A ‘Discussion-Free’ America

Ponder a reality quite different from the America of your youth. The new version is a quiet, cold, orderly place, with approved causes and very dire consequences for anyone who opposes them.

Your son is eager for a military career. He has his eyes on West Point, but if he’s going to get there, he will need to monitor “approved sentiment” very closely, because he simply won’t get in your congressman’s office for an interview, much less the Point itself, if he posts anything on social media that violates ever-evolving “community standards.” 

Accordingly, he has learned not to have opinions at all, even about the freedoms American soldiers have protected on the battlefield. It’s simply the safest way to advance in the new America. He posts pictures of his tennis matches—and he worries a little about those teetering on the “privilege” front, because—unlike you—he’s been force-fed critical theory and intersectionality since middle school. 

A bright, hard-working, heterosexual teenager who goes to church and doesn’t hail from any of the oppressed classes and ethnicities? He’ll have to be super careful.

The First Amendment is a mighty club we should begin swinging.

Your sister has a silk-screening business and she’s anxious to get the school district account, but she’s all but reconciled herself to failure. “Five years ago,” she admits, miserably, “I contributed money to a right-to-work ballot proposition. They asked me about that—pointedly.”

Your brother-in-law is trying to get into the police academy, but he admits it’s a long shot. “I vote Republican,” he says, “and I’m Catholic. Three of the commissioners have stated, publicly, that you can’t be anti-abortion and a law enforcement officer at the same time.”

Picture an America where taxpayer dollars are used, without restraint, to approve official sentiment and impoverish the opposition. No one can teach high school if they have ever contributed to the NRA. No one can bid on highway construction if they have publicly opposed Section 8 housing. No lawyer can serve as legal counsel to the water district if they are a professing Christian. No county PSA money can be spent on billboards owned by a climate-change “denier.” 

Institutional Arrogance

So you don’t believe children should be forced into gender reassignment surgery by parents politically invested in gender identity struggle? That’s fine, but there’s a price to pay for your bigotry: you can’t expect to be a civil servant, or sell your company’s services to a public entity. You can pay your taxes, yes, but people with ideas as backward as yours can’t expect to profit from them, at public expense. Surely, you know that. Right? 

I’m asking you to picture this America in the future, but you all know we’re living in it right now. 

How many times have you talked to a civil servant who whispers his political opinions or her religious sentiment—and then declares, ominously, they aren’t supposed to even have them, much less utter them? We all know that Kelvin Cochran, the Atlanta fire chief who was fired for writing a book about marriage from a Christian perspective is merely one story among millions. Cochran had the gumption to fight back, and he won, but for every such instance of courage there are thousands of well-meaning public servants, and government contractors, who believe, falsely, the state has the power to restrain your First Amendment rights. 

It’s true, the courts have been restoring free speech on campus, and among conservative public servants, for decades now. Judges hate censorship, in all of its forms. The First Amendment is a mighty club we should begin swinging.

But let’s return to the institutional arrogance of government on this front. Can you even imagine any private, small business owner looking over his employees’ social media accounts and then calling the politically or religiously “wayward” into his office for a sit-down? Ponder a taco stand owner encouraging other employees to shame and shun a cashier with the “wrong” opinion on taxation? Can you imagine a grading contractor scolding the company’s lesbian backhoe operator for attending a May Day rally on her own time? 

Be serious. Those of us operating a small business don’t have the time to ponder that kind of ministerial tyranny, even if we were dumb enough to attempt it. We can’t simply bilk taxpayers for more payroll, while we enforce the social justice issue du jour. We have to make a profit. 

That incentive doesn’t move public entities and, increasingly, it does little to move the huge multinational corporations that no longer depend upon the societies or the peoples among whom they live for those profits. People working for public entities will get paid whether they do anything useful or not, so they have the time to listen to every instance of political butt-hurt imaginable. 

And when their profits don’t depend primarily upon the habits and sensibilities of Americans, there’s no reason for corporations to go out of their way to respect them. They are free to make the mistake of thinking an Atlanta fireman can’t have religious beliefs, and political opinions, on his own time. They can make the mistake of demanding the gods of political correctness be worshipped without fearing repercussions. Never mind that in so doing they might as well be telling the Founding Fathers: “You made a mistake on that whole First Amendment thing. One of my gay battalion chiefs is breaking drywall with ankle-kicks at the 3rd Street station. A few of my gay firefighters can’t believe a professing, New Testament quoting Christian works in the department. Someone has to be fired. Right?”


We Will Not Shut Up

We marvel—rightly so—at American initiative, tolerance, and technical progress, but it all comes at the messy, irreverent price of freedom. I well remember an interview, several years ago, with Steve Ballmer of Microsoft. He was ridiculing what he thought was a ridiculously overpriced mobile telephone. He actually snorted. Who would pay that much for an “iPhone” that merely featured some mobile internet benefits and a few apps? 

Imagine a world where Ballmer’s skepticism couldn’t be questioned, where industry “wisdom” was purveyed in a new series of five-year plans and great but small ideas had no chance. Picture a world where Ballmer had such powerful political connections that no one would dare question his ridicule of a new idea? Ironically, there is such a world. It’s our world. Indeed, it’s the history of our world. 

Are we forgetting what happened to Tyndale and Cranmer merely for publishing a Bible in English? We shouldn’t be surprised in the least that Apple, the very creator of the new idea Ballmer found so ridiculous, is now defending China’s “world without a discussion.” The big players, the government, the mega-corporations, the monolithic media giants, are always asking us to “get in line and shut up,” but the genius of America has always stood opposed to such conformism. We will not get in line. We will not shut up. We will not be silenced.

If you think this generation’s inquisitors will satisfy themselves with mere state censorship, job loss, and contract termination, think again. “Approved think” is already restricting social media and you may, at some point, lose your banking and credit card privileges for being declared officially “hateful.” When government stands by and allows private institutions to enforce official-think, can we really say government isn’t encouraging an argument-free world? Why force banks to issue color-blind loans if the same institution closes the accounts of gun dealers and Christian bakeries? 

My own legal case revolves around a public entity, Claremont Unified School District, officially blacklisting my living history farm for political expression I offered outside of my business. I directed some caustic Twitter ridicule at Louis Farrakhan, Stormy Daniels, David Hogg, and several others. I happen to believe these folks are alternatively evil, or comic figures, and that some of their ideas are horribly anti-American and destructive. There’s nothing “hateful” about calling out Farrakhan for his racism or David Hogg for his ignorance of the Bill of Rights. Quite the opposite. 

You may disagree, and you, as a private citizen, may find my ideas so objectionable that you decide my little farm isn’t worthy of your business. Fine. So be it. Go in peace. Private boycotts are perfectly Constitutional even if they rarely work, (ask Chick-Fil-A and In-N-Out Burger), but if you ask the government to help you punish ideas you find hurtful, you have a war on your hands. I can’t put it too dramatically: you are fighting for the end of America herself. We’re the place where the world’s best and brightest come to hammer out a better world, with lots of free debate. 

Remember? Maybe not.

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About James Patrick Riley

James Riley is the owner and operator of Riley's Farm in Oak Glen, California and the creator of "Courage, New Hampshire," a television drama seen on PBS stations across the country. The father of six children, Riley performs "Patrick Henry" and supervises a living history program visited by hundreds of thousands of school children. He holds a degree in history from Stanford University.

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