This Is Not Going to Be One Of My More Popular Essays

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 8.442% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Two blocks away from the ruins of 9/11 was a Burlington Coat Factory that some muslims wanted to turn into a mosque. Conservatives went berserk, claiming that the mosque was an insult to all who had died in the Twin Towers attack, that it was too soon, and (not all, but enough) claimed that they didn’t want this statement of a religion they disagreed with in their city.
At which point liberals argued back that America is about free speech. If the space is available, and the Muslims are willing to pay, then they should have the right to open up a temple. Yes, Muslims may be an unpopular religion in certain circles, and no, you may not like some of the causes that this temple may be funding, but your like of their goals is irrelevant. Freedom of speech applies to people you disagree with – and the true test of America’s values is not, “How do we tolerate people we like?” but rather, “How do we handle people with opinions at odds with everything we believe?”
As long as they’re not doing anything illegal, liberals argued, the Muslims should have the right to be there. And they were Very Sure about this.
Then the mayor of Boston slammed Chick Fil-A, urging them in an angry letter to “back out of their plans to locate in Boston.” And liberals shared this letter with a great whoop and WHOO GO TOM MENINO and great acclaim.  Seriously. It was spooged all over my Twitter and Facebook accounts.
Yet I think: What if the mayor of New York had expressed similar sentiments about the mosque?
Before we continue, I’d just like to express my credentials: I’m a big fan of gay marriage. Despite the fact that there is a Chick Fil-A literally across the street from me, and they are my favorite fast food chain, I have not eaten there in two years because of their anti-gay fundings. When the Muppets pulled out of Chick fil-A’s business, I immediately posted a link to Twitter that said, “Muppets do the right thing,” and I think that people have the absolute right to vote with their feet. This isn’t about me not being intensely pro gay marriage, or intensely anti Chick Fil-A, so if you’re starting a response along those lines, stop, delete your comment, and start over.
This is about freedom of speech for people you fucking hate.
But Ferrett, you’ll argue, this is a snack stand, not a temple!, to which I say, “So you’d have been okay with people telling Muslims that opening up a Muslim-run dry cleaning business close to the mosque was an insult?” Or Chick Fil A firing someone because they’re Jewish, because hey, work is different than worship and we only wanna hire nice happy Christians? No, guys, “freedom of speech” doesn’t mean “You get to be religious in firmly-marked areas with big symbols warning you so you know what’s going on,” but rather “People of all religions, even the icky ones, have an equal right to worship AND work, and express those beliefs through both.”
(And, you know, it’s not like all Muslims – particularly the fundamentalist ones – are a great bunch of well-adjusted people. All religions are nut magnets, and there were some very real concerns about where the funds the mosque raised were going. A lot of the mosques were funded by more virulent sects of Islam, even if the one in New York seemed to be largely run by a more peaceful branch.  If your worries about funding anti-gay causes are justified, then at least some percentage of the anti-mosque sentiments carried a similarly valid concern.)
Either way, you have a person in power telling someone, “I don’t like your religious beliefs, I don’t like how you spend your money, and I want you out of my fucking town.”  And your attempts to draw distinctions between that and the mosque are splitting some mighty fine hairs.
I hate Chick Fil-A, and I think they should have every right to build in Boston without having to worry about having permits pulled or being hassled because of their repugnant, stupid, backwater, bigoted, terrified, swamp-ass beliefs. That’s freedom of speech. They should have every right to go to Boston, build a franchise, have a constant stream of gays and gay-friendly straights picketing it and handing out fliers, spend months dealing with bad PR as the funds slowly run out and they realize that their anti-gay stance is costing them so much business they can’t afford to stay, and then maybe they’ll make a better choice. Or pay the cost of their opinions, because every opinion has a cost and if you’re willing to pay that price then you should be able to carry on with it.
The government, however, should not get involved.
This is not a popular stance, because so many liberals I know treat religion as though it were a disease. But that’s the point. Even if you dislike Chick Fil A, they have the right to their say – and part of their say involves selling chicken sandwiches to make a living. And a mayor telling fundamentalist Christians, “You are not welcome here” spreads the message to Christians that yes, they are persecuted, here’s the proof! And those dang liberals don’t practice what they preach.
Let’s practice. Let’s allow religious-run businesses to stand or fall on their own merits. And if it turns out that the fine people of Boston aren’t so pro-gay as to abandon Chick Fil-A, then I say that’s a problem we need to face in a different way than harassing them until they leave, and issuing bold threats from official pulpits. But as a government, let us make room for people of all stripes, even the foul and corrupt stripes of anti-gay bigots.
(And if you’re a conservative who is cheering now, yet was against the mosque? Shut the fuck up. The point I’m making is that we shouldn’t be as bigoted and closed-minded as you. If we should be ashamed, you should be ashamed doubly so.)

6 Comments

  1. Charlie O.
    Jul 27, 2012

    The stance of the mayor of Boston should have been this: gay marriage is legal in Massachusetts and thus there are regulations dealing with benefits for people of whom you’ve expressed contempt. Before Chick-Fil-A can build in Boston, you will be expected to document that you will honor both the letter and spirit of the law and can treat all employees equally. If you will treat your LGBT employees as sinners, even as sinners you love, then you are not welcome here.
    This would be a much stronger statement than, Gee, I wish you wouldn’t move in. Chick-Fil-A still can and will move in. The letter doesn’t even suggest that Boston will make sure the company is following the laws the company protests.

  2. Eric James Stone
    Jul 27, 2012

    Ferrett, we probably disagree on most political issues, but I respect you for not being a hypocrite about First Amendment rights.

  3. Scott Van Essen
    Jul 27, 2012

    Well said. I was guilty of jumping on the anti-Chick-Fil-A bandwagon and I was totally wrong. (They’re still a bunch of bigots). Thanks for setting me straight.

  4. Bosq
    Jul 27, 2012

    While I understand the hypocracy you’re trying to point out, your argument has one huge glaring flaw:
    Churches are not businesses. Businesses are not churches.
    The building of the Mosque would be protected under provisions for freedom of religion and freedom of worship- and Mosques/Churches/Temples/Sacred Groves do not exist primarily as devices for extracting money from people and funneling it into particular agendas. They’re constructed to serve a spiritual and community purpose, part of which may be directing donations from followers. But they are not subject to the same taxes and regulations as businesses.
    Chick Fil-A is a business with a primary goal of extracting money from a community and turning it into profit. Communities have a long established right to determine which businesses are welcome within their borders. This isn’t any different than a small town voting not to allow a Wallmart or a Target to be built where they are. Regardless of the reasons, the local municipality has a right and obligation to regulate the businesses in its boarders, under the scope of fostering the local economy and culture.
    You’re a fan of Neil Gaiman, I suggest you look to his essays and blogs for better examples of where the “freedom of speech” clause gets uncomfortable, as well as why its important to defend it anyway.

  5. Kat
    Jul 27, 2012

    The difference is that the location of a mosque is governed by the religion clause of the first amendment, not the speech clause. The other difference is that there is no constitutional right to sell someone a chicken sandwich. If the head of Chik-fil-a wants to hold an anti-gay marriage demonstration in Boston, Boston must let him. But the city is under no obligation to allow the business there.

  6. Charity Froggenhall
    Jul 28, 2012

    Oh shit. You’re right.
    Damn First Amendment.
    It’s like when the KKK wants to march. We have to let them practice free speech, even though it’s foul and disgusting.

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