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Banned in Boston

My compliments to the chef’s politics. His food is disgusting but his recipe for social justice is divine.

Has the red-blue divide so embittered ideologues that they patronize restaurants based on the proprietor’s taste in politics rather than the taste of his food?

“There is no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it,” Boston Mayor-for-Life Thomas Menino imperiously wrote Chik-fil-A president Dan Cathy. “I urge you to back out of your plans to locate in Boston.”

Cathy had the temerity to voice his support for traditional marriage. Dissent equals bigotry in Beantown.

“Open your eyes, owner of Chick-fil-A,” comedian Jon Stewart quipped, “not even Boston will tolerate you.”

Anne Hutchinson didn’t get the joke.

Boston is a city founded on intolerance. Lone inhabitant William Blackstone invited the Puritans to settle on his peninsula only to have his guests eject him because his beliefs weren’t theirs. “I have come from England because I did not like the Lord Bishops,” the first Bostonian lamented. “I cannot join you because I would not be under the lord brethren.”

On the same Boston Common where Blackstone once lived as a hermit, Bostonians executed four Quakers in 1659, 1660, and 1661. It’s a short walk from there to Chik-fil-A.

Dan Cathy isn’t the first Baptist the Bay State has mistreated. “When the Baptists opened a meeting-house in Boston, it was taken possession of by the magistrates,” Daniel Wait Howe wrote in “The Puritan Republic of the Massachusetts Bay in New England.” “The doors were nailed up and a notice was posted, forbidding the holding of meetings there, and it is said that when the members assembled for worship they were arrested and treated very roughly.”

Massachusetts burned more witches than the rest of the colonies combined. It cut off the ears of nonconformist Christians, fined celebrants of Christmas, and forbade wedding rings. The Commonwealth banned Jesuits under the pain of death.

There is a direct ancestral line between this 17th century intolerance and the modern version of it. Then and now, the purveyors of intolerance imagined themselves as the paragons of progressive tolerance.

Massachusetts served as the epicenter of the Know Nothing Party. In 1854, the Know Nothings won every congressional seat, every seat in the state senate, every state constitutional office, and all but 3 of 379 seats in the state house of representatives. They proceeded to prohibit alcohol, strip funding to Catholic schools as they imposed readings from the King James Bible in public ones, ban teaching foreign languages in schools, and even remove a Latin inscription from above the Speaker of the House’s desk. They regarded themselves as tolerant, too.

“Banned in Boston” claimed Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises,” William Faulkner’s “Mosquitoes,” Voltaire’s “Candide,” Lillian Smith’s “Strange Fruit,” and Francois Rabelais’ “Gargantua and Pantagruel.” Such episodes left stud reporter Elmer Davis to note in 1928 that “the city which used to write most of American literature was now forbidden by the police to read most of American literature.”

H.L. Mencken famously traveled to Boston on April 5, 1926 to sell a copy of the “American Mercury” to the Reverend J. Franklin Chase. The Watch and Ward Society head handed a half-dollar to the editor, who theatrically bit the coin to affirm its authenticity and then exchanged a copy of his magazine. “Officer!” implored Chase. “Arrest that man!” Thus did the Sage of Baltimore become banned in Boston.

It wasn’t until 1982 that the Athens of America eliminated its city censor. But with Hizzoner’s recent poison-pen Chik-fil-A letter, one senses that the city didn’t abolish but promoted its censor.

The hub of American progressivism is also the hub of American intolerance. This isn’t paradoxical but predictable.

Whether Bay State censors attended plain Congregationalist meeting houses, white-steepled Unitarian churches, or ornate Catholic cathedrals—or considered the Boston Globe “Ideas” section their prayer book on Sunday mornings—they all imagined the victims of their crusades as illiberal and themselves as forward thinking.

Modern leftists (and their antecedents) lack self-awareness and overflow with self-righteousness. Just don’t say this in Boston—or San Francisco or Madison for that matter—lest the open-minded locals shut you up.

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