Nothing says tolerance than being called the C-word for supporting religious freedom, or having a student-led petition started to have your banner removed at your respective school. That’s exactly what happened to Lindsey Kolb, a senior student at Missouri State University in Springfield, after she voiced her opinions in support of religious freedom a few weeks ago. At the time, the city was debating whether to add sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) to its nondiscrimination statutes. Some, like Lindsey, felt the religious exemption wasn't specific enough.
Yet, before we get into the liberal intolerance that was thrown at Kolb, let’s discuss a little more about the law’s aspects.
As the Springfield News-Leader reported, anyone found guilty of violating the ordinance would be served with a 180-day jail sentence and a $1,000 fine, though the city’s attorney said virtually all of these infractions would only result in a financial penalty. As for existing law, local columnists have come to the same scenario in question: bathrooms:
One thing that does change is that a business owner would not be able to preemptively kick someone out because the owner believes that person is a threat. As it stands now, if a business owner believes a person is in the "wrong" bathroom, the owner would have the right to tell the person to leave the business. With sexual orientation and gender identity protections in place, the person who is asked to leave would have the recourse to file a complaint with the Mayor's Commission on Human Rights.
As for the religious exemption [emphasis mine]:
One ordinance suggested by the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Task Force included a broad religious exemption. Basically, any business owner could deny service if he or she did so on religious terms. However, the version of the ordinance the city adopted only exempts strictly religious organizations.
For example, a church can deny employment to whomever it chooses, for any reason. A religious person, who owns a call center, shoe store, or any other such business, cannot.
And therein lies the controversy; a private business owner who is deeply religious would be forced to go against his own faith and beliefs. It’s the baker and the gay wedding cake scenario.
Kolb wrote an op-ed in the Standard on March 31, one week before the scheduled vote on the bill–in response to a satire piece that mocked Christians. Yet, it’s her final paragraph that struck at heart of the battles now raging over religious freedom laws:
My last point is to call for the entire community to engage in civil discourse regarding this topic. I ask you to consider both sides, read the bill, talk to your friends, talk to your family, do some research and come up with your own decision concerning your vote. Last week in The Standard, the attempt at making an argument for one side attempted to cease the conversation by using name-calling, making light of valuable political conversation and attacking one community with hopes that it will relieve tension on another community. This is not only unprofessional, unproductive and immature, but it is not held to the standards that our university has poured into our lives. Missouri State University is dedicated both to public affairs and creating educated persons. Let’s start having conversations now about important issues rather than turning to insulting tactics.
On April 7, the ordinance failed by a narrow margin.* Nevertheless, the “Get Kolb” campaign was up and running.
Kolb is former president of MSU's College Republicans chapter and the State Chairwoman for the Missouri Federation of College Republicans, as well as a university ambassador, which explains one petition urging the school to remove her banner hanging on Carrington Hall–the main administrative building on campus.
From the petition's description on Change.org, it says it doesn’t aim to make Kolb a “scapegoat,” though it also says its impetus was grounded in “the things Lindsey has said in the past.” It’s an ideological mess [emphasis mine]:
My goal here is not to make Lindsey a scapegoat for the way the vote turned out yesterday [April 7] or attack her religious rights or right to free speech. The goal is to create dialogue that induces change here on campus and in our city. Yes, last night's vote was disappointing, but the petition was not made because of the way things turned out, it was made because of the things Lindsey has said in the past that include the comments she made last night. I respect Lindsey's right to say what she believes just as much as I ask anyone to respect my right to voice my opinion, however when one is the representative for something larger than themselves, it is important that their opinions and values align with those of the entity they represent. Missouri State claims to value its Public Affairs mission pillars of Ethical Leadership, Cultural Competence, and Community Engagement and each year chooses one pillar to highlight. This year, the chosen pillar is Ethical Leadership. In GEP classes, students are assigned projects to define and identify ethical leaders in our world. At SOAR, new students do group activities that represent our Public Affairs mission and one that I specifically remember is the one in regards to Ethical Leadership. My SOAR [Student Orientation, Advisement and Registration] group found that an ethical leader is one who has their own set of values but can recognize when the greater good requires them to set those values aside.
Whenever Lindsey was approached in 2013 to be on the banner on Missouri State's most recognizable building, she agreed. Through that agreement she also vowed to live our Public Affairs mission and be culturally competent, engage in her community, and be an ethical leader. For Missouri State to continue to endorse her discriminatory views is effectively showing that they do not in fact value ethical leadership. The goal of the petition is not to attack free speech or victimize Lindsey. The goal is to show that there are consequences to one's speech whenever it is inflammatory and supports discrimination against those who the speaker represents.
Lindsey is not to blame for the loss for the LGBT+ community last night, but signing the petition can help change our campus and our city for the better.
This classic American progressivism; we support free speech, just our version of free speech. At least they note that Kolb isn’t to blame for the failure of the ordinance since she has zero skin in the political game in Springfield.
“Personally, I don’t vote in Springfield. I vote in my home district. I advocated for the repeal because I believe in religious freedom. I believe that churches, businesses, and organizations, and people with religious convictions should be able to decide whom they serve,” she said.
Well, she’s in the majority. Overall, while Americans generally support gay marriage rights, a AP/GFK poll found that 57 percent think that a wedding-related business should be allowed to refuse service to a gay couple if it violates their religious beliefs.
In a poll conducted by Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research on behalf of the Family Research Council, they found 81 percent of Americans believed government “should leave people free to follow their beliefs about marriage as they live their daily lives at work and in the way they run their businesses.”
The poll’s sample size was 800 registered voters. For a slightly more accurate poll, a sample of at least 1,000 (typical for nationwide surveys*) would have been required, but it clearly shows–as does the AP/GFK poll– that Americans think there are certain things government should stay out of regarding how a business conducts itself.
A discussion of these results should happen,though it seems that can't happen without petitions being drafted or insults being hurled.
This is another example of Americans having lost the ability to have a conversation, which is ironically what Kolb was encouraging in her March 31 op-ed. Freedom of speech is a tough principle to honor; it forces you to tolerate opinions that one might find utterly repugnant. If there’s anything worth watching in The American President, it’s actor Michael Douglas nailing that concept.
Luckily, school administrators told Kolb that the banner would not be taken down, and admired her demeanor throughout this whole ordeal. Another petition was started in support of Lindsey as well. Missouri State University President also issued this statement earlier this month, noting that the public affairs mission isn’t a “weapon” to be used against those with contrarian opinions:
Missouri State’s public affairs mission is not a weapon to be wielded when we work or study with those who have different ideas, beliefs or values than our own. In the same way that discrimination will not be permitted at Missouri State, we will also not permit retaliation based on someone’s political or religious beliefs or advocacy efforts on this or any other political issue. Missouri State is committed to maintaining an environment that encourages people to speak openly. We do not behave as ethical leaders when we seek to stifle free expression or punish those who advocate for particular viewpoints. The free exchange of ideas, so long as it occurs civilly, adds to the diversity and depth of the Missouri State experience. That is true whether those ideas are very conservative, very liberal or anywhere in between.
Nevertheless, the #KeepLindseyOffCarrington hashtag and other insances of cyber-bullying have taken a toll on her. “I feel bullied because of this,” Kolb said to the Standard. “The people who started this petition did not personally know me (or) my convictions and completely took my beliefs out of context.”
At least Kolb has found allies in the administration. Here's MSU's Dean of Students:
*Question 1 is the citywide ordinance.
Correction: It was originally reported that Kolb was the president of MSU's College Republicans and Vice Chair of the Missouri Federation of College Republicans. She's no longer vice chair of the Missouri Federation of College Republicans; she's now the chairwoman. And the election to select a new president for MSU's College Republicans chapter was held three weeks ago. The post has been updated to reflect the changes.