Freedom of speech and religion are two of the most fundamental ‘rights’ protected by the Constitution of the USA. The very first article in the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution) enshrines them: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Yet it seems like there are always people and groups who in fact seek to undermine those liberties by means of laws passed to limit them (despite the clear statement that “Congress shall make NO law…”). This is particularly evident these days with attempts to prevent so-called “anti-Semitic” speech and “homophobic” speech. Many even here in the ‘free’ USA wish to legally enforce ‘politically correct’ standards.
No doubt we are all aware of a number of legal cases in which the Supreme Court has overturned State laws enacted against homosexual ‘marriages’; and legal cases being brought against businesses which refuse to act in support of homosexual ‘marriage’. One business which prints messages on T-shirts is being sued for refusing to print a “gay-pride” message; and a cake maker is being sued for refusal to bake a wedding cake for a homosexual wedding.
It should be noted in those two instances to which I referred that it is not a matter of the business refusing to serve homosexuals as customers. Neither of them requires prospective customers to sign an affidavit that they are heterosexual before allowing them into the shop; nor do they exclude anyone they think “looks like” a homosexual. The T-shirt company would be quite willing to print a shirt with an ‘ordinary’ message (“Dinosaurs Rock” or “For Pilots, the Sky’s the Limit”, or any other such humorous or serious message), without regard to the sexual persuasion of the customer; and the cake company likewise would be quite willing to make a birthday cake, or a cake for any other occasion which did not involve support for that which the owners believe to be either ‘ungodly’ or ‘unnatural’ (or both). The businesses have not rejected the persons, but the behavior.
It seems to me like a ‘no brainer’ that those business owners are squarely within the ‘rights’ protected by the Constitution. The requirement that freedom of speech may not be restricted obviously includes not only the right to say and support what you believe, but to not say or support what you don’t believe. And freedom of religion not only protects the right to believe, but to freely exercise those religious beliefs – with the recognized qualification that my freedom is limited by “your nose” (that is, my freedom does not include the right to do you physical harm).
It may be legal to sell alcoholic beverages and pornography, but store owners have the right to decide for themselves whether they will sell them. Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean they’re required to sell them. Just so, homosexual ‘marriages’ may be legalized, but that doesn’t mean that people who believe homosexuality is morally wrong may be required to promote or support it. The cake store owner doesn’t have to sell homosexual wedding cakes just because homosexual ‘marriages’ have been ruled ‘legal’.
I have freedom to say and write what I believe, even though someone else may strongly disagree with me and find what I say offensive. On the other hand, I have the freedom to not say or write what I don’t believe or what I find offensive, no matter how much someone else may want me to do so. Just so, the T-shirt business owner has the right to set his own standards as to what he/she is willing to print and sell, and refuse to print or sell that which he/she finds morally wrong and offensive.
To seek to compel people (legally or otherwise) to participate in, support and promote what they believe to be ‘evil’ is to practice tyranny – quite the opposite of freedom.
However, there are people who are ‘liberal’ or ‘libertarian’ enough to be willing to advertise both sides of an issue. As an example, Yahoo News this morning printed a Huffington Post article about an anti-homosexual billboard in Dearborn, Michigan. The sign says that homosexuals are not born that way, and that homosexuality is a behavior, not a right.
Many people are complaining to the advertising company that owns the billboard, and to the Dearborn Chamber of Commerce, about this billboard ad. They apparently believe that freedom of speech is only for those who agree with their position.
The owner of the advertizing agency, however, maintains that he believes firmly in the First Amendment protections of freedom of speech for all, no matter how offensive such speech may be to some. So long as people can pay the advertising costs, he is open to print their ads. So he has offered to host an ad for another local man who is seeking to raise money to counter the anti-homosexual advertisement. As the ad agency owner is quoted as saying: “I’m happy to foster debate on both sides of the issue,” he said. “That’s what freedom of speech is for.” If he had a T-shirt company, he would no doubt be willing to print shirts reading both “Gay-Pride” and “God hates homosexuality”.
Interestingly, however, he probably would be open to legal charges if he had refused to host the anti-homosexual advertisement. People can complain about it all they want of course; but due to certain fairly recent legal precedents, it would appear that businesses no longer have the right to set standards about what they are willing to sell or promote. Courts have ruled that New York City Transit Authority may not refuse to place viciously anti-Muslim “hate speech” ads on their buses; and I believe a similar ruling was made in California.
So one can only assume that if the advertising agency had refused to host the anti-homosexual billboard ad, the “Restrain the Judges” group which bought the ad could have sued and probably won based on “Free Speech” principles. I, of course, believe that to be tyranny, not freedom. I can choose not to publish what you say, while still supporting your right to say it. I can choose to publish, or not publish, speech which some may consider ‘hate speech’ and beliefs which others may consider offensive. What I say or publish is determined by my standards, not someone else’s.