When it comes to censorship, I have always found it ironic how quickly people can rise up to defend their own freedom while simultaneously attempting to stomp out their opponents. We see stories like Je Suis Charlie (I am Charlie) and it is hard not to feel the solidarity and courage as we face the threat of violence at the hands of Muslim extremists. Yet when a fire chief in Atlanta writes a religious book that includes a disparaging view of homosexuality, we don’t see a lot of Liberals coming to his defense when he is fired by the mayor for these views. I fully realize the Paris event is an actual atrocity while the latter is simply an injustice, but the precedence are the same. It is about freedom of speech and censorship.
It is important to have the full context here. The fire chief in question, Kelvin Cochran, was appointed in 2008, and aside from a brief assignment in the Obama administration, has been there ever since. His record has been exemplary. Except for this book he wrote. A book expressing his personal view on religion, which happens to include criticism of homosexuality. After learning of this book, Kasim Reed (Atlanta Mayor) launched an internal investigation to determine if Cochran had treated any LGBT firefighters unfairly. The investigation found no wrong doing. None. In fact, the investigation revealed that Cochran disciplined firefighters for openly supporting a Chic-Fil-A campaign, in uniform, against homosexuality! Kasim never cared about the results of the investigation, he was only looking for air cover. When he didn’t get what he hoped for, he fired Cochran anyway (there’s a bit more to the story, but I view it as inconsequential technicalities).
I don’t agree with Kelvin Cochran’s religious or social views, and I don’t think it was particularly savvy for a senior public servant to publish these views. However, as an American, he has the same right to express his views as I have to tell him he’s wrong. The moment we start firing people for expressing something unpopular, we get closer to the Orwellian nightmare so many of our soldiers have fought to defend against. Thomas Jefferson is often credited with saying, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” It has never been about being popular, for it requires no courage to do so. Liberals, members of the LGBT community, and anyone who doesn’t believe in Cochran’s worldview must stand up to defend his right to express it. It isn’t just about integrity, it is about preserving free speech for all.
I think this sentiment was captured best in the movie, The American President, when the lead character played by Michael Douglas said, “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.” Freedom means the ability to have the debate, to put it on center stage, and for the best argument to win. But maybe that isn’t enough for you, and if not, I’ll offer an alternative and more selfish view. There is no greater asset in the world than information. It can function as currency, proxy for power, and on multiple occasions it has won wars. Knowing this, why would anyone, ever, want to censor a potential enemy from delivering that information to your doorstep? Don’t be the fool who prevents your adversary from committing the unforced error. The best argument will prevail, sometimes you just have to get out of the way.by