COMMENTARY | Paul Ryan kept up the false narrative built up around the Chick-fil-A controversy in a word association game with CBS affiliate WDBJ in Roanoke, Va., on Wednesday, telling a reporter that the first thing that came to mind when someone said “Chick-fil-A” was “good chicken,” quickly followed by “free speech.”
“Good chicken,” Ryan said, laughing. “Good chicken. Free people exercising their free speech rights.”
The second part — that of “free speech rights” — of the Republican vice presidential nominee’s answer is as misleading as the entire narrative has been since former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee began crusading for a “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” and insisting Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy had every right to say what he said, even in the implication that same-sex unions were against biblical doctrine and legalizing them would be courting divine disfavor.
Huckabee and others began repositioning Cathy’s words as a “freedom of expression” issue, that gay rights advocates, liberals, and same-sex marriage proponents were attempting to take away or abridge Cathy’s right to speak freely. Although factually untrue, the result was a national crusade to support Chick-fil-A and free speech. Conservatives like Mitt Romney and his wife to Sarah Palin and her husband got in on being photographed with bags of Chick-fil-A product in their hands on “Appreciation Day.”
But the disconnect between reality and political spin has been rarely touched upon. The reality has always been that Cathy was — and continues — advocating against same-sex marriage, a policy that is discriminatory no matter how you look at it. Supporting one’s argument with religion does not make it less discriminatory; it makes it religion-based discrimination.
In short, nobody attempted to divest Dan Cathy of his constitutional right to free speech. Various individuals, groups, and factions condemned his words and the way he couched his comments, but there was no mention of abridging his right to voice his opinion on the topic of same-sex marriage.
In short, “Appreciation Day” was built on a false narrative, just as the move to support Cathy’s right to speak freely has been.
The one thing the Chick-fil-A controversy is not about is freedom of speech. It never was, no matter what Mike Huckabee and Paul Ryan and other politicians (and/or former politicians) say. It is about discrimination and whether or not it will be allowed. It is about thinly masked homophobic antagonisms and the attempt to deny homosexuals the right to marry same-sex partners.
The Chick-fil-A president implied that same-sex marriages should not be legally permitted because his interpretation of biblical scripture says so. And he has a right to his opinion, not to mention the right to voice it publicly. His right to do so is in no way infringed by others voicing a countervailing opinion.
His opinion, regardless of its base, is discriminatory in and of itself.
Some might note the misguided acts of mayors of several cities to Cathy’s remarks, where they publicly stated that Chick-fil-A franchises would not be welcome in their cities. It has been pointed out that these are attacks on free speech and, peripherally, religion. It must be pointed out that the mayors can do nothing to stop Chick-fil-A from setting up shop within the boundaries of their cities. But, again, these would be acts of discrimination (religious and political) and not anti-free speech. In short, they would discriminate against a company whose president advocates discrimination, not a company with a proven record of discrimination (which Chick-fil-A has no record of being). And, again, they were not stopping him from stating his views.
That politicians like Paul Ryan and same-sex marriage opponents would make it a free speech issue when it was never anything of the kind and is nothing new. But if they really wanted to show some appreciation, they would stop insulting the the nation’s intelligence with the false narrative and simply state the truth — they are perfectly willing to discriminate against a subset of Americans on religious grounds.
And that is why separation of church and state is so important. Within a religion’s framework, such discriminatory measures would be protected by the Constitution of the United States. Religions would not — and should not — be forced to conduct or acknowledge same-sex unions. At the same time, the government is not beholden to any religion or its doctrines and is set up to protect the rights of all its citizens, including members of the gay community. There is no ethical reason why the federal government should take a discriminatory stance against any of its citizens, including allowing them to form partnered unions (no matter what one calls such unions).
Because no one person should have the government mandated right to tell another person they can’t say “I do” to another human being.