On Monday, from Steyn Online, Steyn on America, Mark Steyn continued his advocacy for free speech in the debate over whether it is right for someone to be hounded out of their job because of a personal donation. Steyn addressed the recent uproar over a five -year old donation by Mozilla CEO, Brandon Eich, to support the California Proposition Eight measure to ban gay marriage.
Steyn explained how Mozilla was catching heat from gay rights advocates after the unlawful IRS disclosure that Eich donated $1000 five years ago to support Proposition 8. The bill was intended to protect marriage between a man and a woman only and though it passed by popular vote, it was later struck down as unconstitutional. Eich's name was unlawfully leaked by the IRS and ultimately Eich was ousted as CEO of Mozilla.
Steyn reiterated some sharp rhetoric that described his feelings about free speech, calling it "inelegant. " Still, Steyn stood by the spirit of his statement that freedom of expression was vital because it buttresses our democracy, helping folks believe that "to the extent that they're willing to work within that system," there is hope to change it.
What Steyn originally said was much harsher, addressing what happens to him when free speech is denied him. He thinks that his personal reaction is likely the reaction of many when their right to free speech is challenged:
I've always been in favor of freedom of expression, but lately I've become a free-speech absolutist. It takes all sorts to make a world and I've met a lot of them over the years, and I can stand pretty much anything anyone says about anything — until someone says to me, "You can't say that." At which point my inclination is to punch his lights out. I do this not just because I'm a violent psychopath with a hair-trigger temper, but to make the important point that in societies where you're not free to speak your mind — to argue and debate — the only way to express disagreement is through violence.
In the meantime, over on the Wall Street Journal editorial page the 2010 concurring opinion of Justice Clarence Thomas on a case in which he dissented on disclosure was resurrected. Similarities can be drawn between this older case and what resulted when the IRS unlawfully released the donor list of supporters of Proposition 8. The case, then, was regarding an effort to subpoena NAACP membership lists. The Supreme Court ruled that to force the disclosure of the NAACP members was a violation of the First Amendment right of association.
Justice Thomas wrote, "I cannot endorse a view of the First Amendment that subjects citizens of this nation to death threats, ruined careers, damaged or defaced property, or pre-emptive and threatening warning letters as the price for engaging in 'core political speech,' the 'primary object of First Amendment protection."
There is no debate regarding whether the unlawful release of Brandon Eich's name has subjected him to a "ruined career," or the price Eich ended up paying for engaging in "core political speech." In Steyn's opinion, free speech is the primary right that prevents violence when dissenting views about government clash. For those who would try to silence Steyn and tell him he can't say politically incorrect things, Steyn uses Steyn Online to say, "Oh, yes, I can. Scr*w off."