Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Firing over Anti-Gay Remarks:

Over at Volokh and elsewhere they are discussing this story about a doctrinaire Catholic who was fired from his public service job in Maryland for saying some arguably bigoted things about gays. Of course, I'm troubled anytime a public official is fired simply for speech.

But, I think this case fits perfectly into what I've argued recently about gay rights: We already have an existing set of laws, regulations and norms of civil behavior regarding how we treat people from various social groups. All gays are asking for is the same treatment. Now, these norms may, alas, be abused to inhibit liberty and free speech (and we should fight against that). But, there is no good reason why gays shouldn't be included at this place at the table.

And again, we see the racial analogy being invoked in an inappropriate manner. This analogy is abused by both sides in the debate, when the gay side argues: "Homosexuality is just like race, therefore make us into a civil rights category." Or when the anti-gay side argues, "you can't compare homosexuality to race, therefore sexual orientation isn't a valid social group or civil rights category."

Again, we DO NOT live in a world where race and race only is the only "civil rights" or "social group" category against which one can be bigoted. So sexual orientation need not make any kind of near perfect analogy to race in order to be a valid social group or merit bona fide civil rights status.

Consider, whatever one thinks of the "chosen" aspect of sexual orientation, religion is entirely a matter of choice, far more so than one's sexual orientation. Does anti-religious bigotry exist? What if a public official said, "I think Catholics are religious deviates. They engage, or they think they engage, in ritual cannibalism. That's nuts."

Would this be tolerated by a public official? I don't think so. I can almost guarantee you Maryland's governor would have fired a public official who made these remarks.

Now, on the other hand, public officials should be, as a matter of law, free to speak their mind about their consciences. But lets leave aside the legal matter and explore this solely as a social matter or norm. Traditionally minded folks should be able to have their religious convictions and not be thought of as bigots. And all of us should be able to constructively and in a civil manner criticize the various social groups, perhaps for certain behavioral or cultural problems that we do see in many groups who are bona fide civil rights categories, and not be thought of as "prejudiced."

And that's where the hard part begins. When does one cross the line from constructive criticism into bigotry? I don't have an easy answer. Perhaps bigotry is like Justice Potter Stewart's definition of obscenity: I know it when I see it.

Let's focus more on anti-religious bigotry. Those of us who are religious freethinkers should be able to constructively criticize what we think are the irrationalities of various religions and not be charged as being "bigots." Similarly, the traditional religious thinkers ought to be able to criticize the doctrines and dogmas of one another without being tarred with the bigotry label.

For instance, what if you are an evangelical Protestants who really does believe that one has to accept Jesus only and be "born-again" in order to make it into Heaven. Now, Catholics explicitly reject this dogma. Catholics must reject Catholic dogma in order to be saved according to this sentiment. If such a Catholic becomes "born-again" and believes in the doctrine, what are the chances of him or her sticking around the Catholic Church? In short, (and I know not all evangelicals think this way; but it certainly seems to me to be logical, given the premises of Protestant fundamentalism) Catholics go to Hell when they die.

Does believing this make fundamentalist Christians into anti-Catholic bigots? No. And there is a civil way to hold this position.

But, (you knew a but! was coming) what if then the evangelical starts calling the Pope the Anti-Christ and the Catholic Church the Whore of Babylon? Then, I think, we've crossed the line from devoutly held religious convictions into anti-Catholic bigotry.

Religious folks, even though they have a legal (and social) right to their longstanding, devoutly held beliefs, cannot then use those convictions as a shield against a charge of, or an excuse for bigotry. Believing that Catholics qua Catholics aren't saved or that all voluntarily chosen homosexual acts are sinful is not in and of itself bigoted. But those legitimate convictions should not be able then to be used as a "shield" against a charge of bigotry. For example...Statement: "The Pope is the Anti-Christ and homosexuals are disease spreading perverts who want to recruit your children." Response: "This smells like anti-Catholic and anti-gay bigotry to me." Counterresponse: "But this is just my religious convictions."

No. There is a way to explain and assert these devoutly held religious convictions without engaging in rank bigotry. Where the line is crossed from convictions to bigotry is a hard one to draw. And that's why we have to debate the issue and think hard (William F. Buckley wrote an entire book about this matter as it applies to anti-Semitism, which lost him some friends).

Finally, if I could point to one example (and there are many more) of an evangelical who believes that all voluntarily chosen homosexual acts are wrong, but doesn't, in my opinion, have an anti-gay bone in his body, I'd use Joe Carter. His ex-wife is lesbian and he is still very close to her. Perhaps that's why he doesn't gay bash with his rhetoric. I wish more would follow his example.


frumiousb said...

Thoughtful post. Your judgement about crossing the line between beliefs and bigotry is a good one.

I think that on balance I tend to agree with the firing. Government, of all things, does have the right to assert that bigotry is not acceptable in public officials. Even public officials who have nothing to do with the subject in question. To have permitted him to remain in office would have sent a message, intended or not, about what Ehrlich deemed acceptable.

Terry Hamblin said...

Logical, but not completely convincing. Evangelicals are evangelistic. They not only believe that homosexuality is sinful, they are concerned for the consequences. "Turn from your wicked ways and live!" is an evangelical injunction from the book of Ezekiel. It is not an expression of hatred but of love. Yet it could get you fired.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Mr. Rowe, if you're the same Jon Rowe who stood up singlehandedly against the amassed forces of the Claremont Institute commentership on this issue, my compliments.

I located your blog through google after reading it all. Courageous guy, I thought, and courage is in short supply these days. Good on him.

(Also, to their credit, I thought they were pretty cool toward you. I've been treated much worse on the internet for far less dissent.)

Anyway, I disagree with you completely on this issue, for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with Leviticus, but wanted to tip my hat.

Rock on, mate. You're good people. But I think the day is coming soon, and this case indicates that that day is already here, when speaking my disagreement with you out loud might cost me my means of feeding my family.

I'm not good with that. I wouldn't let them do it to you.

Jonathan said...

Thanks Tom.

Yes, that's me, the same guy from the Claremont threads. It's where I met Sandefur who subsequently got me into blogging. And now we co-blog together at Positive Liberty.

Kevin Fleming said...

I see the so called line you've drawn as a distinction without a difference. The bigoted statements you cite could not come out of thin air; they must have a basis in belief. They are the fruit of the tree whose roots lie beneath the surface and feed what is seen. What you are saying is that if a person who believes that homosexuality is sinful can say that much but can not say that it is sinful BECAUSE it is a perversion, an abomination, and that all gays will go to hell. You are saying "Don't tell us what you REALLY believe, because that would be bigotry"
Even if they limit their condemnation to "voluntary homosexual acts", it's still a condmenation of the person insofar as we express ourselves most clearly through acts which we CHOOSE as opposed to automatic acts.
While I understand that tolerance does not imply acceptance, nonetheless I have no respect for anyone whose beliefs are the roots of anti-gay statements.
I'm old enough to remember the fervent beliefs of those who stood outside public AND Catholic schools in the South, holding signs that quoted Scripture:"The races shall not mix".
I agree that the Governor of Maryland has the right to hire and fire appointees, on whatever basis he chooses. No doubt there are gay workers in the Metro system. To countenance an influential appointee's expressed hostility towards any group over which he or she has direct or indirect influence is unacceptable. The Governor was right.

Anonymous said...

Confusion about rights, bigotry, free speech need clarity.

Prejudice and bigotry, sad though they are, prevail throughout society. Whether its race, religion, homosexuality, nationalism, or whatever, people have strong opinions about others. What is bigotry to one may be precious doctrine to another. Who is to decide?

The Bill of Rights give license to express one's opinion, including bigotry, including dogma parading as bigotry. The Courts have rightly favored freedom of expression, e.g., the Klu Klux Klans' parade in a largely-Semitic and black suburb of Stokie, Illinois, despite the repugnance of the Klan to the suburb (indeed, the rest of the country). But the right to free expression, even repugnant expression, is a mark of a liberal pluralistic democracy, and to be heralded in spite of its undesirable side effects.

Evangelical Protestants' views on Roman Catholicism needs to be heard. The sibling calling the parent a "Whore" lets everyone know where each other stands. Better disclosure than concealment. The EP's myopia has been well rehearsed, but still carries much weight politically and socially. Better to expose, that allow it to hide and fester.

Indeed, much good came from the national dialogue about the freedom of expression and the repugnance of the Klans bigotry. Maybe Catholics will have a new "appreciation" of their Christianist brethren. They may not share the same God after all.

"Gay rights" is trickier, because there aren't any. Indeed, being gay was criminalized in 13 states as recently as three years ago. Lawrence finally overturned state-sanctioned criminalization of gays and lesbians, so talk of "rights" seems at least anachronistic. Sexual orientation was not a protected class in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and in most jurisdictions, gays and lesbians can still be fired from their jobs and evicted from their apartments just for being homosexual. Lenders can even deny homosexuals loans for no other reason than for being gay. So "gay rights" is a species that exists only in limited locales.

"Gay Equality," which would include Civil Rights protections and open some of society's social structures to gays and lesbians that it already offers to heterosexuals, is still being fought. Marriage and adoption, for example, still remain tenuous, if not excluded (e.g., Florida) for gays. Whether or not a fair and just society will tolerate such punative measures against minority members of its society is unclear. From today's vantage, the prospects look dim.

Hence, the confusion over "rights," free speech, bigotry, and gay equality. From an economic perspective, attitudes have changed dramatically. A substantial number of the Fortune 500 companies offer benefits to their gay and lesbian partners. Many enterprises target the gay consumer. Even politically, attitudes are rapidly changing. Many local jurisdictions now do offer gays and lesbians protection against employment termination and housing eviction for being gay.

Despite, or because, the Republicans have overused gay-bashing, Californians, according to a recent poll, now are evenly divided for/againt gay-inclusive marriage. A bill that approved this step to equality made it all the way to the governor, who vetoed it. That's a big change in just six years. But, we cannot forget that as recently as three years ago, being gay or lesbian was a crime, and might still be, if SCOTUS had not overruled itself.

In a modern, liberal, democratic, and pluralistic society (the antithesis of theocracy, for example), tolerance of bigotry, castes, discrimination, criminalization, etc., might still exist, but against an enlightened view of the world that finds these attitudes repugnant, even as it tolerates them. Until then, we need to navigate these very different issues clearly and soberly. As I frequently claim, our ideal society would tolerate everything but intolerance. Such was the hope of the Founders and the Enlightenment. Our laboratory experiment, born of Englightenment ideals, and known as "America," is still being tested, and theocrats are still waging against it. Posts like this keep the experiment going. Thanks.

Tom Van Dyke said...

"Theocrats" is so 1980s. Those guys took their shot, and failed. The Moral Majority turned out to be a minority.

Jon, Yardley? Where the rich live in Philadelphia's suburban Bucks County?

I grew up in Levittown, man. Steel mills. Above-the-ground swimming pools. No movie stars.

(Just kidding.)

I'm not down with positive liberty, man. It requires me to say things are OK about things that I don't think are OK. It requires me to call a cat a dog.

Soon it will be a hate crime to say what I think. There should be no thoughtcrimes in the US.

Not to say that guy shouldn't have been fired. He's a jerk. But they asked him what he thought and he (stupidly) answered honestly. He was or should have been fired for his lack of political acumen.

Although I agree with Scalia's dissent on legal and abstract grounds, I'm OK with Lawrence vs. Kansas. I'll cite Aquinas as a political and not a religious philosopher that all moral issues need not be made legal ones.

But neither should society and the individual conscience be coerced by law into approval of things. The ceasing of persecution should be sufficient. Negative liberty.

There is great virtue in silence.

Terry Hamblin said...

Supposing he said, "In my view all adulterers are sinners and unless they repent they are all going to hell."

There are no doubt many adulterers working on the Transit. Would this constitute sufficient offence to get him fired?

jen said...

Terry, that argument is flawed, because the adulterer statement is framed in the language of belief. It talks about adultery in terms of sin and hell. His comments on homosexual persons were not framed such; they were framed in language which carries a heavy negative connotation outside of religious circles (the negative connotation of 'sinner' is much lesser outside of theological discussion). And I think that's the precise distinction Jon is talking about.

Terry Hamblin said...

So, if he were to have said adulterers are sexual deviants (as is clearly the case according to Romans chapter 1 if you follow the Biblical teaching) it would be OK to fire him?

Jonathan said...

Yup, I'm from that same Yardley. So you aren't from Levittown?

We went to high school in the Levittown/Fairless Hills area and it was a nice split between white collar Yardley and blue collar Levittown/Fairless Hills.

The "Yardley" kids didn't have contact with the "Levittown" kids until 11th grade (now, they have integrate them much earlier). And I think it was definitely good for all of us.

I met my best friend in 12th grade and he was from Fairless Hills.

As regards the different worldviews, I think libertarianism is the one at least theoretical place where the different worldviews can come together on an agreeable system.

However, the problem is we don't live in that first best libertarian world, and those of different worldviews coming to an agreement where the state is already entrenched in various cultural areas....that's a problem.

At Positive Liberty, we are debating with a fellow named John T. Kennedy who is libertarian, but seems to have a pretty socially conservative worldview. I think in a first best world, we would be entirely agreed. The problem is, once government involves itself in say marriage or anti-discrimination laws in the private sector, then what do we do?

Anonymous said...

Libertarianism's default to "negative liberty" is only half the problem. What about "positive liberty?" Both a "freedom to" and a "freedom from" exist. Libertarianism not so subtly ignore the "freedom to."

From a holistic biological panorama, political and social arrangements are first and foremost survival mechanisms. The needs for food, clothing, and shelter supercede political values of "freedom from." Telling a hungry, homeless, and naked person that he has "freedoms from" does what?