Many Americans seem to think that free speech and the First Amendment are synonymous. They're not: the former is a larger and more primal concept. But one consequence of that confusion is that, whenever free-speech questions arise, you always get a ton of emails droning, "There's no First Amendment issue here, Steyn. Mozilla/Brandeis/A&E/whoever is not the government. It's a private entity and is perfectly free to can its chief exec/disinvite Ayaan Hirsi Ali/suspend 'Duck Dynasty'/whatever if it wants to."
Which is true as far as it goes, but doesn't address the core question of ugly thuggish identity-group enforcers remorselessly narrowing the bounds of permissible public discourse.
Still, for all those First Amendment pedants out there, consider this story from Houston, Texas:
The city of Houston has issued subpoenas demanding a group of pastors turn over any sermons dealing with homosexuality, gender identity or Annise Parker, the city's first openly lesbian mayor. And those ministers who fail to comply could be held in contempt of court.
That's to say, the government is using the law to harass religious institutions critical of a political figure. Which sounds like First Amendment 101. I had to read it through a couple of times to check that I hadn't missed some crucial element. But on a close reading it gets even better. The government is demanding the right to inspect not merely sermons, which are texts written for public consumption, but private speech, too:
Among those slapped with a subpoena is Steve Riggle, the senior pastor of Grace Community Church. He was ordered to produce all speeches and sermons related to Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality and gender identity.
The mega-church pastor was also ordered to hand over "all communications with members of your congregation" regarding the non-discrimination law.
The impetus for all this is a municipal ordinance:
The subpoenas are just the latest twist in an ongoing saga over the Houston's new non-discrimination ordinance. The law, among other things, would allow men to use the ladies room and vice versa.
When Rush Limbaugh interviewed me the other day, I airily used "transgendered bathrooms" as an all-purpose shorthand for the kind of peripheral cultural issues that cumulatively add up to far more profound societal changes than anything most conservative politicians fuss over. And so in Houston it has proved: When the transgendered bathroom ordinance runs up against the First Amendment, it's the First Amendment that gets left for roadkill.
~Meanwhile, in Kentucky, a Lexington T-shirt company has fallen afoul of the local "human rights commission" for declining to print T-shirts for the gay pride parade that it found offensive. As part of his ruling, the "human rights" commisssar, Greg Munson, has sentenced the T-shirt refuseniks to re-education camp:
The second demand is that Hands on Originals â€” a company with around 30 employees â€” would need to participate in diversity training within the next 12 months.
Or, as Laura Rosen Cohen says, "Off to Diversity Gulag": The more we celebrate diversity, the more we have to enforce it with ruthless conformity. Big Gay has won most of its battles, and could surely afford to be magnanimous in victory. But it has a totalitarian urge to hunt down the last holdouts: Nobody cares if the T-shirt guy really has a change of heart; all that's necessary is to force him to pretend to believe and to drone the mandated pabulum in public.
~Insofar as either of these stories gets any traction, they'll be presented in the mainstream media as haters vs gays. That's another example of how the left has conquered the cultural space: after being marinated in narratives of racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia et al since kindergarten, fewer and fewer people even pay lip service to ideas of "free speech". Why, if free speech is being used to attack transgendered bathrooms, then it's part of the problem and has to go. And note that these stories are not from blue-state la-la lands like Massachusetts and California, but from supposed red-meat red states. How red do you suppose they'll be looking by, say, 2030?
~On the matter of Ebola: This Centers for Disease Control panjandrum, Thomas Frieden, is not the most impressive guy, and he's had to walk back his blithe assertion that the Ebola-stricken nurse in Dallas has only herself to blame. My view of the government's command of the situation is that, if this thing spins out of control, one should always bear in mind this transcript preserved for posterity by the 9/11 Commission:
FAA Command Center: "Do we want to think about scrambling aircraft?"
FAA Headquarters: "God, I don't know."
FAA Command Center: "That's a decision somebody's going to have to make, probably in the next 10 minutes."
FAA Headquarters: "You know, everybody just left the room."
Tom Frieden feels like an everybody-just-left-the-room kinda guy.
~On a lighter Ebola note, when my daughter was in eighth grade a couple of years back she went on the school trip to Washington, DC, and saw many sights of the city, including the aircraft that dropped the big one on Hiroshima, the Enola Gay. Back in New Hampshire, the schoolkids had to write an essay on the part of the Washington trip that had made the most impact on them, and so my daughter wrote about how moved she'd been to see the actual Ebola Gay. That's how she spelled it all the way through her essay: "the Ebola Gay."
Texas has Ebola (Dallas) and gays (Houston) but it does not yet have an Ebola Gay.
~My new book isn't out till October 20th, but it's already attracted the much-coveted Amazon one-star review! Hello, Hello Jimmy!:
It's the same old claptrap and pablum that excites the loins of the conservative lemmings in this country--the kind of fact-free red meat for right-wingers to which they can pleasure themselves. (The irony that this collection opens with a story about Viagra is not lost upon me.) ...It's all been written, said, and done before--and then repeated ad nauseam on right-wing radio and Fox Newz.
Well, just so long as he paid full-price.
~I may have said it all before, but I haven't said it terribly recently. I've been overseas for much of the last month, so I'm looking forward to picking up where I left off with Toronto's Number One morning man, John Oakley, live on AM640 Wednesday morning at 8.30am Eastern.