The Chicken Inquisition comes to NYU
No sooner did New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, himself a supporter of same-sex marriage, declare that it would be inappropriate for government officials to “look at somebody’s political views and decide whether or not they can live in the city, or operate a business in the city, or work for somebody in the city,” then New York City Council member Christine Quinn did precisely that.
Signing up for the Chicken Inquisition – in which restaurant company Chick-fil-A must be destroyed because its CEO, Dan Cathy, exercised his free-speech rights to speak up in favor of traditional marriage – Quinn wrote a letter to the president of New York University, asking him to shut down the Chick-fil-A located on campus. As the Atlantic reports, it’s currently the only Chick-fil-A in New York, so that would effectively boot them out of the city.
Charmingly, Quinn “also asked that, should he kick them out, the employees from the Chick-fil-A be given new jobs with whatever restaurant they get to replace it.” It’s always great to see a full-service totalitarian, who takes care to avoid grinding the littlest of the little people beneath her jackboots. Who cares about the higher levels of management that would suffer if that restaurant shuts down? They’re probably just a bunch of greedy fat cats who don’t pay their fair share of taxes anyway.
Naturally, Quinn also wants Chick-fil-A president Cathy to “apologize and change his position on gay marriage.” In other words, she insists he publicly renounce his religious beliefs. No word on whether he would need to spend any time in the stocks, or suffer a few lashes in public from the new Inquisition.
Since NYU is a private university, the legal horror of an official using government power to violate the First Amendment by punishing speech, in the manner of Boston mayor Thomas Menino, is avoided. The university has a contract with Chick-fil-A, and they can pursue the normal legal channels to cancel it, or choose not to renew it.
Still, the ugly totalitarianism of Christine Quinn is made no more palatable by tap-dancing around the letter of the Constitution. You’ve still got a government official attacking a business that has committed no crime, entirely because she wants to silence free speech she dislikes.
A number of people on the Left have voiced principles objections to the Chicken Inquisition, even though they strongly favor same-sex marriage. The ACLU, which officially supports same-sex marriage, weighed in against the inquisitors. Referring to a Chicago alderman’s angry statement that Chick-fil-A would not be issued permits to build restaurants in the city, senior ACLU attorney Adam Schwartz said, “The government can regulate discrimination in employment or against customers, but what the government cannot do is to punish someone for their words. When an alderman refuses to allow a business to open because its owner has expressed a viewpoint the government disagrees with, the government is practicing viewpoint discrimination.”
These principled liberals deserve applause, but their decision should not have been difficult. We frequently argue about the meaning of political labels, but if the word “liberal” is to retain the faintest trace of its original and literal meaning, opposition to the likes of Menino, Quinn, and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel is a no-brainer. You’re not “liberal” in even the most strained definition of the term if you think government officials should be using strong-arm tactics to suppress free speech.
The Chicken Inquisition is a sign of intellectual weakness from those who support it. They’re conceding that same-sex marriage has gotten just about as far as it can through persuasion, so the time for discourse is over. The hour for compelling obedience and silencing dissent has arrived.
Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy didn’t say anything objectionable, hateful, or “anti-gay.” In the interview that sparked the current round of boycotts and disturbing official assaults on his First Amendment rights, he didn’t even say anything critical of same-sex marriage, although there is little doubt from other statements that he believes in the importance of traditional marriage. And yet, he’s being treated as if his expression of support for traditional marriage is equivalent to a hate crime. That’s the totalitarian way: suppressing ideas, instead of responding to them.
The campaign for same-sex marriage was able to achieve a remarkable level of success at shifting public opinion over the last decade, but they seem to have reached an impasse. States where the voters have a direct say in the matter have almost invariably voted in favor of traditional marriage. President Obama’s old position on marriage used to track closely with Dan Cathy’s, but a few months ago he ostensibly changed his mind and came out in favor of gay marriage, with one key qualifier: he said states should be able to decide the issue on their own. Well, you’re not respecting someone’s freedom of choice if you threaten them with dire consequences for making the officially disfavored choice.
At the moment, it doesn’t seem as if many states are going to change their minds about the definition of marriage, at least in the short term. From here on out, winning greater support for same-sex marriage through persuasive means, with full respect for the good will of opponents, will require years of hard work. Crushing the opposition with aggressive totalitarian tactics is an easier, faster, more satisfying course. The temptation to follow that course is proving difficult to resist.