Pulpit Reflections: Freedom includes the right to be wrong

America received another wake-up call about the unraveling of our social fabric last week. The story itself is rather simple. The CEO of the Chick-fil-A fast food restaurant chain stated clearly that he and his family-owned business are committed to the traditional view of marriage as being between one man and one woman, and that they therefore oppose the idea of homosexual marriage.

This announcement raised a furor of opposition among the gay community and their supporters. Chick-fil-A is the second-largest chain of restaurants that bases its menu on chicken, so we are not talking about an insignificant company here. What is interesting is that the supporters of gay marriage have called for boycotting Chick-fil-A and other measures to keep them from promoting traditional marriage. This has developed to the point that the mayor of Boston and an alderman from Chicago have told Chick-fil-A that their restaurants are not welcome in their cities.

Now, the real problem here is much larger than the issue of homosexual marriage, as important as that issue is. The real issue is that of what our nation means by "liberty," "freedom of conscience" and "free speech." The uniqueness of the American experiment with freedom is that liberty means that you and I do not have to agree on everything to get along. We can respectfully differ from one another, even on fundamental moral issues like homosexuality. We have the freedom to work for changes in the law, and so on.

The point is that liberty is not really liberty unless it includes the liberty to be wrong. The founders of the United States did not agree with each other on every issue – indeed, there were sharp differences on how the country should look after a Constitution was written for it.

What is changing in the United States these days – and that is shown in the Chick-fil-A case – is that many citizens of our nation truly think that liberty should only be for those who agree with us. It seems that the more people want toleration for all kinds of offbeat ideas, the more intolerant they become of those who disagree with them. Somehow, these folks seem to think, if we can measure what they think by their actions, we ought to be able to force people to think the same way we do. This is why a number of our institutions, including universities, sentence people to so-called "sensitivity training" if they do not fall in with the popular opinions around them.

It is quite obvious that those who oppose homosexual marriage have been quite tolerant of those who support it, not calling for boycotts of companies or blathering about not allowing such companies into our cities. That those who oppose gay marriage might ask for similar liberty is not a matter of convenience, but is a question as to whether we understand what American freedom is all about.

Freedom is only real if it includes the right to be wrong.

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