John Leo
The governor of Maryland fired one of his appointees to the Washington Metro transit authority board for stating a negative opinion of homosexuality on a cable TV talk show. The board member, Robert Smith, had said: "Homosexual behavior, in my view, is deviant. I'm a Roman Catholic." The governor, Robert Ehrlich, said Smith's remarks were "highly inappropriate, insensitive and unacceptable."

"Insensitive" sounds like a fair comment. "Deviant" is a harsh word for expressing one's non-approval of homosexuality. The governor is on less firm ground with "inappropriate." Smith's comment certainly was apropos of the talk-show topic, gay marriage. He was explaining why he opposed it. "I'm Catholic" was shorthand for "I take my religion seriously and, like millions of other Christians, my views on marriage and my non-approval of homosexual sex are biblically based."

Ehrlich's third adjective, "unacceptable," is surely debatable. Did he mean that all members of Washington-area boards are required to approve of homosexuality, or just that they must suppress any non-positive views during TV discussions of same-sex marriage? The governor, a Republican who is up for re-election and is trying to move from the right to the center, clearly hasn't thought the issue through. He certainly seems to be banishing Smith for a thought crime. Perhaps he did so because he knew his Democratic opponents would come after him for tolerating "hate speech" if he let Smith stay on. Smith argues that his social opinions have "absolutely nothing to do with running trains and buses" and that they haven't affected his actions or decisions on the board.

Maybe it's not a good idea for government transit specialists to be pronouncing on divisive social issues. But they clearly have a right to do so. The Supreme Court says the First Amendment protects the right of public employees and appointees to speak freely on matters of public concern. So if Smith wants to sue over his firing, he seems likely to win. At any rate, liberals routinely argue that people should not be fired for behavior or speech unrelated to their jobs, such as professors who make loony remarks out of class, or schoolteachers who have children out of wedlock.

Why didn't Gov. Erhrlich simply say that he disagrees with Smith, but considers him an excellent public servant, which the Washington Post coverage of the story makes clear he is? The answer is that in Washington, and among the elites everywhere, approval of homosexuality is now mandatory. In the old days, employees were fired for being gay. Now they are far more likely to get fired for failing to approve homosexuality or for some remark that the gay lobby resents.

In colleges and schools, regulations on "hate speech" now protect gays from criticism as well as meaningful debate. Andrew Sullivan, the prominent blogger and a gay man, says he is troubled by attempts "to prevent or even criminalize the expression of hostility to homosexuality, or gay rights, or indeed any another form of gay speech." Criminalizing such criticism, and even biblical citations against homosexuality, are no longer unusual in Europe and Canada.

Sullivan cites the case of Lynette Burrows, a British writer on children's rights, who drew an inquiry from Scotland Yard for saying on a radio talk show that she did not believe male homosexuals should be allowed to adopt boys. "It's a risk," she said. "Would you give a small girl to two (heterosexual) men?" She said it was "sinister" to have a police investigation of a comment that hurt the feelings of gays. Also in Britain, Anglican Bishop Peter Forster drew a police investigation after telling a newspaper, "Some people who are primarily homosexual can reorientate themselves." In Canada, criticism of homosexuality is essentially illegal. An ad in a Saskatchewan newspaper listing biblical citations against homosexuality was ruled a human-rights offense. The man who placed the ad was directed to pay $1,500 each to three gay men who were offended by the text.

In the United States, though speech control usually runs afoul of the First Amendment, schools routinely support the pro-gay Day of Silence and ban the Day of Truth, set up by Christians to counter what they believe is organized use of public schools for gay lobbying. A prominent intellectual, talking about gays, complained about "the fascist policing of public discourse in this country by nominal liberals." That was Camille Paglia, who can avoid the speech police because she is brave, candid and lesbian.

 


John Leo

John Leo is editor of MindingTheCampus.com and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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