Should municipal politicians ban anti-gay businesses?

Last week, politicians in Chicago and Boston threatened to interfere with the expansion plans of the unashamedly anti-gay Chick-fil-A fast food business. The US has different hate speech laws than Canada — the US rules are much more reasonable and fair — and many liberal commentators condemned the unconstitutionality of threats to Chick-fil-A from politicians like Rahm Emanuel.

Emanuel has since backed down from his plans to block the expansion of Chick-fil-A in Chicago, but Glenn Greenwald highlights the overall danger of allowing politicians to punish speech they don’t agree with:

If you support what Emanuel is doing here, then you should be equally supportive of a Mayor in Texas or a Governor in Idaho who blocks businesses from opening if they are run by those who support same-sex marriage — or who oppose American wars, or who support reproductive rights, or who favor single-payer health care, or which donates to LGBT groups and Planned Parenthood, on the ground that such views are offensive to Christian or conservative residents. You can’t cheer when political officials punish the expression of views you dislike and then expect to be taken seriously when you wrap yourself in the banner of free speech in order to protest state punishment of views you like and share. Free speech rights means that government officials are barred from creating lists of approved and disapproved political ideas and then using the power of the state to enforce those preferences.

I agree with Greenwald on this. Same-sex marriage is less divisive in Canada than in the US, but we are burdened by more restrictions on free speech than in the US.

Although Canadians’ views about restricting speech considered hateful are changing, new threats to speech are developing to protect state and corporate interests. Canada’s government has disapproved of speech criticizing fossil companies and environmental destruction, labelling diverse critics as “radical extremists” while threatening their resources and status. Environmentalists like Tzeporah Berman and Franke James are punished by the government over their free speech.

Greenwald’s post reminds me to check my impulse to silence speech I disagree with. Deplorable as they are, climate change deniers, torture defenders, austerity promoters (and so on) shouldn’t face penalties for expressing views I disagree with. The solution is to confront and contain these views, while defending the right to express them.

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