Looking down the blog posts at H&R today, a free speech theme has emerged. In the Sunday Washington Post, conservative columnist George Will discussed how "progressive" fundamentalists use "hate speech" regulations to shut up people they "hate"– uh, I mean, with whom they disagree. In Oakland, Ca., Will reports:
Some African American Christian women working for Oakland's government organized the Good News Employee Association (GNEA), which they announced with a flier describing their group as "a forum for people of Faith to express their views on the contemporary issues of the day. With respect for the Natural Family, Marriage and Family Values."
The flier was distributed after other employees' groups, including those advocating gay rights, had advertised their political views and activities on the city's e-mail system and bulletin board. When the GNEA asked for equal opportunity to communicate by that system and that board, it was denied. Furthermore, the flier they posted was taken down and destroyed by city officials, who declared it "homophobic" and disruptive.
The city government said the flier was "determined" to promote harassment based on sexual orientation. The city warned that the flier and communications like it could result in disciplinary action "up to and including termination."
Effectively, the city has proscribed any speech that even one person might say questioned the gay rights agenda and therefore created what that person felt was a "hostile" environment. This, even though gay rights advocates used the city's communication system to advertise "Happy Coming Out Day." Yet the terms "natural family," "marriage" and "family values" are considered intolerably inflammatory.
The treatment of the GNEA illustrates one technique by which America's growing ranks of self-appointed speech police expand their reach: They wait until groups they disagree with, such as the GNEA, are provoked to respond to them in public debates, then they persecute them for annoying those to whom they are responding. In Oakland, this dialectic of censorship proceeded on a reasonable premise joined to a preposterous theory.
The premise is that city officials are entitled to maintain workplace order and decorum. The theory is that government supervisors have such unbridled power of prior restraint on speech in the name of protecting order and decorum that they can nullify the First Amendment by declaring that even the mild text of the GNEA flier is inherently disruptive.
The flier supposedly violated the city regulation prohibiting "discrimination and/or harassment based on sexual orientation." The only cited disruption was one lesbian's complaint that the flier made her feel "targeted" and "excluded." So anyone has the power to be a censor just by saying someone's speech has hurt his or her feelings.
Sigh. Why can't we all just get along? You can say any damned thing that you want and I can say any damned thing I want in response. Just so long as it doesn't disturb our cubicle mates as they type on their computer keyboards. Or better yet, we can agree to stop talking to each other and maintain a mutually disapproving social silence.
One of the best books on the progressives' war against free speech is reason contributor Jonathan Rauch's Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought. Reviewed here in reason.
The whole Will column is here.
Disclosure: My wife and I are members of Equality Virginia and contributed somewhere between $500 and $1000 to EV's campaign to defeat a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Even though I disagree with them, those Oakland ladies should be allowed to say what they think.