are not people we are going to want to hang out at a bar with after work. It has gotten to the point that we are going to have to ask them about this straight out at the interview.

    -Jut

  41. 41
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    I also think that (again with the zero-sum issue) folks are underestimating the degree to which rules like this merely TRANSFER costs rather than REDUCE them.

    To the degree that folks would make political action count in firing but not hiring, you’re only going to push the analysis to the hiring process. And if you try to make it exempt in both hiring and firing, then you’re going to see that employers start to try to effect the discrimination anyway.

    Because in the end, people don’t want to pay money to folks they don’t want to hire. That freedom is part and parcel of being an employer. And it’s the other side of the coin to standard employment law: any employee can quit at any time, whether or not you want them to.

    Not incidentally, the ADA is a good example. The ADA regulations have, it turns out, mostly acted to transfer the timing of the decision-making process, and have arguably had very adverse effects on overall hiring of disabled folks.

    With the ADA, once you hire someone with a disability, then you have to deal with a potential discrimination or ADA suit if you fire them, or if you refuse to accommodate their disability no matter how much you don’t want to do so. IOW, the benefits of the ADA equate to a very high potential cost of compliance post-hiring. However, it is much more difficult to raise a “failure to hire” suit, mostly because it is so incredibly difficult to win.

    So from a pure economic perspective it is usually cheaper for many employers to do their best to avoid hiring people w/ disabilities in the first place. And since most employers are focused on their bottom line, it turns out that is what happens, to no real surprise. You get large companies who can absorb the costs, and who hire disabled folks; most other companies avoid it to the greatest degree possible.

    You’ll see the same thing here. If you want to protect the right of employees to be bigoted assholes without getting fired… well, you either need to find employers who are voluntarily willing to bear the costs of employing bigoted assholes (good luck) or you need to acknowledge that the likely result is a general stifling of speech, as employers will simply try to do as they have always done, law be damned.

  42. 42
    closetpuritan says:

    g&w:
    Like Jut, I guess I’ll assume I’m on the “side” you’re addressing… I’m actually agnostic on the point of whether there should be a law against firing people for their political beliefs; I was only trying to say that I felt it was wrong to do so (and wrong to boycott companies for employees’/entrepreneurs’ political beliefs), not to express an opinion on whether there should be a law.

    I’m not convinced that A) political or religious beliefs are a “choice”, at least in the way we usually use that word* (or that something being mutable necessarily makes it a choice), or B) the fact that something is a “choice” makes it more permissible to fire someone for it.**

    *If I’m having doubts about being pro-choice, for example, I could read a bunch of pro-life arguments to see if I can find any convincing ones. But if I fail to do so, I can’t just decide, “Well, my boss is pro-life, so it would benefit my career to be pro-life, so I will be pro-life now.” I could choose to lie and say that I’m pro-life (though not without losing some self-respect), or I could simply refuse to discuss my beliefs, but that’s not the same thing.

    **If we agree that the trait in question is something bad, it makes more sense (because if they were doing it willfully it would be reasonable to hold it against them, but they can’t help it), but merely having different political or religious beliefs from either what is popular in one’s community or what one’s boss has is not necessarily bad.

  43. 43
    Ampersand says:

    G&W:

    1) I entirely reject the idea that if I think something should be socially disapproved of, I’m required to defend making that something illegal. The two are not the same, nor does the latter inevitably follow the former.

    2) But in this particular instance, I’d be fine with making discrimination against workers based on their political views or activity illegal, with reasonable exceptions for bona fide occupational qualifications and not forcing NOM to hire (say) me. This is already the case is a bunch of states, and has been for decades, without the terrible results you predict. (Eugene Volokh wrote a good overview of such laws – pdf link). There’s a lot of variety between the states on exactly how such laws are written, but given the lack of tragic results so far, I’d favor going with the stronger versions of those laws.

    3) Your commentary on the ADA is one-sided and wrong. First of all, you assume that disemployment effects of the ADA must come from fear of lawsuits. But there’s no justification for that opinion, that I know of. Even the Acemoglu and Angrist paper, which is usually the primary academic source for the claim that the ADA increased unemployment among the disabled, concluded that the ADA’s disemployment effects were caused by the increased costs due to accommodations (i.e., building a wheelchair ramp, buying accessibility software, etc), and concluded “it seems highly unlikely that the ADA led to a climate of fear of litigation that significantly reduced the overall level of employment.”

    Better, more recent research has used state-level data to be able to better separate the effects of accomidation and the effects of lawsuit fear:

    Before the ADA, some states had regimes identical to the ADA, under which employers must both provide special accommodations for individuals with disabilities and refrain from making firing and other employment decisions on the basis of disability. Other states prohibited employers from making firing and other employment decisions on the basis of disability but did not require special accommodations for individuals with disabilities. And, a few states did not provide any employment protection to people with disabilities in the pre-ADA period. By comparing employment level changes in states in which certain ADA provisions were innovations to employment level changes in a group of control states that already had such provisions, Jolls and Prescott are able to separate the effects of the ADA’s two main requirements.

    The authors find no evidence that the ADA’s traditional employment protection rule, prohibiting firing and other employment decisions on the basis of disability, reduced disabled employment.

    Those researchers concluded that there’s no ADA evidence that employment protection rules reduce unemployment, and the evidence that accommodations in the ADA reduced unemployment is ambiguous. In another paper, Tom Tolin questions virtually every aspect of the ADA research you refer to, pointing out things like that the data used isn’t actually a measurement of disabled people as measured by the ADA, the ADA if it worked as intended reduces employment (because more disabled people are able to go to college), and that a survey of disabled people (as defined in the ADA) showed increased employment amongst those able to work.

    So the anti-ADA case is not nearly as clear-cut as you claim, and even the most cited anti-ADA study doesn’t support your claim about lawsuit fear.

    or you need to acknowledge that the likely result is a general stifling of speech

    I don’t acknowledge that, and I don’t think you’ve presented compelling evidence in support of that.

    I wonder, sometimes, about how many folks here actually employ people, or work with others who employ people. Because this is really a zero sum game: what is “freedom” to one person is “restrictions on freedom” to another person.

    I employ freelancers, in my previous job I participated in hiring and managing employees, and certainly I know plenty of people who do.

    In a world where there are multiple employees available; where employees can leave without being forced to stay (and properly so,) it is a serious imposition to force a business owner to keep and pay someone, when she wants them gone. Why are folks so willing to limit the desire of business owners to control who they work with?

    Because there’s an large existing power inequality between bosses and workers, which massively favors bosses. It’s important to human freedom that we try and equalize that inequality.

  44. 44
    mythago says:

    Why are folks so willing to limit the desire of business owners to control who they work with?

    Why are folks so nostalgic for the days of Jim Crow and sexual harassment?

    g&w, you and I both know that “arguably” is lawyerese for “I don’t actually have any facts to back this up but I make a good-sounding argument”. Any law is going to have the potential for abuse and frivolous claims. Any law offering rights to employees is going to limit the rights of employers to some degree. Unless you’re genuinely arguing for a fully laissez-faire system, which I doubt even RonF would support, the claim that there are going to be some negative effects is hand-wringing. Evidence that the negative effects are very strong, or greatly outweigh the harm the law seeks to remedy, would be one thing – but over and over you beat the drum about the ADA without that evidence.

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