On the Dragging of Kevin Williamson

The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf dissents from The Atlantic's treatment of Kevin Williamson

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf has penned a lengthy "dissent" from Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg's decision to fire Kevin Williamson only a few weeks after hiring him. The piece is long, but it makes many important points about tolerance and discourse in a divided time.

A brief taste:

I vehemently reject every plausible interpretation of Williamson's position. . . [W]hat I dissent from today concerns matters that transcend the abortion debate, or anything I might believe as a conflicted civil libertarian who deeply respects the emotions that it evokes among the "pro-life" and "pro-choice."

More specifically, I dissent from the way that Williamson was dragged, regardless of his position. That dragging would be a small matter in isolation, but it is of a piece with burgeoning, shortsighted modes of discourse that are corroding what few remaining ties bind the American center. Should that center fail to hold, anarchy will be loosed.

And I dissent from the termination that followed—a matter for which responsibility must fall on The Atlantic, not on Williamson's critics, even those critics who most egregiously distorted his words or their prominence in his journalism.

What about the mode of Williamson's dragging alarmed me?

Word of Williamson's hiring was greeted by some as if by mercenary opposition researchers determined to isolate the most outlying and offensive thoughts that he ever uttered, no matter how marginal to his years of journalistic work; to gleefully amplify them, sometimes in highly distorting ways, in a manner designed to stoke maximum upset and revulsion; and to frame them as if they said everything one needed to know about his character. To render him toxic was their purpose.

That mode was poison when reserved for cabinet nominees; it is poison when applied to journalistic hires; and it will be poison if, next week or year, it comes for you. . .

I worry that the firing was a failure of "the spirit of generosity," a value that The Atlantic has long touted as a core value. I know that it raised thorny, unresolved questions about what exactly is verboten at the magazine. I fear that it will make it harder for the publication to contribute to the sort of public sphere where the right and the left mutually benefit from fraught engagement. And I expect that many of my colleagues will bear the burden of being dragged in ways that opportunists on the right and the left will now take to be effective.

Finally, I worry that the dragging and the firing were failures of tolerance.

That virtue is unfashionable these days. And I believe that those who minimize, dismiss, or reject it underestimate its value and the potential consequences of its atrophy, even as many who value tolerance have lost the words or the stomach to defend it.

I have not.

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  1. So, I question whether the Atlantic should have hired Williamson to begin with. That said, I agree with Friedersdorf that his termination was terrible. And it made me think that one issue that we have seen repeatedly is that, to a certain extent, words don’t matter – but video and audio does.

    The Atlantic knew about Williamson’s opinions. They knew exactly what they were getting. He didn’t do anything after being hired that deserved termination. Instead, the discovery of a podcast from 4 years ago where he stated the exact same things that he had already written, and that the Atlantic knew he had already written, ostensibly doomed him. Seriously?

    It’s like the Ray Rice affair in the NFL, or so many other things we see. You can read about something terrible; but if you have the audio, photos, or the video, it suddenly escalates into a whole new category.

    1. Kind of how the President decides which countries to invade. Assad’s mistake wasn’t massacring half a million people. It was killing the handful Trump can see on Fox.

      1. Was it Trump that said that the use of chemical weapons, and not the massacring of half a million people, was a “red line”?

    2. This is exactly right.

      Once they hired Williamson they should have stuck with him.

      1. To make matters worse, he’s an entertaining writer.

        This cost Jeffrey Goldberg a lot of points with me. I thought he had more backbone.

      2. You are stuck with a mistake is somewhat of a dubious argument.

        If they shouldn’t have hired the guy — and Lawyers Drugs and Money blog provides reasons why this would have been the right approach — it very well might be true that there was some “returns are still possible” period. It makes the hiring process look bad, yes, but the end result should be to have the right personnel.

        1. “You are stuck with a mistake is somewhat of a dubious argument.”

          That’s not the argument. In many, many ways the treatment of employees vs. applicants is different- in the law, ethically, and morally. But more importantly, the Atlantic defended their hire. They wanted to hire him for these reasons. No new information came to light (simply that he stated a position that they already knew he had written, and four years ago). And he didn’t do anything in his job to warrant termination.

          I think he was a terrible hire, but I also think it was terrible for the Atlantic to can him; these positions are not mutually exclusive (or dubious).

          1. The person I replied to said:

            “Once they hired Williamson they should have stuck with him.”

            Even if it was a mistake to hire him. “You are stuck with a mistake is somewhat of a dubious argument.” You add more detail on why they are stuck. In effect, they hired him for his controversial views. They claim more information was discovered that underlined the breadth and tenor of his views (one criticism is in effect he’s an asshole & this was alluded to in a nicer way in the firing statement).

            But, fine. Let’s say they are full of it. It just means they don’t want to admit the mistake. And, the argument means — they are stuck with it. Yes, someone that should not be hired might in various cases deserve to stay. I am far from convinced — especially when it was done right away — this is such a scenario.

            1. “But, fine. Let’s say they are full of it. It just means they don’t want to admit the mistake.”

              More like they don’t want to admit that it wasn’t a mistake, that they knew exactly who they were hiring and that was exactly why they hired him.

              1. Right, they didn’t fire him for what he said, but for how their “customers” (I question how much of the backlash is from actual customers) reacted when they heard about it. They didn’t realize how intolerant their base had gotten.

            2. What was the mistake, and how did they know it was one?

              They knew what they were getting, as loki says. If they hired Williamson on the premise that his columns would add something to the magazine – and why else hire him – then they should have given him time to prove it.

              They didn’t know about the podcast? So what. They knew about his opinions and had plenty of time to study his work before the hiring. It’s hard for me to believe that what they learned over a few weeks changed their thinking that much.

              Besides, as a general proposition, I think it is a shabby way to treat someone.

        2. If you are saying it makes the hiring process look bad, I think you’re in agreement.

    3. I completely agree that Goldberg’s ignorance defense doesn’t fly. He had to know what they were getting.

      I would also add that assuming The Atlantic hired Williamson to foster pluralistic civil debate, I think they should have hired him (and therefore kept him), at least based on his abortion stance. His position that abortion should be treated as homicide strikes me as the intellectually honest conclusion for those who believe personhood begins at conception, a position that most abortion opponents run away from because they know it is unpopular. Thus ironically, those who ousted him would have been better served by engaging him in open debate in the pages of The Atlantic. Losing that opportunity is perhaps an appropriate punishment for the firing.

      1. Intellectual honesty has nothing to do with it. Sending women (as opposed to doctors or fixers) to jail is a position firmly beyond the pale.

        Anyone can debate anything, but a society’s debates happens within the Overton Window.

        1. Is it? Let’s say that we, as a society, decide that life begins at conception. If you conspire with someone to kill another life, you are guilty of murder. Seems prison is the most reasonable and appropriate punishment. That’s how we deal with people who commit murder.

          If you had read the actual Atlantic story, you’d know this was addressed. What you’d learn is that, when asked about these issues, Williamson is against ex post facto laws. So he’s not saying that we should round up all the people that had abortions and put them in jail. That you and so many others suggest as much is precisely the type of dishonesty that Friedersdorf is criticizing.

          1. First, I did not (and abjure any) claim that Williamson was in favor fo ex-post-facto laws. If others have suggested this, that’s on them, not on me.

            Second, I don’t particularly feel the need to argue the question of whether it would be good as a society if we not only banned abortion but also jailed (or hanged) women that got abortions. You (and Williamson and everyone else) are entitled to your opinion on the matter.

            The point being that I am content to simply highlight that you (or whoever) believe this and let the public make up its mind. If I’m correct and this view is beyond the pale, then my job is done.

        2. I agree that jailing women who have abortions is very likely beyond the pale of public opinion. But that observation has no relevance to whether the argument is intellectually honest.

          The Atlantic missed an opportunity to openly debate Williamson to make the points that 1) the only intellectually honest position for someone who believes personhood begins at conception is to jail women who have abortions, and 2) that position is beyond the pale.

          1. Josh, that depends on what you view as the purpose of ‘debate’.

            As I said, anyone can debate anything. College students can debate Marxism and segregationists can debate whether the races should live together or apart (just to pick a fair left/right pair).

            But society’s debates — the ones relevant to our collective social decision making — those happen within the Overton window.

            In this second sense, it doesn’t matter if Williamson’s points are intellectually honest or not, there is no sense to debate them because they do not command any position within the realm of acceptable views.

            [ And if you and I are wrong, and indeed there is sufficient support for Williamson’s view to place it within the bounds of political debate, then indeed they have missed an opportunity. ]

            1. Assuming for the sake of argument that Williamson’s viewpoint is not within the Overton window, I still claim the debate is worthwhile as follows:

              Currently it is within the Overton window that personhood begins at conception. However, an intellectually honest consequence of that position results in a position (a woman who has an abortion is legally treated as a murderer) that is outside the Overton window. Thus, the debate ought to conclude that the original position that personhood begins at conception is also outside the Overton window.

              Wouldn’t persuading people of this last conclusion be worthy of debate?

              1. That’s not how the Overton window works. It’s not transitive*, it’s a boundary layer.

                This is a classical philosophical conundrum about removing grains of sand from the beach or whatever.

                1. My argument isn’t a transitive. It’s a contrapositive, and I am slightly changing it.

                  A = personhood begins at conception
                  B = a woman who has an abortion should be charged with murder

                  If A then B (only intellectually honest conclusion)
                  Not B (because B is outside the Overton window)
                  If Not B then Not A (contrapositive).

                  We conclude “Not A” independent of whether A is outside the Overton window (slight change in my argument).

                  Wouldn’t persuading people that personhood does not begin at conception (whether or not that is outside the Overton window) be worthy of a debate that includes discussing something that is outside the Overton window?

                  1. First, you are conflating the window with truth. No one said that “B is outside the window” implies “B is false”.

                    Second, that’s just not how any of this works. People aren’t persuaded by what is inside and outside of mainstream view, that’s exactly backwards. Individuals adopt their views based on whatever priors they have and then the range of acceptable views comes out as an emergent property of all those individual views.

                    You would have it go the other way around — convincing people that their view is false by convincing them it is not compatible with socially acceptable views.

    4. Video does matter in our reality TV world. Helen Thomas was the longest serving White House reporter ever, until she was caught on camera expressing a viewpoints way outside the mainstream, and looking like a mean old bitch while doing it.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQcQdWBqt14

  2. Okay, SOMEBODY is wackier than Katherine Mangu-Ward’s BIZARRE claim that the death penalty for abortion is “mainstream” on the right. By sucking up to the alt-right and Ron Paul;s cult, Reason has ling ceased to be libertarian.. The triumph of gummint haters over liberty lovers.

    Is this why a Cato survey found the libertarian brand REJECTED by 91% of those with libertarian values? That was a brand image survey by a top pollster. In marketing terms, the libertarian brand is “toxic” — detracts severely from the product or service.

    Updating an old slogan: Most Americans are libertarian, but WE don’t know it.

    Eric Hoffer described the effect of TRUE Beleebers (zealots and fanatics) almost 70 years ago.

    Successful mass movements need not believe in a god, but they must believe in a devil. Hatred unifies the true believers”
    -Eric Hoffer, “The True Believers” (1951)

    Throughout human history, the worst moral barbarities have been committed by those claiming to be acting in the name of some god, or defending some “greater good” — the Collective, the State, the Master Race, the Party or a God … Zealots and fanatics … The militant self-righteous.
    -Mike Hihn (1994)

    When hatred of government replaces love of liberty, the priorities reverse. And the focus shifts to gummint, away from enriching people’s lives.

    1. You have no idea where you are right now, do you?

  3. In my limited view, if he stands by his tweet (including the ‘deterrent’ interpretation), then I’ve agreed with firing. In the other case, heartily agree with the OP.

    He’s advocating for violation of fundamental human rights (killing of mother), based on a religious view.

    Not that different than Muslim’s endorsement of death for apostasy, no?

    1. No.

      That is, rather substantially different unless you’re going to argue that the death penalty for murder is also a violation of “fundamental human rights” merely because it’s the sixth of the Ten Commandments.

      1. TERRIBLY false equivalence.

        Abortion affects two EQUAL rights … the fetal child’s unalienable Right to Life ,.. and the woman’s unalienable Right to Liberty. Or do you not know what unalienable means?

        Two questions
        1) How would YOU resolve a conflict between two rights, BOTH absolute?
        2) What has LONG been the ESTABLISHED way to resolve such conflicts?

        1. False dichotomy. Everyone’s liberty to do what they want to their own body is already regulated by culture and law…think of victimless crimes like drug use.

          1. False dichotomy

            EVASION OF THE ENTIRE ISSUE
            REJECTS unalienable rights, the very core of individual liberty for three centuries. (MAY nor realize he did so)

            1. Naw, not at all. It means that your crappy attempt at the being Platonic and talking about competing values is already swept aside…..society has already decided that individual liberty has limits.

        2. Irrelevant, Michael. MightyMouse’s comment implies that any opposition to abortion is merely “a religious view”. That is incorrect. To spell my point out more plainly, it has no more basis in fact than to say that all opposition to murder must be merely “based on a religious view” just because the Bible opposes murder. Regardless of your opinion of the positions held in the article above, MightyMouse’s justification for it is unsustainable.

          To your question, however, there is a direct answer. You are the one creating a false equivalence by assuming without evidence or substantiation that a fetus actually has an “unalienable right to life”. That point is in fact hotly contested (though rarely in those words).

          For most of human history, there was no “right to life” at all. To the extent that such a right was recognized, it was applied only to adults. Children were property to be dealt with as the parents (or village elders) saw fit. Only for the past century or so have we held that even successfully born children hold an independent right to life. The idea of extending that right down to unborn fetuses is so novel that society does not yet have an answer.

          Nor can science answer that question. There is no clear point at which a cluster of cells “becomes” an independent entity. We can draw lines wherever we want and come up with all sort of fancy reasons for that particular line-drawing, but there is no logical, scientific reason to prefer one line over another.

          1. To spell it out even more clearly, Michael, why does a fetus have an “unalienable right to life” in your worldview while your appendix does not? And at precisely what point in the fetal development process does that right attach?

            If the appendix is too specialized for you, how about the cells on the inside of your cheek. Remember that with modern cloning technology, it is not impossible for those epithelial cheek cells to eventually become an independent entity. Does that mean they also possess an “unalienable right to life” independent of the host’s?

          2. Irrelevant, Michael. MightyMouse’s comment implies that any opposition to abortion is merely “a religious view”

            I responded to YOUR ignorance of unalienable rights, which is … ummmm .. totally secular,

            Now you prove me correct.

            To your question, however, there is a direct answer.

            You ignored it.
            TOTALLY.

            You are the one creating a false equivalence by assuming without evidence or substantiation that a fetus actually has an “unalienable right to life”.

            Did I say WHEN? (lol)

            This is abortion to the moment of birth … REJECTION of unalienable rights, precisely as I said.

            Moving on. Nothing here.

    2. Kevin Williamson’s opposition to abortion has nothing to do with religion. It may have something to do with his being born to an unwed mother who put him up for adoption (the year before Roe was decided).

      1. I’ve got a response for this, but need some time to track it down.

      2. As an advocate for abortion survivor Kevin, consider this

        In general, less than 70% of all fertilized eggs will even implant into the mother’s womb causing pregnancy to continue.

        Should the millions of charity dollars spent saving one human live from natural death (ie cancer) be rediected to save the thousands of zygote lives taken every day by the grim reaper?

      3. The scared cow, above all question:

        Suppose, in the name of viewpoint diversity, a orthodox contributor is hired who subsequently advocates the death penaly for eating beef (or, conceivably, any other common foodstuffs?) If real people are dying in alien juisdictions for such an offence, is it unreasonable for an editor to dismiss the contributor, when touched by compassion for those real people put to death?

        Perhaps an answer could take the objective form; if the abstract belief regarding human life is more than two standard deviations outside the popular opinion, perhaps it’s reasonable for a private publication to deplatform such a viewpoint.

        1. perhaps it’s reasonable for a private publication to deplatform such a viewpoint.

          Setting aside the euphemism, this again misrepresents the issue. The issue isn’t whether the Atlantic should publish a piece by Williamson that advocates treating abortion as murder. The issue is whether they should fire Williamson for having said that in the past.

          In other words, the issue isn’t “deplatforming” (ugh) the viewpoint; the issue is “deplatforming” (ugh) Williamson.

          1. I’d return to the Muslim analogy.

            Is a publisher abliged to merrily go along doing business with a colleage who believes ex-muslim’s should be put to death, or honor killings are justified?

            Is hanging the mother not akin to an honor killing?

            1. Is a publisher abliged to merrily go along doing business with

              If the publisher hired the person knowing he had said that, then they shouldn’t turn around and fire him for having said that.

              Is hanging the mother not akin to an honor killing?

              Not in the slightest. For one thing, honor killings are extrajudicial.

      4. “Kevin Williamson’s opposition to abortion has nothing to do with religion. ”

        If it did, it might be tough to fire him.

    3. That is a good point, but it is also true his view ? that all abortion (presumably) = 1st degree murder ? is quite unreasonable, based on settled law. At the very least, it would be a grossly disproportionate punishment.

      It appears you’re arguing toleration for views on divine law, no?

      1. It appears you’re arguing toleration for views on divine law, no?

        No. Why do you assume not harming a child must be religiously driven?

        1. What other reason is there to DEFY the moral foundation of equal, unalienable and/or God-Given Right>

          Other than simple ignorance that all unalienable rights are absolute, thus NONE can be superior to ANY other. They are Life, Liberty, a bundle called Pursuit of Happiness, and all the others never enumerated in our founding documents.

          Well?

          1. People have rights, Michael. People.

      2. If this was an issue, then the Atlantic is stating that the views of ALL of their other writers are OK and, in fact, supported.

        Once you fire a person for views that are “too bad” to be published, you have set the guideline for what you find acceptable or not.

        Great to know that they don’t feel Jessica Valenti is extreme.

          1. Valenti is a columnist for the Guardian, OCCASIONALLY in Atlantic

            This index od her work in The Atlantic says all we need to know about damikesc.

            All three of her articles. (lol)

            1. Yeah, those three articles really seem to deal with wacky out-of-the-mainstream things. The Atlantic endorses the view that people shouldn’t look at stolen private photos? Crazy.

              1. You defend STOLEN photos ,…. on a libertarian web site.
                Defending privacy is wacky, out-of-the-mainstream
                Does YOUR mainstream also defend raping 6 year old girls?
                .

                1. Dude, lay off the meds.

            2. Michael, we’re talking about someone fired for nothing he wrote in the Atlantic. Why would you limit it to all three (“lol”) of her articles there?

  4. So basically poor old conservative writers have to make their chops by writing appalling things in order to trigger libs because that’s what the market is for in that kind of conservative writing, then when they try for more mainstream gigs it’s important to pretend that nothing they’ve written before actually matters or counts no matter how awful. Which is to say, how dare you drag the poor conservative writer who built his career on dragging you.

    I can’t really see how the left could benefit by reacting to ideas such as all women who have had abortions should be hanged with anything other than FUCK OFF. In fact, it would be to their utter detriment to respond any other way, as it has been to the right in making space for them. Tolerating the intolerable is something people like to say the left should do more of, but really the intolerable can just fuck right off, thanks.

    1. He was not saying that we should form a bunch of vigilante abortion squads to lynch every woman who has ever had an abortion.

      He was saying that abortion is identical to any other premeditated murder, and that the law should treat it as such. He is quite aware of what the current law is — he is arguing what the law should be.

      You can disagree with his premise (that abortion is premeditated murder), but it is not absurd.

      1. “He was saying that abortion is identical to any other premeditated murder, and that the law should treat it as such. He is quite aware of what the current law is — he is arguing what the law should be.”

        Well, except for the whole “hanging” part. Because that isn’t how capital punishment works in this county. So it’s pretty clear that there is some element of shock value.

        Look, I don’t really think the Atlantic should have hired him (because standards). But they knew what they were getting, and they didn’t seem to have a problem with it. Which makes his termination wrong and absurd.

        1. Well, except for the whole “hanging” part. Because that isn’t how capital punishment works in this county. So it’s pretty clear that there is some element of shock value.

          But you’re conflating two points into one. Williamson is not saying that women who have abortions should be swinging from the gallows, unlike armed robbers to whom we should give lethal injections. He’s saying

          (1) Abortions should be outlawed as a form of murder. Women who have abortions should be treated like any other murderer; and also, separately,
          (2) Capital punishment is inherently violent. We should not try to whitewash that by, e.g., medicalizing the procedure with lethal injection. If we’re going to have the death penalty — about which he is conflicted — we should be honest about it by using an openly violent method like hanging.

          So, yeah, in a sense he’s aiming for shock value, but it’s anti-capital-punishment shock value, not anti-abortion shock value.

          1. Yeah, no. Look, I can appreciate a good argument for “real” capital punishment (a la Kozinski). And Williamson has written about this, notably omitting the hanging part.

            But the overall context of the podcast was clearly the shock value. From the premise, to the superfluous hanging, to the extended riff about how this was really the worst form of murder?

            If you don’t think he was trying to be deliberately shocking and provoking (not that this is necessarily a bad thing – this goes back to A Modest Proposal and before), then you’re trying a little too hard to defend him. This wasn’t merely an intellectual exercise .. he wanted to “shock, provoke, and offend” (as the cases helpfully state).

            1. Of course Williamson deliberately shocked and provoked about both abortion and capital punishment. But, you seem to agree (per A Modest Proposal) that isn’t categorically beyond the bounds of serious debate and thus shouldn’t categorically be a reason for not hiring him.

              1. Well, I wouldn’t have hired him if I was the Atlantic, but only because I tend to value the Atlantic’s long history of elevating discourse over shock value, something I think is lacking in Williamson. In other words, I think that there are many individuals who are better writers, and better thinkers, than Williamson – and TBH, it’s not like the Atlantic was hurting for an anti-Trump voice (but this time from the right!).

                But they did hire him, and they hired him knowing who he was. To fire him because they learned that he once said, four years ago, the exact same thing that they already knew he had written? That is shameful.

                1. You can see my response to your original post above for more detail, but in summary I think his use of shock has not debased the abortion debate.

                2. I wouldn’t have hired him if I was the Atlantic, but only because I tend to value the Atlantic’s long history of elevating discourse over shock value,

                  The Atlantic has no such history. It has always freely insulted those who oppose the left, the demand for respect was always one sided. It’s no different from the NYT which hires Krugman but demands the house conservatives spend most of their effort criticizing the right. So while ythe Atlantic publishes bizarre rantings concerning Sarah Palin’s uterus the only conservatives are Frumish. In fact Williamson was hired specifically for his aggressiveness in attacking Trump.

                3. The Atlantic is nothing but a lefty rag.

                  1. Conor Friedersdorf being there is curious then.

                    1. The Atlantic, where acceptable conservatives run the gamut from Connor Friedersdorf to David Frum. David Brooks would be tolerated, too, I am sure.

                    2. Friedersdorf is not a conservative. He’s even rarer: a liberal who wants a better left.

                    3. Having read him for almost a decade, Friedersdorf is, at least in his posting persona, a centrist leaning left on the single axis test. He’s primarily a civil libertarian, and doesn’t seem to be a social conservative of any type.

                      If you look at who he’s retweeting positively, it’s people like Yglesias, Noah Smith (a leftist economist/professional blogger), and Radley Balko.

                    4. Conservative purity brigade out for the Atlantic I see.

                    5. I see.

                      Not very well since you’ve turned a compliment into a “purity” smear.

                  2. Says the bigoted lefty.

          2. Williamson is not saying that women who have abortions should be swinging from the gallows

            WRONG.

            His exact quite is linked on this page

            1. What’s wrong — some might say dishonest — is cutting a sentence in half and pretending it said something different than it actually said.

              1. Your bullshit is PROVEN here,
                (smirk)

          3. Williamson is not saying that women who have abortions should be swinging from the gallows

            I believe he has written that abortion should be prosecuted as homicide. I also believe statutes of limitations often or always exempt homicide from limitation periods. Whether he proposes use of gallows (perhaps reluctantly, with respect to the death penalty aspect) seems suitable for debate, but it seems reasonable to conclude that he has advocated prosecution of millions of women who offended his religious beliefs, and to do so in a context that currently includes the prospect of executions.

            1. That’s pretty much correct Arthur. That’s an intellectually honest position that deserves a full hearing.

            2. I believe he has written that abortion should be prosecuted as homicide.

              Correct. Prospectively, not retroactively.

              it seems reasonable to conclude that he has advocated prosecution of millions of women who offended his religious beliefs, and to do so in a context that currently includes the prospect of executions.

              Incorrect in two respects. First, as I said, he’s proposing to change the law, not to prosecute anybody who did something in the past. Second, his position has nothing to do with religious beliefs.

      2. Ridgeway evades the issue.

        Yes, a large percentage of the Christian Taliban beleebs that abortion is murder, from their total ignorance of unalienable rights.

        But fewer than 10% support the death penalty for the mother. THAT is the lunatic fringe, just slightly above murdering abortion physicians

        1. How am I being evasive? I was simply giving the fair reading of what Williamson was saying, rather than the (sometimes intentional) misreading that is floating around the interwebs. I acknowledge that one can disagree with his premise, and agree that many do.

          Also, your unalienable (usually spelled “inalienable”) rights most certainly are alienable in most instances, subject to due process of law, so you don’t really win the argument just by saying such-and-such in an inalienable right.

          1. It’s spelled UNalienable in the Declaration. (smirk)

            We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

            I see you also don’t know what it means.

            Also, your unalienable (usually spelled “inalienable”) rights most certainly are alienable in most instances

            You’re done.

      3. Of course I can and of course it is, it is absolutely and completely and viciously absurd. He wants to murder women who have exercised their legal right to bodily autonomy and accessed health care to which they are completely entitled. The exact means of achieving the man’s desired mass murder, whether through draconian legal measures or vigilante action, are each horrifying and unacceptable in their own way,

        1. I see you made essentially the same point in 5 different posts, but it is still wrong no matter how many times you repeat it. He is not calling for an ex post facto slaughter of every woman who has ever had an abortion.

          1. He is boasting having violent and disturbingly specific fantasies about bringing about a regime that will include the judicial murder of women for exercising their right to make choices about their own health and their own bodies. There’s no polishing that turd.

            1. Painting his comments in such an extreme manner only demonstrates your extremism, not his. He advocates treating abortion as murder, but since he’s against the death penalty he doesn’t advocate their murder. He did recognize that could be a possible impact although the limits on the death penalty mean it would be rare.

              Your unwillingness to recognize the difference between vivid rhetoric and advocacy shows you can’t participate in adult discussions. It doesn’t provide any evidence about Williamson.

              1. How is calling for the hanging of a particular set of women not extreme? Why the fuck should I make concessions to your bullshit intellectual rationalisation of the call for a brutal and draconian change in the law to restrict women’s rights and make the exercise of their rights punishable by death? He’s a journalist and writer, his rhetoric is his stock in trade, let him be judged by it not by your post-hoc efforts to minimalise his disgusting extremism to something that ought to be taken as reasonable – it is not reasonable, and treating it as reasonable is as foul as the original rhetoric. We’ve given up treating the people who gave us Trump as grown-ups with grow-up ideas in their heads, and yeah, this guy is a Never-Trumper, so a failure politically as well as morally, intellectually, and as a basic decent human being.

                1. Why the fuck should I make concessions to your bullshit intellectual rationalisation of the call for a brutal and draconian change in the law to restrict women’s rights and make the exercise of their rights punishable by death?

                  Calling it the exercise of their rights simply begs the question. Nobody thinks that someone should be punished, by death or otherwise, for exercising his or her rights. He just doesn’t think the law should recognize abortion as a right. Rather, he thinks — like a hundred million other Americans — that it’s murder. Why should women who commit murder be given special treatment?

                  1. I’ll wager there aren’t a hundred million Americans who think both abortion is murder and a woman who has an abortion should be punished a as a murderer. Why is that?

                  2. Well he and those inflated figures of imaginary Americans can whistle dixie for their judicial lynchings, but as of now it is a right, and he wants to see it removed so he can murder women for exercising it.

        2. He wants to murder women who have exercised their legal right to bodily autonomy and accessed health care to which they are completely entitled

          This is what’s commonly known as a “lie”

          1. No, Careless, the law hasn’t been changed yet so women’s fundamental right to bodily autonomy is still legal and you don’t get to hang any women today.

            1. No, Careless, the law hasn’t been changed yet

              Right. And so he doesn’t want anyone punished yet.

              1. But he can dream of rows of them gently twisting in the breeze.

      4. It’s not absurd, but again try to understand it in terms of the Overton Window.

        Within the Window, there are a wide variety of views that, while not broadly accepted, are acknowledged to be within mainstream thought. Some of those views would criminalize nearly all abortion, some would except rape/incest, and so forth down the line. On both sides, outside the window, you will find some views that are not only not accepted, but considered to beyond the pale of mainstream thought.

        Hanging women for having an abortion seems to me to be firmly outside those bounds.

        1. It’s absurd in the sense of the Kafka/Atwood horror of a malevolent absurdist dystopia full of blood and horror and senseless arbitrary punishment. In such a society the Overton Window is something women get thrown out of for not having enough babies.

    2. So basically poor old conservative writers have to make their chops by writing appalling things in order to trigger libs

      You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you. There are conservatives out there whose goal is to trigger liberals (though what does it say about liberals that it’s so easy to trigger them?), like Coulter or Milo, but Williamson is not one of them. If you were familiar with his oeuvre, you’d know that.

      I can’t really see how the left could benefit by reacting to ideas such as all women who have had abortions should be hanged with anything other than FUCK OFF.

      That’s not what Williamson said, but said that aside. Nobody asked you (or the Atlantic) to react to that at all. It’s one thing to say that the Atlantic shouldn’t publish that view. But Williamson didn’t try to publish that in the Atlantic. It’s something he had (sort of) said in the past. Why should that have anything to do with you now?

        1. I guess you’re Reason’s resident kook. That’s not what I said he didn’t say.

          Hint: “Abortion should be treated as murder, and thus the women who have them should be hanged” is not the same thing as “women who have had abortions should be hanged.” Note the difference in verb tense.

          1. That seems like quite the Clintonesque distinction. If he is saying that women should be hanged for abortions, he is agreeing that that is the correct punishment for abortion. So, he necessarily agrees that women who have had abortions already are deserving of death by hanging (even if ex post facto prohibits carrying out the punishment).

            Anytime you are saying that some behaviour is worthy of being hung for it, you are making a pretty severe judgment of that behavior and the person who engaged in it.

            Example: I think child rapists should be given the death penalty. I understand that the Supreme Court has interpreted the 8th Amendment as prohibiting that. But when I say that child rapists should be given the death penalty, I am making a very powerful moral judgment about those persons. Among other things, I see child rapists as the bottom of the barrel of criminals and have no respect for them, regardless of what other talents they may have.

            So, what you are saying to women who have had abortions (and a lot of them have) is that you view them as the scum of the earth – comparable to the worst murderers. Whether the Atlantic should have fired him for this after they hired him knowing that that was his view is a seperate question. But if I were a woman working at the Atlantic, and I had had an abortion, I would not be comfortable working with Williamson. You have to be willfully blind not to follow the reasoning.

            1. . But if I were a woman working at the Atlantic, and I had had an abortion, I would not be comfortable working with Williamson.

              Should a business fire someone who claims criticism of BLM is racist if other employees say this makes them uncomfortable?

          2. I guess you’re Reason’s resident kook. That’s not what I said he didn’t say.

            LIAR

            I can’t really see how the left could benefit by reacting to ideas such as all women who have had abortions should be hanged with anything other than FUCK OFF.

            That’s not what Williamson said

            a PROVEN LIAR!

          3. I guess you’re Reason’s resident kook.

            He’s one of two prime kooks, actually. But yes, he’s been a nutter here for years

      1. You’re right. calling for the hanging of women who have had abortions should trigger everybody. In practice, it’s the sort of thing only libs feel call for a right good proper round of FUCK OFF.

        Hey, nobody asked anybody to do anything, but I’m happy to, unsolicited, endorse a healthy FUCK OFF for someone calling for the mass murder of women. And if he doesn’t like it, he can go cry into his oeuvre.

    3. I can’t really see how the left could benefit by reacting to ideas such as all women who have had abortions should be hanged with anything other than FUCK OFF.

      So The Atlantic is now a magazine of the Left? Good to know.

      1. Have they not demonstrated that, clearly, they are that?

        Why it’s more extreme for a man to argue that, according to them, 1/4 of all women should be killed than for a woman at the same article to argue that abortion (which would’ve been a real threat to him if it was legal at the time) is perfectly Ok and should be expanded is something nobody can explain.

        1. Have they not demonstrated that, clearly, they are that?

          No. You’re channeling Faux and Dimbart again.

          Do you know that MSNBC has two REPUBLICAN hosts. One was Communications Director for 6 years in the Dubya White House, and for his 2004 campaign, and for McCain-Palin.

          Can you name ONE Democrat host at Faux? (NOT hard news)
          I didn’t think so.

      2. I have no fucking idea what the Atlantic is a magazine of, to be honest. Capable of shame, at least, so there’s that.

      3. Has been for a while. They purged even all their moderate right authors years ago

  5. I don’t have a problem with the Atlantic’s action.

    While Friedersdorf noted, “Civil libertarians also quickly learn that morally repugnant policies cannot be stigmatized out of the mainstream,” in no case does that mean the ‘mainstream’ has to provide a specific platform (e.g. The Atlantic) either.

    I’m sure Mr. Williamson will find other opportunities and venues to publish his views.

    1. Look, the problem with the Atlantic’s action is in hiring Williamson and then firing him for being the person they hired. If he had misled them, that would be different. He didn’t. His views on abortion were well known and Goldberg has acknowledged that he discussed this very issue with Williamson before deciding to hire him. What changed? Nothing. He was fired over an issue that Goldberg had investigated and cleared before the hire.

      Why is it wrong? As a matter of decency you just don’t persuade someone to give up a secure job and then fire them the next week (unless, of course, there was some kind of fraud involved in the application)! I would never do that to another human being and I don’t know many employers who would.

      1. Then that’s bad management; however, the issue here is whether this is, “a failure of ‘the spirit of generosity,’ a value that The Atlantic has long touted as a core value.”

        1. How can firing someone under these circumstances be anything but a failure of the spirit of generosity — as well as a lack of common decency?

          1. The spirit of generosity has some limit.

            Now, if you want to claim that Williamson was inside the limit, that’s well and good. I can accept that as a plausible argument.

            On the other hand, if you want to claim that the spirit of generosity allows no such limit at all, well that’s absurd.

    2. How could you have read enough of conor’s post to quote that and still completely, 100% miss the point?

  6. We ought to frown on norms that suggest that people ought to be fired for thinking the wrong things, and create norms where people are hired/fired based on whether or not they will do a good job. There was no evidence that the Atlantic suddenly decided that he would write crappy columns based on the fact that he has expressed verboten views in a tweet in a different context.

    1. True but for hundreds of years, the shoe was on the other foot, with anything supporting abortion rights, or equality of races, or gay rights, was crushed via social ostracism. Corporations took note then, as they do today.

      Has it been so long since Disney rocked the boat against the American Family Council and TV preachers with a gay day at Disney World, or some other company (HP?) granting domestic partner benefits?

      I may have goofed up the names, but those were notable because the big mo was shifting against time immemorial.

      1. So, the oppression of minorities isn’t a problem…as long as you support their oppression?

        Very consistent stance there.

      2. ..because this is the internet…

        Disney did not *host* a “gay dat at Disney World.” Disney had no say in that. Customers agreed among themselves to show up in red shirts and be openly gay in the park with or without Disney’s cooperation.

        Later, Disney embraced it. But in the beginning, they were just enduring it.

    2. So, you support government censorship of a free press?

      The fuckuo was HIRING him. We adults admit our mistakes. And correct them.
      So personal accountability is also bad?

      1. “Personal accountability” doesn’t result in someone else paying the freight of your mistake. Say I ran a health-conscious publication and you were a writer with a solid job for a rival publication. I reached out to you and offered you a chance to write for my publication on terms you found attractive. During the interview process, I learned that you had written for Cigar Aficionado and you disclosed that one of your vices was a fine cigar. After consideration, I decided to hire you anyway.

        How would it be an act of ‘personal accountability’ for me to cave in to an internet mob who demanded your firing over your having written favorably about cigars in the past? I’m the one who made the decision, but you’d be the one without a job!

        1. Fine cigar = murder?

          Buh-bye

      2. “So, you support government censorship of a free press?”

        Of course not. And I also understand the difference between “norms” and “laws”.

        1. Agreed. I was wrong and apologize.

      3. Who said anything about the government?

        The Atlantic has a First Amendment right to hire and then fire Williamson. The government should have no say in the matter.

        And the same First Amendment gives everyone else the right to criticize the decision by the editor in any way they wish — it is low, cowardly, cheap pandering and ethically disgusting. Or all of the above.

        That’s the way the First Amendment works. You get to say what you wish, and others get to criticize you as they wish.

        1. Granted. I read him wrong.
          50 years as a libertarian, I know the First Amendment!
          READING can be something else again!

    3. If he wanted actual job security he should have joined a union.

  7. Good on Friedersdorf. He gets that we cannot have a liberal, pluralistic society if people are routinely chased from the public square because they’ve expressed an opinion that may be unpopular.

    What we call free speech is a value that predates the Constitution. It’s one of the inalienable rights the government was instituted to protect. Much harm is done when private actors take it upon themselves to enforce their private views of what’s acceptable and what’s not. We don’t accept such vigilantism in criminal prosecutions. Nor should we in matters of speech and public morality.

    Some will say that free speech doesn’t mean that speech is free from consequences. That’s true and it should be true. Words can hurt. Friendships can be lost. Those ordinary and natural consequences of speech are different in kind and scope from what happened to Williamson — where people intentionally took out of context, amplified, and distorted what he said as part of an organized campaign to get him fired. These were not people who heard what he had to say and took offense and, as a consequence, of their own accord decided to severe ties with him. These were people who were actively seeking to make others offended at things he did not in reality say to bring pressure on his employer to severe ties with him.

    We wouldn’t accept the government pressuring an employer into firing a journalist for having expressed the wrong opinion. We should worry when private parties do the same thing.

    1. What we call free speech is a value that predates the Constitution.

      Umm, it applies ONLY against government.

      1. No, the 1st amendment only protects us from government action that infringes on the right of free speech. The ‘right’, or ‘ethos’ existed before there was a government.

        1. That’s what I said.

          The ‘right’, or ‘ethos’ existed before there was a government.

          Evasion
          Here’s what YOU said

          We wouldn’t accept the government pressuring an employer into firing a journalist for having expressed the wrong opinion. We should worry when private parties do the same thing.

          The ‘right’ or ‘ethos’ also existed before the printing press and web sites.

    2. A company is not “the public square.”

      If you believe companies should be able to fire people without cause, then this event shouldn’t even bother you.

      1. Why not? Believing that companies should be able to fire people without cause is not remotely the same thing as approving of companies firing people without cause.

    3. Good on Friedersdorf. He gets that we cannot have a liberal, pluralistic society if people are routinely chased from the public square because they’ve expressed an opinion that may be unpopular.

      Please stop conflating “unpopular” opinion with “beyond the Overton Window” opinion.

      I understand this is soft barrier, not a bright line, but it’s clear from practice that society has some range of opinions that are welcome in the public square and others that are not. This is true on the left and the right, the authoritarian and the libertarian.

  8. Sad he got fired.

    Welcome to the reality conservatives have in many fields.

    Libertarians didn’t give a shit then.

    Why they care now is baffling, but unneeded.

    1. Have you ever considered that maybe you just suck? Because that would be Occam’s razor here. Calling for the mass murder of women? You suck.

      1. So do you. But it harms the quality of our discourse when companies fire people like you or Williamson for having sucky views if it’s not related to the quality of your work.

        1. You haven’t got a discourse, you have a series of evolving memes hauled dripping from 4Chan swamps and developed into paragraphs designed to trigger libs get mad lolz support Qanon and kiss Trump’s bottom. Your discourse sucks and it’s only going to get worse because you think people will be improved by being obliged to pay attention to Williamson and his ugly bullshit and not telling him to just fuck right off.

    2. I though conservatives (and libertarians) support “right to work” laws that basically make it easy to fire people for any reason or no reason at all? I don’t get the urge to complain about the firing if the person doing the complaining supports the right of an employer to hire or fire whomever they want whenever they want.

      Anyway, the “shit” they are giving, in my non-libertarian opinion, has to do with good manners and proper behavior. Just because a person should be able to fire an employee for any reason doesn’t mean they should or that the means aren’t important.

      1. I though conservatives (and libertarians) support “right to work” laws that basically make it easy to fire people for any reason or no reason at all?

        This is a common mistake, but what you describe has nothing to do with “right to work.” What you’re describing is at will employment, which is the law in 49? states. Right to work laws ban union shops.

  9. It seems to me the problem here was The Atlantic mistakenly believed that hiring one anti-Trump conservative would make them not the equivalent of Salon, Vice, Vox, etc.. The ship of rounded coverage of issues with viewpoint diversity sailed for the Atlantic a long time ago. Just embrace what you are, a hard left publication that occasionally does some in-depth and interesting reporting from a liberal prospective. It’s like trying to train a pig; it wastes your time and it aggravates the pig.

    1. They haven’t been hard-left for quite some time.
      Most on the so-called left are FAR more balanced than the right — says this independent libertarian who reads both, (gasp) What better proof than the Washington Post.

      Or MSNBC vs Fox.

  10. What I don’t get is the hand/pearl wringing and gnashing about this guy’s point of view.
    Is this the same America where SAW torture, and Game of Thrones rape and exploitation scenes are considered entertainment? Where we are totally desensitized to actual violence but seemingly ‘deeply afraid’ of words?

    I really can’t believe anyone is ACTUALLY offended or thinks abortion is going to be a hanging offense.

    Political operatives are rapidly and increasingly taking advantage of the moral vacuity & image driven, bland, analytics-following CEOs that are all about the money. Easiest to see this when organizations like the Atlantic which we could easily live without – give a small but tyrannically inclined subset only what they want. They may have the dollars (for now) but not the respect that would ultimately keep a majority of their readers loyalty.

    1. ‘I really can’t believe anyone is ACTUALLY offended or thinks abortion is going to be a hanging offense.’

      Maybe people draw a distinction between bloody and violent entertainment and bloody and violent political ambitions.

    2. Nobody holds out SAW or GoT as normative examples of what ought to happen in a just society. In fact, both of them are explorations of evil.

      Williamson was not exploring the evil of hanging women for having abortions, he was making a statement that doing so would be compatible (or even required) in his view of a just society.

  11. Trump’s election really has exposed the angry hate tumor that’s wormed it’s way into the heart of the American liberal establishment; and with each success they are more fevered than ever with the same techniques: 1. overreact, 2. demonize, 3. create crisis mode thinking (and possibly threaten violence), 4. see what they can get.

    I don’t think old fashioned ‘thoughtful’ liberals like Mr Adler can wrench his party away from the extremists any more. They welcomed them in because they liked winning, and they’ve recently had many big wins under Obama (and Bush, like TARP). Unfortunately the success of the rough radical has marginalized the thoughtful and there’s no going back. Now we all have to live in this false outrage echo chamber at least until the next democratic president is elected.

    REASON, please don’t go there.. stay away from any snide attacks on Trump or any politician’s person and appearance. Stop sensationalizing. Seriously address the other side of the immigration debate. And link to more thoughtful articles like this one about tolerance. Thanks.

    1. I like that calling for the mass murder of women who had abortions isn’t extreme but finding it a revolting thing to say is. Trump exposed something all right.

      1. Good connection. But moral hypocrisy predates Trump by a few thousand years.
        Give or take.

      2. I like that calling for the mass murder of women who had abortions isn’t

        true.

        You must know it isn’t true, so why would you lie about it?

        1. Are you parsing the tenses David? Wow, you could have read mine as consistent with his with just a fraction of the leeway you’re granting him. The future murder of women who will have abortions when his murder-the-women-law comes into effect.

          1. Setting aside that he has repeatedly explained that he’s not really pro-capital punishment at all — he’s calling for abortion to be treated like any other murder, not for it to be treated more harshly — the death penalty is not “murder,” and imposing the death penalty on individuals after they are tried and found guilty would not be “mass murder.”

            I assume your attempt to expand the definition of murder is supposed to be an ironic counterpoint to Williamson’s attempt to do so.

            1. No, I’m not being ironic, I am being completely sincere. I will never not think that the death penalty for a woman who had an abortion is not murder. Otherwise your attempts to defend him just highlights his malevolent incoherence, which you seem to wish me to accept as evidence that will somehow exonerate him from this appalling view he has expressed. Anti-death penalty advocates generally don’t call for people to be hanged, and since the death penalty in the US is not administered through hanging, he is not calling for them to be treated the same as other murderers found guilty.

    2. You think Adler is a Democrat?

  12. I would like to congratulate Michael Hihn on his 24 posts.

  13. My relatively brief exposure to these comment sections suggests contributions are roughly 75 percent conservative, 10 percent moderate, 10 percent liberal, and 5 percent libertarian.

    Complaints about too much liberal, moderate, or libertarian content are as silly as they are predictable.

  14. Firing Mr. Williamson shortly after hiring him, in the described circumstances, was shabby conduct. If he left another job to take the Atlantic posting the offense was aggravated. A decent employer would provide a painfully long severance.

  15. Before we are too hard on Williamson, let’s remember that many of our co-workers believe that people who don’t accept Jesus as their lord and savior will suffer eternal damnation, and that such a fate is the very definition of justice. And it’s illegal to fire someone for such a belief.

    1. But this opinion on what will happen in the next world, in Jefferson’s words, neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

      Williamson, on the other hand, was making a normative statement about what we ought to do in this world. Specifically breaking peoples’ necks.

      1. So you can fire someone who believes, for religious reasons, that we ought not to eat pork? That picks the butcher’s pocket, after all.

        1. Ladies and gentlemen: conservative discourse.

          1. Ironically, by removing Williamson, you are missing out on an opportunity to be exposed to one of the finer conservative writers out there. One of the things that makes him good, is that he strives to be intellectually honest, which leads him to positions that can occasionally appear outrageous.

            But instead, you took some tweets and a freakin’ podcast, interpreted them in the the worst possible way, and got your panties in a twist that can be seen from space.

            And so you have him lumped in with people like Milo or Alex Jones, which is really sad for you.

            1. Ridgeway, I’m just going to leave it here for any third party that reads it:

              A person that believes it would be normatively good for society to hang women than have abortions is held out as ‘one of the finer conservative writers’.

              I won’t convince you of anything, but I want you to consider how that reads.

              1. You are making a big mistake by assuming that a couple of tweets and a podcast are indicative of the overall quality of his work. In any event, in 2015 he specifically clarified that he didn’t think women should be hanged.

                From the right wingers at Salon:

                [quote]Despite this fulsome defense of his original Twitter remark, Williamson told a conservative student audience at Hillsdale College several months later (in March of 2015) that he would prefer to imprison women who had abortions, in his ideal future society where the procedure was criminalized.

                “This is an example of intel?lectual dis?honesty that social media empowers,” Williamson said in response to an audience question about the earlier incident. “Often you hear people say [that] people don’t really think of abortion as murder because if they did, they would view it the same way as con?ven?tional homicide cases. It is com?pa?rable to a sit?u?ation where people get 20 years in prison. [b]I meant a point of com?parison, not that I think women who have abor?tions actually should be hanged.[/b] The people that wrote that, they’re familiar with my work and know that in most cases of capital pun?ishment, I’m not much of a fan of it, but, of course, they wrote it as though I believe that.”[/quote]

                Seriously — read some of his stuff at random and tell me it wasn’t worth your while.

                1. The man would prefer to imprison women that had abortions. If this is the person you want to hold up as being an eloquent defender of your political views, by all means.

            2. If he’s as good as it gets conservative discourse is deep in the shitter.

              1. Thankfully he is not. Heck, I’m reading Reason right, surely that means I believe that conservative discourse has something to contribute to the world!

        2. First of all, I wouldn’t fire Williamson from a non-publishing job. If he were a bricklayer, his views on abortion would be entirely irrelevant. I would politely request that your question not be ambiguous about the relationship between pork and the job 🙂

          Second, and more relevantly, there is absolutely a huge different between a person that believes that we ought not to eat pork because it’s morally wrong and another that states that it would be normatively excellent for the government to forcibly shut down the butcher shops and BBQ joints and send the rest to jail.

          Even in the latter case, I have no problem with that guy laying bricks while plotting for a future where he can command a legislative majority to ban pork. But I absolutely would not hire the latter guy to be on my magazine, and if I hired a reasonable person thinking he was the first kind of non-pork-eater and later found out he was the second, I would probably fire him.

          What’s more, this doesn’t even have anything to do with whether I like or eat pork! The view that ‘pork is bad and the government should ban it and criminally prosecute those that make or consume it’ is simply beyond the Overton Window. It does no good to ‘debate’ it because it’s not a view with any serious acceptability.

          1. “Second, and more relevantly, there is absolutely a huge different between a person that believes that we ought not to eat pork because it’s morally wrong and another that states that it would be normatively excellent for the government to forcibly shut down the butcher shops and BBQ joints and send the rest to jail.”

            Why? If somebody thinks, for religious reasons, that we ought to jail pork eaters, how is that different from a religious belief?

            1. Why what? The form of the quoted sentence was “there is a huge difference between X and Y”.

              I did not claim that Y is not a religious belief. I’ll go one further and even claim the opposite, that both X and Y could be sincere religious beliefs.

              I can name a whole bunch of other religious beliefs that are well beyond the pale. Bob Jones has a few.

          2. Even in the latter case, I have no problem with that guy laying bricks while plotting for a future where he can command a legislative majority to ban pork. But I absolutely would not hire the latter guy to be on my magazine, and if I hired a reasonable person thinking he was the first kind of non-pork-eater and later found out he was the second, I would probably fire him.

            The problem with this analogy is that you didn’t hire him thinking he was the first and later found out he was the second. You hired him knowing he was the second; you fired him because other people had a tantrum about it, not because you learned new information about it.

            And why would you distinguish between bricklaying and opinion writing? I could see you saying, “Hey, dude, your opinion on that pork thing is too far out there; stay away from that topic in your columns.” But why would merely having this view disqualify him from writing for your magazine on other topics?

            1. I agree to the point in your first ‘graph.

              As to the second though, who would listen to the opinion from a person that wanted to criminalize pork? It’s self-discrediting.

  16. Personally I think the Atlantic ought to be allowed to hire and fire whoever they want, but according to the EEOC, laws against religious discrimination apply to “sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs.”.

    1. I doubt the special privilege for religious or ethical claims is so elastic as to protect an employee who claims a religious imperative to tell every customer (or every perceived non-believing customer) to stick a product up his butt and go elsewhere for commerce.

      I also doubt anyone who believes or claims every women who has an abortion should be killed (or prosecuted for homicide) has a legitimate expectation or legal right to employment by a responsible, mainstream, reasoning publication.

      1. “…religious imperative to tell every customer…”

        There’s a big difference between firing someone for what they believe, and firing them for what they do in the workplace. You can fire someone for telling gay customers that they will be cast into a lake of fire, but i doubt you can fire someone for simply believing that gay customers will be cast into a lake of fire.

        “I also doubt anyone who believes or claims every women who has an abortion should be killed…” Assuming it is a religious belief , and that believer doesn’t feel an obligation to carry out this mandate, then I don’t see why not.

        1. There’s also a big difference when talking about “regular jobs” and jobs where editorializing is part of the core function.

  17. Personally I think the Atlantic ought to be allowed to hire and fire whoever they want

    This isn’t the issue. “Allowed” is a reference to law. No one is saying Williamson’s firing is or should be illegal.

    1. I’m pretty sure I just said it might be illegal, based on the EEOC website.

      1. I doubt it. Presumably, Williamson would have been fired for his belief whether it was religiously or secularly motivated. Thus, there isn’t religious discrimination.

        1. No, employment law doesn’t work that way. Employment Division v. Smith says that as a matter of the constitution, the government can impose burdens on individuals’ religious freedom if it does so based on a neutral law of general applicability. But that’s as a constitutional matter. Title VII imposes an affirmative requirement on an employer that it accommodate an employee’s religion if doing so would not impose a burden on the employer. You can’t get around discrimination against Jews (or Muslims) by saying that you’d fire anyone who didn’t believe in eating bacon.

          1. I agree that Title VII requires an employer to affirmatively accommodate a person’s religious beliefs and practices. I think it would be a stretch for Williamson to argue that his religious beliefs or practices require him to write that women who have abortions must be treated as murders, and thus The Atlantic must accommodate such writings even though they wouldn’t have to for the same secularly-based belief.

            Your bacon analogy isn’t accommodation either. However, I would suspect if an employer fired anyone who didn’t believe in eating bacon, they would be liable for a disparate impact violation. Did The Atlantic violate Title VII’s disparate impact prohibition when it fired Williamson for writing that women who have abortions must be treated as murderers? Certainly that would disparately impact those with religious beliefs. However I would guess for an opinion magazine, such writings are legitimate job skills that Title VII permits employers to take into account even if they disparately impact religious beliefs.

            1. This is not an accommodation issue, but rather a potential discrimination issue. Some of the commenters here want to have it both ways. They say that Williamson’s position is invallid because it stems solely from religious belief. But if that is the case, firing him for stating his religious belief out loud starts to look a lot like discrimination on the basis of religion (which is a no-no). I am not saying it is a slam dunk, but it does not look frivolous either.

            2. “Your bacon analogy isn’t accommodation either.”

              Sure it is. If a company had a policy that all employees must eat bacon (ordinarily an excellent policy), they would be required to accommodate Muslims and Jews by exempting them from the policy, unless they could show that they were harmed by granting such an exemption.

              Simply allowing someone to believe their belief seems like the least accommodation an employer can make.

              1. I was assuming David meant they would fire bacon eaters, not they required employees to eat bacon. In your alternative, far-from-the-real-world hypothetical (why would an employer require its employees to eat bacon?), I agree the employer would have to accommodate Jews and Muslims under Title VII.

                1. {Darn this commenting system}. I meant to say (of course), “I was assuming David meant they would fire those who do not believe in bacon eating.”

            3. Once again: Williamson didn’t write anything about abortion (or bacon) for the Atlantic. Of course the Atlantic has the right to decide what appears in its pages and need not accommodate views it disapproves of. (Its own first amendment rights guarantee that.) That’s not the issue here. The issue here is an employee who merely holds a certain belief. The Atlantic fired Williamson for having this viewpoint, not for writing about it in the magazine.

              1. Assuming for the sake of argument that Williamson was fired simply for holding his religious viewpoint, do you think Williamson would succeed in a Title VII action because The Atlantic did not accommodate him having that religious viewpoint? And a similarly situated person who had the same belief, but based in secular reasoning, would not succeed in a Title VII action?

                If you answer “yes”, I’d like to see some citations supporting your opinion because that result, applied to a political opinion magazine, sounds quite wrong to me.

                1. Accommodations are irrelevant. The termination would be the illegal discriminatory act.

                  Think of it this way.

                  The Obama administration lists a bunch of mostly-Muslim countries as having insufficient anti-terrorism security protocols . Nobody bats an eye.

                  Trump talks about a Muslim ban, and then (ostensibly temporarily) bans immigration from those same countries (again ostensibly) due to their insufficient security. Courts hold that the ban is impermissible because it was done with an impermissible discriminatory intent, based on the previous statements.

                  1. Assuming The Atlantic would fire anyone who believes women who have abortions should be treated as murderers, regardless of whether the person’s belief was religiously or secularly based, how is there an intent to discriminate on the basis of religion?

                    That is, The Atlantic is acting like Obama in your analogy.

                    1. In a separate subthread, I pointed out that several commenters argue that KW’s position is based solely on his religious views, and is thus invalid for the purposes of debating public policy. If that premise is true, then his firing may well have been based on his expression of his religious beliefs, and that would be illegal.

  18. There are plenty of people who believe that having sex with someone with more than .08% BAL is rape. Is believing that most of us should be locked in a cage that different from what Williamson believes?

    1. There are plenty of folks that believe that having sex with someone who is intoxicated can be rape, and that intoxication is a relevant factor (among many) is assessing consent.

      The per-se you described is well beyond the pale, just as the Dworkin “pornography is rape” and “all sex is rape” is. That doesn’t mean that no one believes (or claims to believe) it.

      1. Should anyone who has at some point in the past taken that “per se” position be permanently excluded from any public debate on any topic?

        1. I certainly wouldn’t hire those folks for my magazine. You can hire them if you like.

          There’s no such thing as ‘excluded from public debate’ in the global sense. Everyone in society makes their own individual decision about which views are in the window and which are beyond it.

          Moreover, you can quite explicitly start a magazine about views that I think are (rightfully) excluded from the public debate.

  19. The Atlantic presumably thought that hiring Williamson would either please its current readers or attract new ones. Why else would the Atlantic, or any other magazine, hire anyone? I can’t imagine the thought process by which its editor came to that conclusion. Maybe he was sloppy, maybe he was stupid, but he decided to hire Williamson. After announcing the hire, the reaction was such that any reasonable editor could see that it would not please current readers and was unlikely to attract significant numbers of new ones. So why keep him on?
    If Williamson has suffered some concrete harm, say, by leaving a paying gig he can’t go back to in reliance on the Atlantic job, he might have some remedy, and, if so, the Atlantic deserves to pay it for its stupidity. But otherwise, business is business, a point all too frequently forgotten in a nominally libertarian blog community.

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