Chicken protests show progress in culture wars

Aug. 7, 2012

By John Hrabe

Whenever you’ve got trouble, and I mean trouble with a capital T, authoritarians’ first impulse is to ban it. And it doesn’t matter if that trouble is rap music, violent video games, or a pool hall in River City.

The Chick-fil-A protests and counter-protests are nothing new, just the latest chapter in America’s ongoing culture wars. Don’t like gay couples: ban gay marriage. Hate Chick-fil-A for opposing gay marriage: ban Chick-fil-A.  Cultural warriors of all political stripes love to use the machinery of government to suppress their critics and push their agenda.

That’s what happened at first in the current chicken fight. The conservative authoritarians at Chick-fil-A gave money to organizations that support defense of marriage laws. Big government trying to ban two individuals from entering into a private contract. The liberal authoritarians responded with talk of blocking Chick-fil-A from opening new franchises in their communities. Big government trying to infringe on public commerce and free speech.

Ironically, both sides share the same philosophical foundation: “I don’t like you so I want government to shut you down.”

Public Shot Down Big City Mayors

Then, something different happened. After Boston’s Mayor Thomas Menino, Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel and San Francisco’s Mayor Edwin Lee made their unconstitutional threats, the mayors’ comments were immediately shot down by constitutional scholars and endorsed by the public. The debate shifted from government actions to private boycotts.

“Even when it comes to government contracting — where the government is choosing how to spend government money — the government generally may not discriminate based on the contractor’s speech, see Board of County Commissioners v. Umbehr (1996),” wrote the country’s preeminent First Amendment scholar, UCLA law school professor Eugene Volokh. “It is even clearer that the government may not make decisions about how people will be allowed to use their own property based on the speaker’s past speech.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, or the group conservatives love-to-hate, echoed Volokh’s position.

“The government can regulate discrimination in employment or against customers, but what the government cannot do is to punish someone for their words,” said ACLU attorney Adam Schwartz. “When an alderman refuses to allow a business to open because its owner has expressed a viewpoint the government disagrees with, the government is practicing viewpoint discrimination.”

Private Boycotts: Non-Government Solutions

The debate continued, but in a positive way, which was substantially different from past cultural battles. All of the public’s fury was channeled into private, non-government solutions. That’s something to celebrate. There wasn’t any more talk of banning Chick-fil-As. No lawmaker suggested a mandatory warning label for all Chick-fil-A products, or banning minors from your neighborhood Chick-fil-A restaurant.

The Traditional Values Coalition urged their members to support “citizen leaders willing to stand tall and support Christian values in the public square.” Gay rights groups, such as the NoH8 campaign, encouraged the public to boycott the chain. There was “National Same-Sex Kiss Day at Chick-fil-A” Day versus “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.” Both sides got to express their views and take action with their wallets.

Can liberals now understand why money equals a form of political speech?

American Tradition: Voting with Your Wallet

Boycotts date back to America’s founding.  “If you choose where to eat based on a company’s political views, as well as how good the food is or how much it costs, that’s your call,” the Sacramento Bee editorialized. “Voting with your feet, or with your wallet, is an American tradition.” Remember, the Boston Tea Party, it had a corresponding boycott of British tea.

When individuals have the freedom to choose, or when government stays out of it, the debate gets better. You don’t get two polarized sides, but a wide-array of views.  People who are gay but still eat at Chick-fil-A. Conservatives who support traditional marriage but patronize liberal-minded businesses.

“I am gay and I support Chick-fil-A,” Matt Perez, a 19-year-old from Redding self-reported on CNN’s i-Report. “Personally they have never treated me any different as a gay man and I will continue to do business with them so long as that holds true.”

On the other side, most conservatives aren’t likely to stop using their iPhone or Windows-based computer. “Microsoft and Apple, to name a couple, donate to pro-gay-marriage groups,” reminded best-selling author and radio talk-show host Larry Elder. “Should opponents of gay marriage find the companies’ stance on marriage so offensive that they, too, launch consumer boycotts?” 

Private boycotts are harder to pull off. It’s much easier to have the government do it for you.

“While I understand the goal of voting with one’s pocketbook, I’ve personally found boycotts to be impossible to pull off with any consistency,” wrote conservative columnist and radio host Inga Barks at the Bakersfield Californian. “If I like a product, I buy it.”

Who will eventually win the Battle of Chick-fil-A? Believers in limited government already have.

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  1. Rex The Wonder Dog!
    Rex The Wonder Dog! 7 August, 2012, 10:42

    wrote the country’s preeminent First Amendment scholar, UCLA law school professor Eugene Volokh.

    Eugene Volokh the country’s preeminent First Amendment scholar?????…..hahahhahahaa…………Please. He has a blog, and is not the countries preeminent anything.

    Reply this comment
  2. Dyspeptic
    Dyspeptic 7 August, 2012, 16:07

    You are so wrong Rex. Eugene Volokh is a brilliant lawyer, a prominent law professor at a prestigious University and a well known and respected legal expert on 1st and 2nd Amendment issues. He has a very impressive curriculum vitae which is readily available online for your perusal should you choose to dispel your ignorance.

    Still not satisfied? Here is some more information to educate you. He became a professional computer programmer at age 12. He received a Bachelor of Science in Math and Computer Science at age 15 from UCLA. He has a Juris Doctorate from UCLA where he is currently a law professor. He also served as a law clerk for Judge Alex Kosinski of The Ninth Federal District Circuit Court and has had numerous law review articles published as well as many non academic writings for The Wall Street Journal, The L.A. Times, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, etc.

    Trying to dismiss the man as some sort of irrelevant blogger is pathetic. Maybe you should enlighten yourself by visiting his very fine blog, which also features the insights of other prominent legal minds like Jonathan Adler, Orin Kerr, David Kopel, Stewart Baker and Randy Barnett. If these names don’t ring a bell, it’s because you are not paying attention.

    Reply this comment
  3. Rex The Wonder Dog!
    Rex The Wonder Dog! 7 August, 2012, 17:21

    Thank you Dys, I am aware of Volokh and Kosinski (is this the same Alex Kosinski that had numerous pornographic images on his gov computer, in violation of gov rules ????).

    I stand by my comment.

    Reply this comment
  4. Rex The Wonder Dog!
    Rex The Wonder Dog! 7 August, 2012, 17:22

    BTW-UCLA is not even a T-14 law school, the best of the best 🙂

    Reply this comment
  5. Dyspeptic
    Dyspeptic 7 August, 2012, 21:50

    Rex, when you find yourself being quoted in Supreme Court decisions or providing amicus briefs for SCOTUS cases like Mr. Volokh, I will take your opinions on Mr. Volokh and his blog seriously. Apparently you have a difference of opinion with the man. So what. Get over it and give him the respect he deserves for advancing the worthy cause of civil liberties. Your comments above are puerile and small minded.

    Reply this comment
  6. Rex The Wonder Dog!
    Rex The Wonder Dog! 8 August, 2012, 01:09

    I have done more than provided “amicus” briefs in the SCOTUS, I have filed regular briefs there.

    Apparently you seem to think b/c Volokh clerked for a pervert he is something special. He’s not. He doesn’t deserve any respect. Name ONE CASE whee he was the attorney of record that established precedent in any court in America. And he is not at Yale, HLS or STanford, is he…heck he is not even a rofessor that the top UC law school-Boalt.

    Your comments are “peril, small minded” and antagonistic just because I have a different opinion of Volokh and Kozinski.

    So please, move on.

    Reply this comment
  7. Dyspeptic
    Dyspeptic 8 August, 2012, 15:13

    Rex, you will be happy to know that this morning I (and dozens of other commentators) had to take Professor Volokh to task for a highly flawed piece on Second Amendment issues posted today. However, that doesn’t validate your churlish attitude about the mans accomplishments or the informative nature of his blog. You seem to have fallen for the elitist notion that if one doesn’t graduate from some overpriced Ivy League left wing zombie mill that ones abilities are somehow inferior. Just last week we were discussing the asinine and obnoxious opinions of Harvard Professor Alan Dirt-For-Wits regarding gun control. Is this your idea of a paragon of legal expertise?

    P.S. Your sadly inept attempt to smear Professor Volokh by linking him to Judge Kosinki’s past behavior is both strangely puritanical and highly scurrilous and underhanded. So we are all now to be smeared by the behavior of someone who employed us 20 years ago as a clerk? Really? Truly a low blow.

    Reply this comment
  8. Mark Harding
    Mark Harding 9 August, 2012, 00:10

    Mr. Hrabe-
    Let’s get this straight. Big government is NOT banning gay marriage. The people of California decided that to end confusion about what was not written, but had been tacitly understood in the California constitution since the day it was drafted, affirmed that marriage is to be between one man and one woman. NOW big government (the courts) step in to say the people can’t define marriage that way, but instead the government’s way–that gay marriage is in fact ok. That court opinion constitutes the true intrusion of big government into our lives that comports to being neither of, by, or for the people. The ballot box reflected the people’s will and should be respected.

    You then suggest that the government’s current attempt to ban commerce based on a company executive’s belief is somehow comparable. Wrong! The unprecedented attempt to ban Chick-fil-A from opening based upon a belief is shameful and illegal and an constitutes an over-reaching of big government. This action cannot compare with the government’s ignoring the will of the people to define marriage as they see fit. Aside from the goofy ill-timed decision of the California Supreme Court to create a right when none had existed for the few months before the vote of the people, gay relationships were not changed. Government is not knocking on their doors.
    But how soon will it be before the thought police knock on the doors of all businesses to ensure they conform with the current PC positions of politicians, and if not, risk revocation of their freedom to conduct business as they see fit.
    You’re right that both issues involve big government intrusions, but let’s get the analogies about where that occurs aligned correctly.

    Reply this comment

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