Free speech as right ‘to protect businesses that wish to discriminate’

While Puerto Ricans roast, North Korean threaten war, and GOP senators duck for cover as the scraps of yet another bill designed to consign the poor and old to the rubbish heap falls in flames around them, it’s good to see National Review, consigned to irrelevance after Donald Trump’s election, and its former ideological mates in the conservative commentariat lecture NFL players on their responsibilities as employees. But conservatives going back to Edmund Burke have a horror of a populace challenging their ideas about privilege and the state’s responsibility to its citizens; every response is an echo, a flashback to Marie Antoinette and the guillotine.

The convulsions happening on college campuses as Richard Spencer, Milo, and other far right firebrands are invited or pay for events present other opportunities for conservatives to troll liberals. Adam Serwer explains the ways in which conservatives in power have suppressed speech they find repellant. This is why the baker case before the Supreme Court (Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission) matters, Serwer writes:

It is true that many liberals and members of the left exert social pressure on ideas they find abhorrent, as do conservatives. For those who find themselves at the center of such disputes, the experience can be painful or even scary, but they are also an inevitable part of a society where people are allowed to express themselves—some ideas can and should fall into disfavor, even if they can be expressed without fear of state punishment. Even as they portray liberals and leftists as weak snowflakes, conservative complaints about political correctness often reflect acute sensitivity to liberal or left-wing criticism—criticism that when they can, they try to silence through opprobrium.

That’s not to say that such conservatives are opposed to free speech entirely—when it comes to discrimination in the public square, their defense of the principle is unwavering. Before the Supreme Court is the case of a Christian baker who refused to serve gay and lesbian customers, discrimination outlawed by Colorado state law. In that brief, the Trump administration subtly indicated that, far from simply being a matter of religious views on marriage, “free speech” should be understood to protect businesses that wish to discriminate.

I’m reminded of Corey Robin’s definition of conservatism: a mode of counter-revolutionary practice.

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