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Maybe shut your trap or shut your shop?
By Fay Funk
We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. Signs with these words can be seen on businesses throughout the country, from antique shops to restaurants. No sandwiches or coffee for you if you are rude or dirty, or inappropriately dressed. And yet it’s so much more complicated than that. Businesses cannot refuse service to someone for being a woman, or being an African-American. They could in the past, of course, during an ugly time in American history. Boycotts and lunch-counter protests changed that, changed the law. Some beliefs though are hard to shake.
In February Arizona attempted to pass a law that would allow businesses to refuse service to LGBTQ people on the basis of religious rights. The bill made it much farther than any piece of legislation so discriminatory should, and passed both the House and the Senate before being vetoed by Governor Jan Brewer. This is as it should be; discrimination at this level is both legally and morally the antithesis of everything the United States holds true. There is a next step though, that many people have been taking recently: opposing not just discriminatory business practices, but discriminatory beliefs of owners and employees.
The most recent and largest-scale to date I have seen is the resignation of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich after the dating-website OKCupid blocked users from using the browser. When users tried to view OKCupid in Mozilla a message popped up about the CEO’s $1,000 contribution in favor of the anti-gay marriage bill Proposition 8. Users were ultimately able to use OKCupid through Mozilla, but the message sparked massive criticism of Mozilla, and Eich resigned just a few days after being appointed. Just today I saw another, similar criticism, on a local level. The Portland Mercury published an article about the anti-gay Facebook comments of Chauncey Childs, owner of a soon-to-be open market in Portland. Calls for a boycott of her business have already started. A different business owner, Nick Zukin, who owns the restaurants Mi Mero Mole and Kenny and Zuke’s, came out in support of the Childs. His feeling is that business owners should be able to think however they want, and not be “economically segregated,” for those beliefs. Unsurprisingly, calls for a boycott of his restaurants are now being made.
In one regard, Zukin is right. You can say whatever you want, even if it is hateful. But freedom of speech has never been consequence-free. That’s a fact that the loudest proponents of freedom of speech often seem to forget. The government cannot silence you, but the general public does not have an obligation to listen to you or support you. In fact, freedom of speech means anyone can come right back at you with their own opinion. That’s what OKCupid did to Mozilla, and what the boycotters of the restaurant are doing now. I can choose not to eat at Kenny and Zuke’s for any reason I want, whether it’s unappealing food or hateful speech by the owner. That is not suppression. That is business.
While hateful speech can get you fired, or cause your business to suffer, though it doesn’t always. Look no further than Daniel Tosh, the mediocre comedian who in 2012 made a horrific rape joke that put him at the center of a massive controversy. He still has a highly-rated TV show on Comedy Central. Such is how freedom of speech goes. Say what you want. You might be just fine, or you might lose everything. You might keep your TV show, or you might face “economic segregation.” It all depends on if people still want to listen to you. For every Daniel Tosh there is a Brendan Eich.
I love freedom of speech. I love it when a person shares exactly who they are, especially when what they have to say is heinous. There is no better way to determine what person, business, or organization I don’t want to support. So say whatever you want. Say it as loudly as possible. But be ready for the consequences.
#FreedomOfSpeech #Rights #Portland #SmallBusiness #OKCupid #Firefox
5/3/2014 09:22:42 am
Good piece, except one inaccuracy - While Nick Zukin was a co-founder of Kenny & Zuke's, he is no longer a co-owner. I bought him out about 3 years ago, and I certainly share virtually none of his views, including the ones regarding the Sellwood store in question.
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