The Tyranny of Rules Governing Speech

Ideology refers to a set of beliefs, principles, and values that shape one’s attitudes, behavior, and motives. It provides a framework for interpreting the world and guides individuals’ actions and decisions. It also distorts reality in that its shoehorns the facts it does not invent or manufacture into its worldview in order to advance its goals (whatever these are) and sustain its legitimacy.

Religion is an example of an ideology. Like other ideologies, religion provides a framework for understanding the world, shaping one’s behaviors, beliefs, and values. It involves a set of ideas and practices that are shared by a community of believers and can have a significant impact on the culture and society in which it is practiced. Religion provides guidance on ethical and moral matters that, if allowed, shapes political and social interactions, relations, and structures.

Western society is distinguished by religious pluralism. Religious pluralism is the belief that multiple religions can and should coexist within a society. It recognizes that there are many different religious beliefs and practices, and that individuals have the right to follow their conscience. Religious pluralism promotes tolerance of other faiths, and encourages dialogue and cooperation between different religious communities. It does not require this, to be sure, but it admits that no one religion has a monopoly on truth.

Since the various religious are instantiations of the broad category of ideology, the ethic of religious pluralism applies to all ideology. Pluralism broadly recognizes that there are many different ideologies and that individuals have the right to freely subscribe to and change ideologies and not be punished for their commitment to ideas—unless these interfere with the freedom of others. A man enjoys the freedom to practice a religion or to reject religion altogether.

Source: jcgwakefield

The right to freely subscribe to, change, or reject ideological views is what we know as freedom of conscience. A man who enjoy freedom of conscience is a man who free to act in accordance with his beliefs without fear of persecution or coercion as long as his actions do not violate the rights of others. It neither limits nor tramples the liberty and rights of others to criticize, deny, or refuse to affirm the beliefs of religious men—or any type of men. As long as men are allowed to believe as they wish without consequence, they remain free and secure within those rights.

Compelled speech refers to the practice of forcing an individual to express certain views or opinions, even if he disagrees with them. This can take the form of laws or policies that require individuals to use certain pronouns or language, for example, or to express support for certain political positions. Compelled speech is wrong because it is a violation of free speech and individual autonomy, and can create a hostile or uncomfortable environment for those who are forced to express views with which they disagree.

Imagine a law compelling a Muslim to give up Islam and to convert to Christianity or accept a life of disbelief. Imagine laws punishing men for being homosexual or women seeking to control their reproductive capacity. In those two latter cases, one need not imagine. Gays and lesbians have been persecuted for centuries, even in enlightened society, and reproductive rights recently suffered a setback when the Supreme Court reversed Roe v Wade. Several states has effectively eliminated the ability of girls and woman to obtain an abortion.

If I enjoy freedom of conscience and thought, I cannot be compelled to agree with a Muslim regarding his religious beliefs. I cannot be compelled to speak in a manner that is consistent with his ideological worldview, that affirms his beliefs, beliefs to which I do not subscribe and which I may in fact find disagreeable (I do in fact find them disagreeable). And while my criticisms of Islam may draw the accusation of Islamophobia, there can be no mechanisms for punishing me for the alleged offense.

The same is true with those who who would compel me to speak in a manner consistent with Queer Theory. I have no obligation to affirm the ideas of Queer Theory, either. And while my criticisms of Queer Theory may draw the accusation of transphobia, there can be no mechanisms for punishing me for the alleged offense, since no such offense should exist in law or policy, as it violates my freedoms of conscience and thought. There is no difference between forcing an employee to speak in a manner consistent with Queer Theory, speech that forces the employee into bad faith to avoid consequences, and forcing an employee to speak in a manner consistent with Islam. Yet, as I showed on NIH and the Tyranny of Compelled Speech, there are firms and organizations punishing employees for resisting demands that they use chosen or preferred pronouns.

If it is discriminatory to compel a gay man to undergo training in sensitivity to the beliefs and norms of straight men, or for a firm to hire a white man over a black man on the basis of his race, then the inverse of all these (and one could produce a long list of such items) must also be discriminatory.

If, in admitting that these examples do in fact illustrate discrimination (since they contradict the First Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment, and the 1964 Civil Rights Act), the argument is made that what differentiates them from discrimination as popularly (albeit falsely) understood is an abstract theory of power that alleges a system that, without institutional intervention, naturally privileges straights over gays, whites over blacks, etc., then we run into another problem: the fate of individuals in a constitutional republic with a bill of rights being determined by an abstract theory with the force of law in back of it.

This is an entirely illegitimate thing and should be an intolerable situation. No abstract theory should ever determine the fate of concrete individuals. These are things to which individuals must be able decide for themselves whether to believe, and they must remain free to abandon such beliefs whenever they wish. This is freedom of conscience and thought, the most fundamental all human rights.

The idea that the rules that govern our actions should be derived from such abstract theories, religious or quasi-religious systems, as Critical Race Theory and Queer Theory—and by rules I mean systems imposed by or allowed by law—reveals an authoritarian impulse in our society that is too dangerous to ignore. It tells us that an unelected power stands over us. And that should tell us, if we cannot find relief in the courts, to rebel against the conditions.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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