There’s a big stink in the US at the moment about a fast food chain. The president of the Chick-fil-A chain, Dan Cathy (a man I had never heard of a week ago, and I suspect relatively few of his customers had either) has expressed opposition to same-sex marriage. This has resulted, rather predictably, in calls for a boycott of Chick-fil-A from supporters of same-sex marriage. This in turn had led, even more predictably, to cries from the right that the left are trying to crush free speech and ban all forms of thought that don’t comply with their own.
So here we go again. Yet another example of people mistaking the right to free speech for the right to protection from the consequences of expressing that right.
In fairness, and to his credit, Mr Cathy has said that his own views are not the views of the Chick-fil-A chain, which has no position. That’s fair enough and he is right to say that there is no such thing as a Christian business. Equally, when you hear a point of view expressed by Bill Gates, do you take it as a comment from Bill Gates, private citizen whose view is no more or less important than anyone else’s, or do you take it as a comment from Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and global philanthropist? Right. So while I am perfectly happy to accept that Dan Cathy was speaking only for himself and not his company, it’s his position as head of that company that gives him a greater platform from which to express his personal, not-representative-of-the-company, opinion. It is an opinion he has every right to hold and express by all means available to him. It’s also an opinion that others are free to disagree with and express that disagreement by all means available to them.
Some have asked why, so long as the food is good (we’ll assume, for the sake of argument, that it is), anyone should care what the president of the company thinks about anything. And why punish the people behind the counters for the utterances of the owner of the chain? From that, it’s been claimed that any Chick-fil-A boycott is really about the big, bad lefties trying to suppress any point of view that doesn't conform to theirs because they really hate freedom. This is to completely miss the point of freedom.
If you believe in freedom, then it follows that people have the right to withhold their patronage from any business for whatever reason they see fit. If you disagree with their reasons, then you are free to disagree but they are under no more obligation to care about your disagreement than Dan Cathy should be to change his opinion. No-one's freedom of expression trumps anyone else's freedom of choice.
It all reminds me of a situation nearly ten years ago now when a popular country vocal group expressed their embarrassment at coming from the same state as the then president. These comments caused something of a ruckus. Indeed, I seem to remember people calling for boycotts of their records and concerts and the group being banned from radio playlists. What I don’t remember is any cries from the right wing about what a terrible attack on free speech this was. I also don’t remember anyone pointing out that the group were only expressing a personal point of view and that they were not claiming to speak for their record company, management or road crew who, I think we would all agree, deserve to make an honest living without being blamed for the personal opinions of their bosses, right? Or is that different? If so, how? I mean, so long as they still sing nice tunes, who cares what they said about other stuff?
The fact is that while the singers had the right to express their views in whatever way they saw fit, others had the right to react in any way they saw fit. We all have our freedoms.
My only question for Chick-fil-A is this: How does it feel to be The Dixie Chicks?