Not quite a month after Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy expressed his opposition to same-sex marriage, former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee took issue with the ensuing backlash (read: constitutionally protected speech of those who disagreed with Cathy), saying he supports the “biblical definition of the family unit.” He came up with a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day which was marked by many a person showing up at their local Chick-fil-A on August 1st to show their support.
Some, however, argue their support isn’t about what Dan Cathy said or gay marriage at all. Rather, they insist, it is about supporting everyone’s right to free speech. This sounds good on the surface, but when we dig past the chicken fat we find a foul and ambiguous bit that the “free speech supporters” are trying to hide from the health inspector, not the least of which is the wholly unconstitutional notion that free speech means no backlash, no opposition and you guys over there just shut up, you stupid heads.
I’m all about free speech, especially the ugliest of it because it’s like our own country-wide GPS system for locating bigots, people who think liver tastes good and those who are trying to bring back Saved By the Bell. I wholeheartedly support the constitutional right of the CEO of Chick-fil-A to express his opinions and I am adamantly opposed to the notion that any person or municipality could block a lawful, legitimate business from opening its doors or shuttering a business just because of something the owner or operator said about others.
The consumer has and always will decide who stays in business and who doesn’t. Screwing around with the market for this particular reason sets a very bad precedent. At a different time, ours would be a very different world where the pro-gay marriage Microsoft would never have gotten off the ground. Leaving the consumer alone to decide who and what s/he will patronize is how it should be in this country as the act of patronizing is itself a form of free speech. I would not, however, choose a Chic-fil-A location to express my support of free speech.
If the geographic show of support at Chick-fil-A locations were really about supporting free speech and not about supporting the CEO’s belief that gay marriage is a big no-no, then the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) would be enjoying the same kind of support. The WBC does not enjoy this same kind of free speech support because no one wants to be misunderstood as agreeing with how they exercise their right and the things they say.
Where were the free speech supporters at the opening of the latest Muppet movie when the Jim Henson Company came under fire for what some thought was promoting an anti-corporate message? What’s up with the lack of support for the members of the WBC who are also against gay marriage? Their freedom of speech is often drowned out or flat out blocked from view.
While “speech I agree with” does fall under the protection of free speech, saying you support the latter when in fact your support is limited to the former, is ambiguous and just as dangerous as the idea of blocking a business from opening because the owner said something others didn’t like. Even the straightforward Mike Huckabee seems lost in the midst of his own irony, defending freedom for some by actively coming out against freedom for others. If Mr. Huckabee had been on the receiving end of his own support, he’d have found it most difficult to get married, have kids, run for office or garner attention for an eatery.
The free speech supporters can say what they want, but if their support of Chic-fil-A was really about free speech as they’d like everyone to believe, their support would not be limited to a fast food restaurant.