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Maryland State Delegate Emmett C. Burns, Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston, Mayor Edwin Lee of San Francisco, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Alderman Joe Moreno of Chicago

Around here, we value tolerance so much, we won't tolerate anyone who doesn't!

In July 2012, Dan Cathy, president of the Chick-fil-A restaurant chain, publicly expressed his opinion that marriage should be defined as a union of a man and a woman. Since 2009, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo has publicly advocated for legalizing same-sex marriage. Despite the fact that their views on the issue are diametrically opposed, Cathy and Ayanbadejo received very similar reactions from elected officials after publicly expressing their opinions.

cartoon spoof Ferst-Amen-mintCathy's comments drew the ire of mayors and other elected officials from across the country who threatened to block expansion of the franchise in their cities. Chicago Alderman Joe Moreno threatened to use rezoning laws to block the opening of a new Chick-fil-A in his ward. “[T]here are consequences for freedom of speech,” said Moreno, and “in this case, you're not going to have your first free-standing restaurant.” When asked if he supported Moreno's plan to block the new restaurant, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel stated, “Chick-fil-A's values are not Chicago values. They're not respectful of our residents, our neighbors and our family members and if you're gonna be part of the Chicago community, you should reflect Chicago values.” Boston Mayor Thomas Menino wrote directly to Cathy, stating “[t]here is no place for discrimination on Boston's Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it.” San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee tweeted: “Closest #ChickFilA to San Francisco is 40 miles away & I strongly recommend that they not try to come any closer.”

A similar controversy arose when Maryland General Assembly Delegate Emmett C. Burns, apparently dismayed by Baltimore Ravens player Brandon Ayanbadejo's outspoken support of marriage equality, wrote a letter to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti requesting that he order Ayanbadejo to stop publicly advocating for same-sex marriage. Burns' letter, written on his official government stationary, was clear that he was not writing as a private citizen, but as “a Delegate to the Maryland General Assembly and a Baltimore Ravens fan.” Burns asked that Bisciotti “take the necessary action…to inhibit such expressions from your employee and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious action.”

In fairness, it should be noted that the elected officials discussed here do not appear to have taken any actual retaliatory action against Cathy or Ayanbadejo. In fact, in the days that followed their initial statements, the officials conceded that the First Amendment prohibited their taking any such steps. Yet their concessions begs the question of why these officials didn't know this in the first place? A citizen's right to speak on the political issues of the day, free from government retaliation, is the very heart of the First Amendment. It is incredulous that these elected officials, all of whom have sworn to uphold the Constitution, were unaware of this fundamental tenet of First Amendment protection. Moreover, the subsequent recognition of Cathy's and Ayanbadejo's right of free speech does not undo the damage caused by the initial threats of retaliation. Fear that they could be subjected to similar threats or actual retaliation is sure to chill the expression of those holding different views than their elected officials.

For their tardiness in recognizing the fundamental nature of First Amendment protection, 2013 Jefferson Muzzles go to Maryland State Delegate Emmett C. Burns, Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston, Mayor Edwin Lee of San Francisco, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Alderman Joe Moreno of Chicago.

DMU Timestamp: March 28, 2013 23:38

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