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Maggie serves 'chilled First Amendment' course; makes me respond, crave gazpacho (not necessarily in that order)

by Jeremy Hooper

In a piece for National Review Online titled "The Chilling of Our First Amendment Rights," Maggie Gallagher starts off with this:

The First Amendment is more than a legal guarantee. It is a culture — a key American value — which holds that in a decent and free society, law-abiding citizens should not face reprisals for speaking up with civility for the moral good as they see it.

And she's mostly right here. Under the First Amendment, no American citizen should be unfairly stifled, so long as he or she is abiding by the law. We all have the right to speak, express, pray, demonstrate, advocate, protest, and stand for whatever values we hold dear. Gays and progressives have long supported this concept, even standing in support of rabidly anti-gay faith groups like Westboro Baptist when their own expression rights have gone up for debate.

But as this writer has mentioned time and time again: The right to speak, engage, and hold discriminatory views does not mean immunity from the bounds of civil law, principled pushback, or heightened scrutiny. Which brings us to the next part of Maggie's piece:

Sen. Chuck Grassley’s remarkable opening statement in today’s Senate hearing on a bill to repeal DOMA called attention to a very serious and growing intolerance directed at Americans who believe marriage is the union of husband and wife:

The minority very much hoped to call a witness today at this hearing to testify in support of DOMA. I am sure she would have done an excellent job.

She declined, however, citing as one reason the threats and intimidation that have been leveled against not only her but her family as a result of her public support for DOMA. She will continue to write on this subject, but will no longer speak publicly about it. This chilling of First Amendment rights is unacceptable.

When Chris Johnson, a reporter from the Washington Blade, called and asked if that woman was me, I was at first amused. No, of course not. I am not refusing to make public appearances. I was not invited this time.

But I could sympathize.

Okay, so let's pause. Obviously this framework is nothing new: In every single debate we now see the far-right play this "victim" card. As a movement, they've quite negligently cultivated this idea that gays are angry mobs marching through the streets waiting to beat up, burn down, or belittle anyone who gets in the way. This despite the fact that in recent years, hundreds of thousands of LGBT people and allies have protested inequality in a billion different ways in a billion different settings, and the only incidents that Maggie and crew can point to are isolated, suspect, misconstrued, or a combination of all three. It just takes one kernel of some semblance of truth, and they will spin it as definitive. It's deceitful, unfair, and deeply dangerous to the discourse.

But beyond just defending us: What about them!?!? NOM is currently sending around mailers comparing elected representatives to Benedict Arnold, a man who quite literally led to American deaths. And of course NOM is also still working daily to cultivate the same sense of disparity that has led to such a sense of despair for so many LGBT people. It is outrageous for Maggie to so aggressively wash her hands of wrongdoing in order to muddy her political opposition, while she is chairing a group whose sole mission cultivates deep division! She seeks to ban us in law -- FOR. A. JOB, she does this!

So is it true that this nameless person was too scared to speak today? Perhaps. Honestly, neither I nor any "culture war" watcher I've talked to can think of who this would be, if not Maggie. It's not like there's come endless well of people who are so engaged on DOMA that they'd earn a Senate invite. But okay, I'll take Grassley on his word. But while doing that, I'l remind him that (a) LGBT people are still among the most bullied, (b) equality advocacy comes with HUGE risks that many of us know all too well, and (c) none of us who engage in any public debate are free from potential fallout. Unfortunately -- but true. The First Amendment is a grand thing, but it's not a flawless shield. Politics can be an exciting game, but it is far from pure.

Moving on: Maggie makes this supposed First Amendment point:

I just returned from interviewing a Toronto sportscaster who was fired for tweeting that he believed “in the true and authentic meaning of marriage.”

Last time I checked, Canada is not America. Also: A company's employment decisions are the same thing as government interaction. So again, while this might be a "culture war" conversation that either Maggie or anyone else might want to have (though they should note that the tweet actually called for" the traditional and TRUE meaning of marriage," capitalization his own), this is not, in fact, a First Amendment case. It's not even an American one, eh?

Next, Maggie says:

Next week, I will go to North Carolina to interview another man whose contract was terminated when the HR head of his company found out he had written against gay marriage.

Again, this a company's decision, not a government's interference. The First Amendment does not guarantee a right to contract! When employee complaints on any matter are made, then it's up to the company to weigh the merits and make their own decisions. In this case: We are talking about Frank Turek, a man who Maggie conveniently (and typically) positions as merely writing about marriage, but who, in truth, promotes the idea that gay people are embracing harmful and "changeable" behavior -- behavior on par with that of sociopaths, alcoholics, or even gay-bashers. At this link, you can watch nine minutes of him doing so, plus move on to several other videos with several anti-gay themes.

But again, while whether or not Mr. Turek's advocacy has gone so far as to make LGBT employees (of Cisco, in this case) uncomfortable is a fair point of debate, it does not make it a First Amendment matter! Why is this so difficult to understand?

Let's wrap up:

The death threats and hateful mail New York state senator Rev. Ruben Diaz says he has received are not unusual. Whole professions are in the process of being closed to anyone who espouses — and acts — on the view that marriage is the union of husband and wife.

Fox News is not covering this. Conservative media outlets, except for a few beacons such as NR, are virtually silent.

The underlying truth that “pro-equality” Republicans need to understand is this: They are aiding and abetting a political movement that, at this point in history, seeks to make traditional Christian views on sex and marriage unacceptable in the public square — just as racist views on interracial marriage are unacceptable — by heaping scorn and hatred on any American who does something to support marriage as one man and one woman.

The marriage debate is about redefining not only marriage, but the relationship between Judeo-Christian values and the American tradition.

I just wonder what these “pro-equality” conservatives think will be left to conserve after that.

Death threats are deplorable. Every single responsible member of ANY political group stands against such engagement. Maggie knows this, having been in politics for a very long time -- it's just that she's so hellbent on fostering this "gays are mean" meme, that she'll push these unsubstantiated claims from the likes of Sen. Diaz and then blow them up in a way that makes it seem as if the Human Rights Campaign had sent the senator a death threat on organizational stationary. Because it's all about conflation here. The idea, which NOM has been so aggressive in pushing since Prop 8 raised a nation's consciousness in a whole new way, is to conflate the pro-equality movement with bullying and intimidation and [insert whatever other cartoony branding], in hopes that the sweetness and light will fall over to the "protect marriage" side. The goal is to flip a script that Maggie knows will otherwise lead to the equality community's happy ending.

And in this sense, Maggie does have First Amendment protection. She can think as she wishes, strategizes as she sees fit, publicize through whatever channels care to pay her, push conservative media to follow her lead, and try with every fiber in her being to convince the Republican Party of 2011 that keeping anti-gay politics alive and unwell is the path towards a viable GOP of 2026. I would quite literally go to court to defend her right to engage in this way, free from undue government interference or message limitation. That sort of thing is bigger than all of us, and we should all serve as its responsible stewards.

But Maggie does not -- DOES NOT! -- have the right to make any of us buy what she's selling. Her free speech is a worth banking on. Her cheap (yet costly) regard for certain citizens' marriages is another thing entirely.

THE FULL PIECE: "The Chilling of Our First Amendment Rights" [Maggie Gallagher For NRO]

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