On this episode of Mostly Weekly we tackle the issue of the Radio City Rockettes being forced to perform at Trump’s inauguration, despite the fact that several of them would rather get root canals from a squirrel.
It’s an interesting turn of events for public outrage. Freeing the Rockettes from performing at the coronation of King Cheetohface is a cause célèbre on the progressive side of the Interwebs. That’s in stark contrast to the last three years, when photographers and cake bakers became the center of legal controversies for refusing to serve gay weddings.
In case you’re curious, I’ve celebrated my last three birthdays at a New York gay bar (it’s the only one where I can sing Broadway Musicals without irritating people. Also: cheap drinks!) I’m on board. Hell, if they ever make a gay pill I’ll try it out for a couple of weeks to see if I like it. But I don’t think we as a country should legally obligate people to serve customers they object to.
The usual counter to this opinion is: what if bigots refuse to serve Muslims? Or blacks? Or Jews? None of those examples are a desired outcome, of course. But it seems to me the exact same argument should be applied to freedom of speech. If we let people say whatever they want, what if some lowlifes use the n-word, or make misogynistic jokes, or spit out puns all the time? Unfortunately some degenerates will. But we as a nation seem to value freedom of speech enough to allow nasty uses of it. Most of the arguments I hear about abrogating freedom of association fall along the same lines as censorship restricting freedom of speech.
There are exceptions to both. You can’t yell “FIRE!” in a crowded theater, because people might storm out and miss the previews. Also trampling sometimes leads to death. The law is not curtailing someone’s ability to express an idea or opinion, it’s penalizing people for explicitly using speech to incite panic and destruction. Libel and slander laws don’t curtail opinions, but they do punish people for saying demonstrably false statements about someone that hurt them economically. (In the United States we usually say “freedom of speech,” but “freedom of expression” is more apt–and inviolable.) I think the equivalent of this in terms of freedom of association is requiring doctors to take care of everyone, even if they personally disagree with a particular individual. In other words, your freedom of speech and freedom of association stop when their application or omission leads to injuring someone.
The best counterargument for curtailing freedom of association comes from court decisions regarding the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The bill consisted of eleven parts, of which Title II pertains to requiring businesses to serve blacks and the discussion above. The courts upheld the Civil Rights Act when challenged on the grounds that too many hotels and restaurants refused black people, which kept them from travelling and seeking economic opportunities elsewhere. In other words, courts did not uphold Title II on the grounds that we should legally penalize people for antisocial opinions, but rather that the law was necessary to ensure minorities have access to economic advancement.
I’m sympathetic to that line of reasoning. However I think it falls short of implicating wedding photographers and cake bakers. If a business refused to hire a gay man on account of his sexuality, his economic advancement is indeed impeded. But cakes and pictures are luxuries, not necessities, housing or jobs. At this point it seems to me we’re falling back on the argument of: the government should ban nasty thoughts. And the last think I want is empowering Donald Trump, his minions, or some future fascist with the power to punish me for what I say or who I hang out with.
Fortunately none of this Mostly Weekly episode features hateful, nasty words. (Although you do have to suffer through several horrible audition outtakes.)
Andrew Heaton is a writer and standup comedian in New York City. If this post made you laugh or think, kindly "like" it on Facebook.