Dr. Carson

April 14, 2013|By John E. McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

It is not necessary for me to explain why the controversy over Dr. Benjamin Carson's remarks on same-sex marriage and the protests over his selection as a commencement speaker at Johns Hopkins do not represent an attack on his First Amendment rights of free speech. The Baltimore Sun, in an editorial, has already done so:

"The Bill of Rights prohibits Congress (and by extension, state and local governments) from passing any law to inhibit free speech. As such, Dr. Carson is free to believe and say whatever he likes without fear that the government will take action to sanction him as a result. But the First Amendment does not require that any private individual or institution afford him a platform to speak, nor does it absolve him of facing private consequences for his speech. No one is under any obligation to respect Dr. Carson based on what he says just because he has a right to say it."

I would, however, like to put his remarks in a context for you. It is progress that we have reached a point at which it is not socially permissible to say certain things out loud in public. Anti-Semitism crouches in dark corners, and racist sentiments must be cloaked and coded for public consumption.

So let us imagine that Johns Hopkins had extended an invitation to a commencement speaker who had openly expressed anti-Semitic views. Or not even anti-Semitic, but anti-Zionist. Or not even anti-Zionist, but strongly critical of the government of Israel. Now imagine the uproar, the letters to the newspaper, the protests, the petitions, and the hurried withdrawal of the invitation.

Now imagine that the replacement speaker turned out to have expressed white supremacist views, had suggested that slavery was a good thing and that African-Americans had been better off under their masters than on their own, on account of intellectual and cultural inferiority.

Here are the remarks for which Dr. Carson has made one of those weasely, sorry-if-anyone-was-offended apologies: "Marriage is between a man and a woman. No group, be they gays, be they [the North American Man/Boy Love Association], be they people who believe in bestiality, it doesn't matter what they are. They don't get to change the definition."

What this suggests is that for Dr. Carson, and for many people who agree with him, it is still socially acceptable to say in public that gay people are essentially pedophiles or given to sex with animals, especially when the sentiment is wrapped in Christianity.

He has made the important discovery that it is no longer as socially acceptable as it used to be.

For his many admirable qualities, Dr. Carson has been justly praised: for his skill and accomplishment as a physician and for his philanthropy. He is plainly a good and generous and sincere man. His beliefs about gay people do not negate those admirable qualities, but then, the admirable qualities do not enhance what many people see as retrograde views.

Dr. Carson, as a physician, and not just a physician but a surgeon, and not just a surgeon but a celebrated surgeon at a world-class hospital, has been accustomed to deference. Now, as he retires from medicine, he is apparently considering a political career. He might reflect that, as Mr. Dooley said, "politics ain't beanbag." In the political arena no one gets deference.

The First Amendment grants Dr. Carson the freedom of his personal beliefs and the right to express them publicly. It also grants those who find the beliefs and expression reprehensible the right to object to them, loudly. He should get used to it.

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