Are Atheists and Liberals Guilty of Restricting the Free Speech of Others?

voltaire quote

Jack Vance writes:

…If you ask most atheists in the United States today where the primary threat to free expression comes from, you will be pointed in the direction of socially conservative Christians. We have seen them try to ban books they do not like, interfere with the teaching of evolution and reality-based sex education in public schools, burn piles of heavy metal records, suggest anti-blasphemy laws, and engage in many other efforts aimed at denying others access to material which they perceive as undermining their fragile faith. The goal is clear: they have decided to deny others access to material of which they do not approve. They have appointed themselves the morality police and are willing to impose their will on the rest of us. They don’t want you to be able to decide these things for yourself.

As toxic as these socially conservative Christians can be, there is a problem with focusing only on them. In doing so, we may overlook what has become an equally important source of restrictions to free expression: the left-leaning forces of political correctness, trigger warnings, and “safe spaces.” The pressure to refrain from criticizing Islam comes largely from the left, and there appears to be a surprising willingness to shut down the exchange of unpopular ideas. Some of the efforts coming from the left appear to be every bit as puritanical as those on the right. Even though the rationale they provide is different, the results may be the same. “Other people should not have to see or hear things I find offensive!” Much like the socially conservative Christians, some of these forces on the left have decided that they know better than you and are willing to make these decisions for you. It seems that their opinions are the only ones that count.

It is noteworthy that much of the controversy around free expression and efforts to restrict it in the atheist community have come from the left. Some subjects, we have been told, are simply not up for debate. Some subjects are even beyond questioning. And this is happening within a community that prides itself on skepticism and freethought! Codes of conduct are needed to create “safe spaces” whenever atheists gather, and they often seem to have the effect of restricting sexual expression.

I certainly understand the pull to focus on the Christian right and their quest to restrict the free expression of ideas they find offensive. I will likely continue to do so because this seems to be the primary threat to free expression where I live. And yet, I think it would be a mistake not to acknowledge that there are some serious threats to freethought and free expression coming from the left as well. Perhaps these deserve greater attention…

What do you think about Vance’s contention that atheists and liberals can be just as guilty as right-wing  Christians of trying to restrict the free speech of those they disagree with?  And on a similar note, what should our response be the patently racist comments by Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers? Does Sterling have the right to be a bigot and racist and still own a business that makes most of its money from the work of blacks? Just an hour ago, the commissioner of the NBA banned Sterling for life from any association with the NBA. He also fined him $2.5 million dollars and is recommending that  Sterling be forced to sell the franchise.  Should Sterling face these penalties  for what it arguably his First Amendment right to be a racist? And here’s another. Recently, Brendan Eich, the CEO of Mozilla, was forced to step down over a $1,000 donation he made in 2008 to support California Proposition 8.   Should Eich have been forced out of office due to his personal political views? One more. Just yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry faced a huge backlash over his use of the word apartheid in describing Israel’s unwillingness to negotiate a peace treaty with the Palestinians. He faced a huge backlash over his use of the word apartheid and has since apologized. Should Kerry be forced to apologize for using a word that, in my opinion, accurately describes the state of Israel and its treatment of Palestinians?

Like Vance, I find the political correctness found in certain corners of the atheist/liberal world to be quite troubling. How are we any different from the right-wing Christian if we can not  tolerate, accept, and engage those who might have a differing view? Should we go out of our way to savage and punish those who hold views that we disagree with?  What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Comments (19)

  1. Griff

    I think there is thought policing on both sides, but my personal litmus test for appropriateness lies in the means by which speech is objected. Under this examination, there are very marked differences in how each side objects to ideas with which they disagree. In every example used by Jack Vance, save the burning of heavy metal records, the conservative Christian attempts to enforce his will by force of legislation, at least tacitly enforced by threat of government force or action. In every example used to display the thought policing of the left/atheist community, no government force has been harnessed to restrict the free speech rights of unpopular opinion. In the case of Donald Sterling, he is subject to his professional organization and any sanctions are doled out and enforced by this private, voluntary entity. By virtue of belonging to the NBA, Mr. Sterling subjected himself to their governance, but no actual freedoms have been curtailed. The backlash on John Kerry is merely citizens exercising their own rights to freedom of expression against an official of the federal government. I fail to see how these objections aren’t the very definition of protected political speech. The most interesting to me is Brenden Eich’s ouster. The move by the private corporation to oust their CEO was merely the result of the invisible hand of the free market dictating the policies of a company as a reaction to the opinions of their consumers. Again, no force of government threatened or applied. I find it especially ironic that the Christian Right, who seems to worship the free market more than they worship their supposed savior, reacted so negatively to the Mozilla situation, since such a market backlash occurred outside of the halls of government and, according to free market activists, is exactly how social justice should occur, naturally in response to the will of the consumer rather than at the point of a government bayonet.

    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      While I agree with you much of your comment, I do hesitate to agree completely. For example, a noted humanist made comments about atheists/feminism in a speech. The feminists were outraged and went after the man’s job. It seems to me that this is the power of the mob trying to force their will on others and punish those who disagree with them. I think that is exactly what happened to Brendan Eich. Was it the hand of the free market or was it what Bill Maher calls the gay mafia going after a man because he gave a donation to a cause they disagree with? Should a person be forced out of their job because of their personal political/social views?

      I am all for public censure and disapproval. I am all for voting with my wallet. But, when it comes to personally attacking a person and forcing them to lose their job, I think we go too far.

      1. Marc

        “or example, a noted humanist made comments about atheists/feminism in a speech. The feminists were outraged and went after the man’s job.”

        That is such a huge over simplification of what happened that it’s pretty much disingenuous. A simple google search on Ron Lindsay’s name and Women in Secularism 2 will show what he said and why it received such strong reactions.

        For the record though his freedom of speech was never in jeopardy but as often happens people seem to conflate the Right to freedom of speech as a Right to be free of the consequences of using that freedom. All that happened in Ron’s case was he was held accountable for what he actually said.

        1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

          Nope, I meant what I said. The feminists bullied and attacked Lindsay for saying exactly what many atheists think. Now let’s see how quickly this post becomes about my supposed sexist views or my support of the rape culture. It is one thing for someone to disagree with my viewpoint or Lindsay’s viewpoint, but it is another thing to attack a person’s character or go after their job. The feminists grossly overplayed their hand, which is, of course, what they have been doing for quite some time. (I am speaking specifically about a certain core group of atheist feminists)

          1. marc

            I’m just trying to understand your point of view. Mr. Lindsay spoke at a conference, that speech offended a large portion of those attending the conference. I’m not going to argue whether they should’ve gotten offended or not (do they have the right to be offended?) Should that portion of people who were offended remain silent? Should Ron’s Right of Free Speech trump their Rights to speak up? As the President of the group organizing the conference he wasn’t in a position to be bullied by those lower in the power structure than he was so personally I don’t agree that he was but that instead he was held accountable for what he did and said. Do you think people should be held accountable for their actions?
            I ask these questions in all seriousness as I do spend time thinking of where someone’s personal opinions “cross the line” and at what point we decide that those opinions aren’t “acceptable”.

          2. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)


            How do you know his comments offended a large portion of those attending the conference? I know of no survey done of conference attendee’s that would back such a claim. What is certain is that is a small group of feminist atheists were offended and they took to their blogs to express their outrage. That’s fine. Free speech. But, when they attacked his character and tried to get him fired? They crossed the line, IMO. It is at this point they became bullies, using a methodology they have used numerous times with those who express views they disagree with.

            When you say, held accountable, you are assuming that Lindsay said something offensive. I do not believe he did. Perhaps he could have worded things better, but I saw nothing in his speech that rose to the level of deserving to be fired from his job. Ron Lindsay is a good man. This group of atheist feminists, along with those associated with atheism+ have done great harm to the atheist cause in the United States. They have caused division and infighting. I find their behavior quite similar to what I saw in Christian fundamentalism and this is why I want nothing to do with these groups. When I addressed these issues when they first came out, I was roundly attacked and savaged, accused of being sexist and supporting the rape culture, etc. This was the main reason I stopped blogging last year. I fled Christian fundamentalism because of its narrow minded bigotry and if this is the norm in the atheist community, then I intend to flee it too. I find this kind of behavior offensive and counterproductive no matter who is doing it.

            Thanks for commenting.


  2. kittybrat

    I have been following this with interest. It WAS the free market that got that quick resignation of Eich. It was a dating website that warned its users who were using Mozilla Firefox that the CEO had contributed to a bigoted legislative cause. When a person is found to be a bigot, then they have to pay the consequences. Now, if he had changed his stance since then, Eich had every opportunity to say so. He did not. A company has the right to not be associated with a person who is harmful to their bottom line. Just as the Clippers case, the bigotry shone through and there were consequences.

    Also, it does depend upon the job. If Joe Schmoe works stocking shelves at K-mart and is also a Klan member, this would not be a fireable offense. However, if Joe Schmoe is in a leadership position at K-mart, then his actions are more a reflection on the company, so his personal choices can be called into question.

    We should never strive to stifle individual expression. People do, however, suffer the consequences of their statements and of their actions. As far as Kerry, I don’t see that his statement was untrue. As far as the atheist and feminists problem, that remains to be hashed out. We must all be careful to understand that, as our societies evolve, there will be disagreements.

    Free market, boycotts, and loud voices are not the same as legislatively treading upon another.

    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      While I tend to agree with you, why then do we atheists and liberals scream when right-wing Christians do this very thing? :) I guess the point here, for me any way, is that we object when the other side does it, but we think it is OK when we do it.

      Years ago, I managed a mall restaurant for a Taiwanese man. We experienced a horrible drop in sales on the night shift. I spent several weeks secretly observing what was going on at night and I came to the conclusion that my black assistant manager was hanging out with his black friends at the counter and whites, out of irrational fear of blacks, refused to come to the counter to order. The owner of the store said, you no more hire any of those people! Those people being blacks. Of course, this was patently racist BUT in his mind it made good business sense. Since our clientele was overwhelmingly white, should this owner have the right to dictate the racial make up of his staff and when and how they are deployed? Of course the direct way to fix the problem is to tell the assistant manager not to be hanging out with his friends at the counter. Time to lean, time to clean, I told him. His response? I was racist. I had a similar problem with a woman in her 50′s who was missing all her teeth and had tattoos from head to toe. (this was in the early 90′s) She was very unappealing to look at and a marginal worker. As a person who has worked with the public his entire life, I am a realist. I knew this woman would hurt my business, regardless of the whether the prejudices of others were justified. She also worked the night shift. I moved her to first shift food prep. She quit and then filed an age discrimination complaint against me. (which she lost) Should I have put my personal beliefs above the welfare of the business? For the business, isn’t the bottom line making money? So, from this perspective I understand firing Branden Eich and trying to force Donald Sterling to sell the team. But, what if their behaviors had NO impact on the bottom line? I think the whole Duck Dynasty saga is another good case to look at. Liberals demanded the head of Phil Robertson. A&E responded and Christians responded back. Is this what we want public discourse reduced to…the biggest mob wins? It seems to be that we concede the high ground to right wing culture warriors when we use the same tactics as they do. I prefer open, no holds barred public discourse. Let each person decide where they stand. Of course, this is complicated when it comes to businesses because their bottom line can be affected by the views they hold.

      Generally, I do not boycott businesses. I hate Walmart…so should I shop at Meijer or Kroger who are just smaller versions of Walmart? Why boycott Walmart but not Meijer and Kroger? The truth is, there is no purity when it comes to these issues. We are all, to some degree, hypocrites. Even the vegan who is against killing animals, eats food that causes the death of animals. Less death to be sure, but death nonetheless.

      For me personally, I try to use the power of the pen to challenge those views I oppose. I think, in the long run, this is the best way to combat viewpoints I disagree with. That and using the political process to effect real, lasting change.

      Just my two cents.

  3. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

    It will be interesting to see where the comments on this post go. I hesitated to write this post because of the possibility of outrage from those who can tolerate no view but their own.

  4. Stephanie

    I have strong views on free speech that some people find offensive. They think: “You want to allow the kkk and Westboro to hold up signs and promote hate!?” I don’t promote hate. I don’t support what they believe or say. There is a difference between supporting a right to something and agreeing with how that person exercises said right. I think there is a certain amount of hypocrisy on both sides. The Christian right wants things they find morally offensive aka porn, atheist billboards, evolution in schools banned. The left often, seems to me, want to have their own morally offensive things banned aka racist speech, certain types of religious speech banned. At times it seems they openly display hatred for religious people and stereotype them as they don’t like stereotyping. Granted, I don’t things like: “religious people are stupid!” “stop believing in fairy tales!” does much to help anyone. Now I am not saying either side doesn’t have a point on some things. People shouldn’t encourage hate, people shouldn’t go out of their way to offend without a greater point. But I think that societal sanctioning is enough. If you say something offensive and you receive backlash then that is your problem. For example, I think that if you are a Christian bakery that doesn’t want to bake cakes for gay couples then you shouldn’t. If your business goes bankrupt as a result of your reputation then once again, your problem.
    This is not to say that certain types of speech cannot cause problems or even lead to potential violence. But I believe that in a civilized nation it is preferable to air out our grievances publically rather than let it fester and not know who the people to watch out for are. Another example, I think that people that protest outside abortion clinics are horrid. They are bullies that have no real goal other than intimidation. They want to set up barriers so they have to stand a certain distance away. I think they have the right to do what they do short of illegal things such blocking doors and physically touching others. This doesn’t make them any less bullies. Doesn’t mean they should be commended for what they do. Quite the opposite. Basically, I can’t stand bullying and intolerance and think there should be consequences; I just don’t think there should be government laws when it seems society can take care of it just fine. I just with people on both sides would learn something about human decency at times. Oh and I like this video: “Why Tolerance is Condescending.” I can see his point.

  5. Van

    “We should never strive to stifle individual expression. People do, however, suffer the consequences of their statements and of their actions.”

    How is suffering (or the threat of) consequences NOT stifling expression?

  6. Kerri S

    I’m going to focus on your specific examples, first:

    1) Donald Sterling

    His free speech rights in no way were violated: he’s not being put in prison for what he said, nor is the government censoring him. That said, however, he is an owner of an NBA team and part of the NBA organization, and as such, there almost certainly were codes of conduct to which he agreed. We can argue whether the NBA’s response was too harsh (or not harsh enough even), but the NBA has an image to maintain, and for the sake of that image, it couldn’t tolerate his remarks.

    Now, as to the forced sale, normally I’d say we have a problem here. Just because I don’t like what the man says doesn’t mean he can’t run his business. Except that apparently the NBA owners /can/ force the sale, and surely Donald went into the original purchase knowing this.

    2) Brandon Eich

    I really was of two minds on this. First, I’m transgendered, and so fall into the LGBTQ camp. When I heard of his initial appointment, I had no problems with it, but then the controversy erupted. Now, I really don’t use Mozilla Firefox that much, so it’s not a big deal for me whether or not to boycott it or not. I did have the brief thought of whether or not I should continue using Javascript before coming to the final conclusion that my use of a technology he created is not, in any way, shape or form, an affirmation of his personal opinions.

    But I do understand why Mozilla was in a pickle. They live and die by their users, and internet users are, as we all know, fickle. Even the slightest taint could easily have ruined the company as a whole simply due to the large number of individuals who might have actively boycotted the company. And so I have no problem with the final result: Eich valued his company so much that he did the only thing he was sure would work: he stepped down. Is it fair? Perhaps not, but Eich also understood that he could have cost a company he was loyal to a great deal if he had stood firm as CEO.

    Now, I also feel that the board that appointed Eich as CEO really didn’t do their due diligence — had they caught his donation earlier, would he have been promoted, knowing that Mozilla has their share of employees who identify as LGBTQ? Some of them indicated (IIRC) that it was going to be difficult to feel the same way about Mozilla with Eich in charge. Now, Eich had no chance to set precedent one way or the other, and in that vein, he was perhaps judged too quickly (there simply weren’t enough data points). But the one data point that did exist was enough to cause his employees problems and was enough to hurt the company, and so he did the only thing he could do. Fair? Probably not. Sometimes the mob wins, for better or for worse.

    All that said, his free speech rights were never in jeopardy. He didn’t go to jail for his donation to Prop 8, nor did the government tell him to shut up. Even so, that does not mean he doesn’t get to face the consequences of that action.

    3) John Kerry

    I honestly had no idea this controversy was going on. I need to watch more news, I guess. ;-)

    Now, all that to say this: I’m of two minds here. When all the hubbub was raised about things being up for debate, I stuck my foot into it, and immediately wished I hadn’t, because suddenly I felt like I was plunged right back into the fundamental Christianity I had left: a dogmatic mindset that couldn’t tolerate differing opinions. The vitriol was, frankly, astonishing, and quickly soured my view of several prominent atheists. To me, they were doing the very same thing they liked to call out when religion did it. Honestly, it felt a bit hypocritical.

    I really had to question for a few days and weeks whether or not this represented the atheist movement as a whole and whether or not I wanted to be a part of it. I’m still around, though I haven’t tweeted much or posted much — but for work-related reasons, not because I want nothing to do with the movement. But the thoughts did cross my mind: “what did I stumble into, and is it any better than what I just left?” I’ve decided, for the time being, to leave Atheism+ alone — it seems far too hot to handle safely for a fresh deconvert.

    But even in all of this, free speech wasn’t impaired. The various viewpoints got debated round and round, and I learned quite a bit in the entire exchange. I also saw quite a lot I didn’t like from voices who, I thought, would have approached things a little more rationally, but we’re all human. We all have our triggers, which is why I’m not at all against trigger warnings in blog posts. I don’t think they should be required, but if I were to write a post about rape or abortion, I might very well add a trigger warning. Goodness knows, I have my fair share of triggers, and if the warning is presented early, I can gauge my emotional health at that point to determine if it’s safe to continue (or if I’ll end up making a fool of myself in the comments).

    I’m also for a reasonable level of political correctness. No, I don’t think it should be /required/ — you can speak however you wish. But I do also know there are words I will not use in polite company, and I also know that I shouldn’t expect to get away with using those words without either hurting someone or getting bopped on the head. Does that impinge my free speech rights? No — I could say those words, and the government wouldn’t get in the way. But I also don’t want to hurt those around, and those words could do that. Will I always succeed in that goal? Absolutely not — we can’t satisfy everyone all the time, and that’s why I think we should aim for the middle ground.

    Part of what frustrates me (especially with the up for debate hubbub) was the degree to which an argument can be taken to absurdity. There are many things in life that we live with that are absurd when taken to the extreme, but when we live in the middle ground, they can serve quite well. I think political correctness is one of those things: it’s not about free speech here, it’s about my intent and whether or not I intend on harming another individual. Will I always succeed? No, and then I would like to hope the other individual would extend sufficient grace to see that my intent wasn’t to cause harm. But they aren’t required to do so, and for better or for worse, we don’t live in a culture that lives in the middle ground on some of these topics very often. Our culture is highly polarized: left vs right, right vs wrong, enemy vs friend, democrat vs republican, and in this environment, everything is on a hair trigger, and the repercussions of being the straw that breaks the camel’s back are going to be severe.

    Now, I’m not saying any of this is necessarily good or bad. I think we should aim for the middle ground, but I can’t legislate that, nor would I desire to do so. (I’m fed up with the Christian fundamentalists attempts to legislate their morality, and have no desire to legislate mine.) I do think it is the reality in which we live (at least in America). I can hope that one day it will all simmer down, and perhaps with enough schisms and controversies, it will take care of itself where the movement as a whole splits and each side goes their own merry way. Hell, it works that way in politics and in religion and in other organizations, so it should be no surprise that we atheists get to deal with it too. Part of being human, I suspect, for better or for worse.

    Interesting post, for sure, and it will be fascinating to see what comments you get!

  7. Van

    Sterling and Kerry are two very different situations. Sterling’s was a private conversation as a private citizen who happens to be an NBA owner. Kerry was speaking publicly in his official capacity as our country’s top diplomat.

    Will be interesting to see how the Sterling situation plays out. How do you ban him from any interaction with his business for life? Things will be ok for a while for as long as whoever the current president or GM is there. Actually a god gig because he can’t be fired. But what if that guy quits? Who can hire a replacement? Personally I think a ban thru the end of the 2014-2015 season would be appropriate. But to appease the PC crowd I would have banned him for however long the longest player or coach contract on the team is for. Banning for life for expressing a private opinion is over-reaction.

  8. Hooligan Hobo

    This is a topic of increasing interest to me. Perhaps I should write a blog post about it myself! I wholeheartedly agree that the left can be just as oppressive as the right when it comes to stifling opinions they don’t like. As much as laws like Blasphemy are the Christian right’s attempt to legislate their worldview, ideas like “hate speech” are the equivalent on the left. I hold to the increasingly minority opinion (or so it seems to me) that folk should have every right to express their hatred. In the past, such expressions were punished by means of such hateful people paying a steep social price for their hatred. I still believe that bad ideas should be fought not with laws and censorship but with good ideas.

    I won’t comment on the specific examples you mention as I don’t know enough about them but the Kerry situation seems particularly gross. Not only did he accurately describe the situation, he didn’t even suggest (from what I can gather at least) that Israel is an apartheid state, only that it could become one. Whenever someone is vilified by offering, not just their honest opinion which should be fine in any case, but an opinion which is in good accord with the facts; it turns my stomach.

    The online atheist community imploded a few years ago because of exactly this issue. Atheists blogs, in the main, were once places that prided themselves on allowing all opinion to be heard. These opinions were not usually coddled by any means, quite the opposite in many cases, but they could be expressed. Spam and obvious attempts to be intentionally disruptive where the only means of getting yourself banned. On many an atheist blog these days, you might well find yourself banned for not agreeing with some form of ideological litmus test proposition. Echo chambers abound and it is depressing to see atheists distort and misrepresent each other with as every bit as much enthusiasm as any a religious opponent has ever done.

    You alluded to codes of conducts where atheists meet so I presume you are familiar with what I am talking about. It has depressed me a little also to see how easily atheists (who made a habit of holding themselves up as free-thinkers) knuckle under when their own peer group exerts ideological pressure on them. These days I am immediately leery of anyone who describes themselves as a freethinker. I have seen atheists tear apart the faulty research by the likes of the Creation Science Foundation, spotting every methodological flaw without breaking a sweat, and then turn around and laud research which would embarrass a Christian Scientist. (I mean Christian Scientist here in the sense of the sect, not a scientist who happens to be Christian. The latter being just as capable of rigor as any other scientist.)

    In Austria, Germany, Hungary, and Romania, holocaust denial is actually a crime. This fact is troubling to me. While denying the holocaust is amongst other things, asinine and a-historical, it should not – to my mind – be a crime. I suppose it is understandable that Germans would have strong feelings about this but these kinds of laws seem, at best, misguided to me.

    It will be, must be, the case that any time you venture an opinion you run the risk of being denounced by the majority. This is not a bad a thing. There has to be some mechanism by which we weed out bad ideas. There is no law against being a physicist and claiming that gravity is caused by angels tugging on gossamer chains but such a physicist should brace themselves for scorn. Also, being a closed-minded ignoramus should be everyone’s right. When a tight nit group of intolerant hate mongers drive off anyone who disagrees with them, we have only the right to hold them in contempt and loudly decry their antics.

    I am willing to admit that there may be exceptions to all this, but I can’t honestly think of any. Actively trying to rile people up to do actual harm to another individual or group is already covered by existing laws. As are threats; even ongoing verbal attack is covered by harassment law.

    If any group purports to base their worldview in reality and to be amenable to evidence and argument, they should be willing to give critics of any stripe a hearing. Not many do in my experience. Certain quarters of the online atheist community has become shockingly closed off from dissenting voices, even other atheist voices.

    One of the most startling examples of how willing some folk in the atheist community are to misrepresent and malign their opponents was a popular atheist blogger giving a speech where he alluded to the disagreement in the atheist community about the scale of the problem of sexism and misogyny. One side of the fence was under the impression that sexism and misogyny were rife in the atheist community and that all conferences and the like where unsafe places for women and required strict codes of conduct to address the problem. They also seemed particularly upset by the number of white men in the movement and suggested that it was bigoted attitudes amongst these privileged white males that was the cause of the poor turnout of women and minorities. The other side of the fence argued that while any given group is likely to have some sexist and misogynists in their ranks, the problem was being vastly overstated. They further claimed that these codes of conduct were pandering to a few loud voices, were unnecessary and in some cases too restrictive. They argued also that no actual evidence had been presented that this was a serious issue and were sceptical of accepting a few unsupported anecdotes as sufficient to make the case.

    The blogger in question summarised the argument as follows:
    “We’re trying to decide whether women are eye candy and fuck toys for the privileged white men, or whether we’re colleagues together in this movement”

    There has been some upside to all this though; it teaches the lesson well that no matter who you are or who you associate with, you do well to have your skepticism switched on at all times. I take it as a rule now that if some individual is being reported to have said some powerfully, almost bizarrely heinous thing, that it is most likely not true. There is a high likelihood of exaggeration, unfair context or distortion. Occasionally, the reports turn out to be true but rarely so. In the case of the blogger quote above I didn’t believe it until I saw the actual video.

    This “comment” completely got away from me! TL;DR version: Free speech good, censorship bad, whether right-wing or left!

    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Thank you for the thoughtful comment. It added a lot to the discussion!

  9. gimpi1

    In general, I don’t regard boycotts as an infringement of free-speech. You have every right to make an ass of yourself. I have every right not to spend my money with an ass.

    In general, I would not support the firing of someone for engaging in stupid or bigoted behavior. However, companies have a legitimate reason to worry about PR ramifications of someone making racist statements or donating to bigoted groups. That has to be sorted out case-by-case, I think.

    I am never in favor of laws banning any form of speech. I am never in favor of civil or criminal penalties for any form of speech except for outright slander, libel or fraud. However, I consider Ken Ham to be a con-artist. so perhaps I’m not as open as I like to think.

    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      I don’t think boycotts infringe on free speech. I just think they are counterproductive.

  10. brbr2424

    I don’t understand how sports teams work as a business. There seems to be some weird monopoly and control that I never became acquainted with because I don’t follow pro sports. I don’t understand the banning for life etc. If he is the owner of the team, then he owns the team. He was experiencing massive fall out with his team wearing their jerseys inside out, losing sponsors, people not buying tickets. Maybe the NBA was losing money also which is why they stepped in. He didn’t even have a chance to have his “come to Jesus” moment. Did I use that right? Where he confessed at to how wrong he was and now he is enlightened.

    Another thing that bothers me is that this was a private conversation with his girlfriend who seems to have recorded it. People say things not meant for publication even characterizing people. ex: I don’t want to hang out with your stupid friends and their ugly wives again this weekend. I don’t know if this came out a part of a breakup. When celebrities try to gain advantage by hammering their ex in public, everything has to be taken with a grain of salt.

  11. Kat

    I think xkcd is pretty eloquent on this issue — for anyone, not just atheists and fundamentalists:

    I do boycott Walmart, as well as other companies that seem to codify hate, intolerance, dogmatism, greed, or bigotry. Not so much to drive them out of business (though I would not cry salt tears if Walmart crashed and burned) but because I don’t want to enrich people I think are harmful to others.

    Hounding someone, bullying, is always wrong, but I don’t think advocating someone’s firing is always so. I know Donald Sterling said what he said on his private time (and I think it was a dirty trick to record him on his private time without his knowledge), but what he said pertained to the NBA and was said at an NBA game, so I think it reflects on him as a representative of the organization, and the ruling body have a right to disassociate themselves from someone who tarnishes the organization’s image.

    No one deserves to be bullied, but other than that, what you say in public is up for criticism, and as long as neither violence nor law is trying to stop you, your free speech is not being threatened.


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