Conservative candidates today commonly declare that they are pro–Second Amendment. That’s fine, but it will be important for both conservatives and liberals to begin declaring that they are Pro–First Amendment.
The threats are clear. Many in the Obama administration seem to want to turn freedom of religion into freedom of worship. (Do what you want for an hour on Sunday, but not during the other 167 hours of the week.) Some on the left want freedom of speech and of the press to be no freedom for “hate speech” that includes any criticism of Islam or gay power. We still have freedom of assembly, but one out of four is not great.
That’s why it was good this week to see in The Daily Beast an article headlined, “Opposing Gay Marriage Doesn’t Make You a Crypto-Racist.” In it Jonathan Rauch, a gay journalist at The Brookings Institution, wrote, “Religion, unlike racism, is constitutionally protected, and opposition to gay marriage has deep religious roots.” He noted that racists used dogs, fire hoses, and sometimes even more severe and systemic violence, but the situation for gay Americans now “could not be more different.”
Rauch also acknowledged, “You don’t expect thousands of years of unquestioned moral and social tradition to be relinquished overnight,” so gay-rights advocates “need time and voice to finish making our case.” That’s where I think he’s wrong: Over time we’ll see more clearly that a legal marriage does not make wrong right, but at this point we’ll have to wait and see. So I welcome the public statement, “Freedom to Marry, Freedom to Dissent: Why We Must Have Both,” that Rauch and more than 50 others initially signed, with more continuing to join.
The signatories declare:
“We are concerned that recent events, including the resignation of the CEO of Mozilla under pressure because of an anti-same-sex marriage donation he made in 2008, signal an eagerness by some supporters of same-sex marriage to punish rather than to criticize or to persuade those who disagree. We reject that deeply illiberal impulse, which is both wrong in principle and poor as politics.”
The statement continued:
“We support same-sex marriage; many of us have worked for it, in some cases for a large portion of our professional and personal lives. …We also affirm our unwavering commitment to the values of the open society and to vigorous public debate. … Any effort to impose conformity, through government or any other means, by punishing the misguided for believing incorrectly will impoverish society intellectually and oppress it politically.”
The signatories asked:
“Is opposition to same-sex marriage by itself, expressed in a political campaign, beyond the pale of tolerable discourse in a free society? We cannot wish away the objections of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faith traditions, or browbeat them into submission. Even in our constitutional system, persuasion is a minority’s first and best strategy. It has served us well and we should not be done with it.”
Among the signers are Richard Epstein, William Galston, Lisa Keegan, Jim Kolbe, Ken Mehlman, Charles Murray, Norman Ornstein, Will Saletan, Christina Hoff Sommers, Andrew Sullivan, and Eugene Volokh.