The editorial board of The New York Times supports the mayor of Atlanta firing the city’s fire chief for authoring a Christian-themed book in which he criticizes homosexuality, and giving that book to a few within the department. Excerpts:
But, as the book revealed, his religious beliefs also include virulent anti-gay views. He was fired on Jan. 6 by Atlanta’s mayor, Kasim Reed, for homophobic language in the book, “Who Told You That You Were Naked?” Among other things, he called homosexuality a “perversion,” compared it to bestiality and pedophilia, and said homosexual acts are “vile, vulgar and inappropriate.”
Ah yes, “virulent.” The Times failed to deploy the verb “spewed.” The ed board is losing its edge. More:
Imagine that Mr. Cochran, who is black, were an adherent of a religion that avowed the inferiority of white people, and that he distributed literature to that effect. He would not have lasted another day in a job that requires him to manage and protect the well-being of a large and diverse work force.
It should not matter that the investigation found no evidence that Mr. Cochran had mistreated gays or lesbians. [Emphasis mine — RD]
Right, because fired Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran’s real offense is thinking the wrong things, and saying the wrong things.
Look, Cochran was stupid to do this. I say that as a Christian and as a conservative. I don’t want my boss proselytizing me (or anyone else) on behalf of his religious and political beliefs, even if I agree with them. I find his expression of Christian orthodoxy graceless, and far more likely to turn people away from the faith than attract them. Besides, this is simply unprofessional. Furthermore, Cochran may be hypocritical here, having subjected some of the men under his command to a 30-day suspension for having posted to Facebook a photograph of them having lunch at Chick-fil-A, in support of the company founder’s anti-SSM stance (see the report from the Atlanta Journal Constitution here).
That said, why not give the chief a 30-day suspension? Why fire him? If Chief Cochran were a member of the Nation of Islam, and believed that white people were the creation of a mad black scientist, and gave out copies of The Final Call at Ramadan — so what? If there is no evidence that his religious views affected the way he treated his employees, slap his wrist, tell him to keep his bean pies to himself on the job, and let’s get on with putting out fires. Cochran deserved discipline in this case. He did not deserve to lose his job.
But that’s not how things go with liberals like members of the Times‘s editorial board, or Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed. For them, it seems, liberalism is not an end, but a means to the end of controlling discourse.
I repeat to you the Times‘s chilling line: It should not matter that the investigation found no evidence that Mr. Cochran had mistreated gays or lesbians.
A reader writes:
I wonder…if Kelvin Cochran was gunned down by an enraged homosexual because he dared to write his book, would world leaders come to his funeral and tens of thousands hold placards saying “I am Kelvin”?
No…it would be “workplace violence” and more of a “meh” moment, you can bet on it.
No, I am not saying there is a moral equivalence between being murdered and losing your job—it’s not about the actions against either Charlie or Kelvin. It’s about our alleged commitment to “freedom of the press”. We can throw around feel-good slogans like “I may not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it” but few really mean it. Where were the “I Am the FRC” tee-shirts after the 2012 shooting? If anyone had been killed in that shooting, would there be the outrage by the left?
You have to offend in a popular manner…say things that people basically agree with, but they might be “nicer” about it. “Yeah, I don’t like Islam…I wouldn’t make offensive cartoons, but hey, that’s Uncle Charlie and we love him.” “Cochran, eh? That wasn’t religious discrimination, and if it was, he deserved it, that dirty little Fundy.”
The arguments on why Charlie shouldn’t have been intimidated to publish whatever they wanted apply equally to Cochran. Should people of any particular political or religious view refrain from writing books because it doesn’t reflect the politics or religious views of their employers?
Irony of ironies, I feel compelled to send this to you and for you to maintain my anonymity, because I fear that if I posted this on Facebook or publically in any other way, it could literally mean the loss of my livelihood. Freedom of the press? Only for a few. Freedom of Religion? Only freedom of worship in your Church, Mosque or Temple…outside of that, better shut up.
But of course, people will say “it’s not the same!” Yeah, I know—killing people is a lot different than firing them. But both were done because someone was offended by what someone published. Does freedom of the press mean only that you shouldn’t be killed for saying something? Does it mean other retaliations are just ducky? Where is that line? What negative consequences for offending people are ok in a “free” society, and which ones are forbidden?
Most won’t bother to think this through…it all depends on who’s precious feelings are hurt. Yes, Christians can be very offense-sensitive, but liberals can be, too. And we choose to fight for the right of those…who are like us, all others, well, “it shouldn’t have happened but they had it coming.”
I was e-mailing back and forth with another reader this morning about my “Defending the Culture of Death” post yesterday. This reader, a conservative Christian, says that no matter how offensive and decadent Charlie Hebdo is, we conservative Christian types had better defend it, if only as a matter of self-preservation. The reader wrote:
The battle lines are drawn. You’re seeing a clear separation between actual liberals — people who genuinely believe in freedom of expression, argument, ideas — and the emergent left, for whom blasphemy laws and taboos (redefined, of course, “hate speech” laws and “anti-racism” taboos) are useful additions to the long list of taboos they’re already trying to enforce, which very much include Eich-style taboos against any kind of criticism of the sexual revolution. … I would much, much rather stand with real liberals, even if they’re libertine liberals, in defense of Hebdo’s blasphemous style than I would give aid and comfort to the people who would like a world where official nobody gives offense to anybody, and where that requires writing orthodox Christians out of public debate entirely.
This is correct, and the point I was trying to make, only stated more clearly. It is a bitter irony that we conservatives and Christians have to defend an often-despicable publication like Charlie Hebdo, but if we don’t, we give power to those who would see us gagged.
I realized some years ago, when it became clear that conservatives were going to lose the same-sex marriage battle, that the only way for us to hold a little ground for ourselves, on which to practice our religion without state interference, is if libertarian principles win out. I am not a libertarian on principle (that is, because I think choice is what matters most, not the thing chosen), but protecting freedom of religion compels me to be one for instrumental reasons. Same with free speech. And in the end, libertarianism is probably the only way we can keep the peace in a pluralistic society, the only means by which we can live together.
Today we are Charlie Hebdo. But what about tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow?
I think most observers would agree that over the past 20 years or so, we’ve been witnessing a paradox when it comes to free speech. On the one hand, it’s easier than ever before to express oneself, especially in a public way (thank you, internet). On the other hand there is a huge attack on all sorts of speech that can in any way, shape, or form be deemed offensive. From trigger warnings to microaggressions and everything in between, all speech is suspect these days.
Gillespie points to a YouGov poll from 2014 showing that 51 percent of all Democrats support hate speech laws — and only a minority (38 percent) of all Americans oppose them outright. More Gillespie:
… [T]hreats to free speech do not always come from someone holding a gun and shouting Allahu Akbar. Indeed, they are more likely in America to come from people you know and respect.
On Monday, the Times editorial board came out in support (rightly so!) of the solidarity marchers in Paris. Excerpt:
But with the horror and fears raised by the attacks still fresh, it was important and proper that the first response in Paris — as elsewhere in France, across Europe and across the Atlantic — was a resounding and united demonstration of outrage and solidarity. Simply by turning out in vast numbers, the marchers eloquently demonstrated a shared conviction that Charlie Hebdo was exercising a right fundamental to democracy, the right of free expression. [Emphasis mine — RD]
I think we all agree that even if we have a right to free expression, we don’t have a right to have a job. That said, if the right of free expression is “fundamental to democracy,” you would think that liberals like those on the Times editorial board would be inclined to endorse workplace discipline short of stripping a man of his job for writing a book endorsing the principles of his religion on a basic moral question. As Erick Erickson points out, what Kelvin Cochran said may be offensive to the editorial board, but it is not Klan propaganda or a neo-Nazi screed; it is standard Christianity (and Orthodox Judaism, and Islam, for that matter).
One more time, here’s the jaw-dropping line from the Times editorial:
It should not matter that the investigation found no evidence that Mr. Cochran had mistreated gays or lesbians.
The New York Times believes in thoughtcrime. I know you knew that, but boy, does this editorial ever illuminate the stakes and the sides in the Charlie Hebdo controversy. For liberals like the Times folks, free speech comes down to the Leninist principle of “who, whom” — that is, free speech matters only if it helps the who beat down the whom.
UPDATE: The 2012 farewell column by the NYT ombudsman Arthur Brisbane, on the “hive mind” at the paper around cultural progressivism, is worth a re-read.