Friday, August 03, 2012

Not so Random Thoughts

Here's a post about the chicken restaurant with the homophobic, nasty CEO.  It's a smart post, way better than anything I could write.  I thought some of you might want to see it, too.

There are a number of businesses in my area that have donated in big ways to people who want to cut my wages or who say nasty things about educators and glbtq folks.  I figure they don't need my business, and try alternatives.

Some folks I know think that avoiding such businesses is unfair, or mean, or somehow limits the CEO's free speech.  It doesn't.  For one thing, I have a limited budget to spend on things.  I get to choose how to spend my money, though given my limited budget I doubt the businesses notice that I'm not doing business with them.  And when someone in town supports unions and says so publicly, I figure they're likely paying their workers fairly, and I want to do business with them. 

I'm also not the government, and so the first amendment isn't something that applies to me in terms of limiting someone else's free speech.  What I can't do is arrest you, try you, sentence you. 

While I'm at it today, let me say that I'm sick to death of subsidizing religious organizations with MY taxes (supplying them with roads, fire departments, police protection, etc.) while they try to limit my right to privacy and religious freedom.  It's time for religious organizations to pay their share of real estate taxes, payroll taxes, and social security.


  1. Anonymous10:56 AM

    It's worth it to me to clarify this one part.

    Free speech became an issue when the mayors of Chicago and Boston weighed in by threatening to use their power as political leaders to block Chick Fil A from opening restaurants. If they were to follow through on that, it would be a violation of the constitution, at least according to the fine people at the ACLU.

    I wish we could stop acting like people don't have a grasp of what free speech is or like they're making things up when they connect this with free speech. A boycott is perfectly legal. What Menino and Emmanuel threatened to do is categorically not.

  2. But Anastasia, I think people don't have a grasp of what free speech is. I've been seeing a lot of comments saying that people bought chicken on Wednesday to support his right to say what he feels (which I think is categorical BS). There's been a rampant trend over the last few years to claim that criticism is impinging on free speech (see Dr. Laura, for example). So while there is one clear free speech violation at work here (government officials stating they are going to block store openings without due cause), most of the comments I've been seeing are arguing for the right to "disagree" with "lifestyle choices" without criticism or boycotting. Surprisingly few of the comments I've seen have been directed towards the actual violation. For me, it's been extremely clear for years now that people do not in fact understand what free speech actually means and what you're protected from.

  3. Cities and communities put lots of limits on companies. There's no right in the constitution to open a chain store anywhere you like.

  4. I agree on the free speech issue (and also with Anastasia's caveat). A boycott by individuals is *not* a limit on free speech (but government intervention probably is).

    I also think the property tax issue is worth discussing, since providing infrastructure and services does cost money. Heaven knows, with an aging membership, my own congregation probably calls the paramedics at least once a year. On the other hand, we provide a good deal of support for aging members, some of which probably prevents some emergency calls from home. We're part of the infrastructure, too, and it may even out.

    However, since I believe (but am not 100% sure) the property tax exemption applies to all non-profits, you'd be looking at some serious consequences not only for churches, but also for American Legion posts, Lions' Clubs, arts organizations, historical societies, non-government-owned community centers, libraries, day cares, schools, etc., etc. that own their own land and/or buildings. The effect would be particularly disastrous in areas like my own, where such organizations often built buildings long ago that now occupy some very valuable land. That's not to say that the change shouldn't happen, just that faith communities would have to be treated like any other non-profit organization, and vice versa.

    As a member of a church board, I can attest that we *do* pay the employer's half of all payroll taxes (social security, medicare, etc., etc.), and provide quite generous medical and pension benefits (not true of all churches; I belong to a fairly wealthy denomination with enough of a central administration to enforce rules requiring wages and benefits commensurate with local cost of living, though we're now doing some outsourcing for things like cleaning, grounds work, and child care, which worries me. But for actual employees, our expenses run about 30% above salary).

    Our pastors (and only our pastors, not other employees) are able to treat a portion of their salaries equivalent to the cost of their housing (basically what their homes, furnished, would rent for; a real estate agent who's a member helps them set a fair-market price each year) as an untaxed "housing allowance" (the equivalent of the manse we might otherwise provide). I'm not sure whether we, and/or the pastors, pay FICA on that; I suspect not. That's the one provision I know of that is unique to religious organizations, and so probably should be up for discussion (though it would really throw the economics of being a pastor out of whack for many people; new graduates from seminaries, like pretty much all other recent graduates, are really struggling with finding jobs and paying off student loans right now). I also don't know if there is a cap on the housing allowance; if there isn't, there should be (our pastors have nice but relatively modest homes relative to the local norm/what most of their parishioners own; that's not always the case).

    As I say, I'm not arguing with your basic point: that where churches fit into our social and governmental structures should be up for discussion. I just want to make sure you're starting with accurate information (as I said above, I'm not 100% certain about the property tax issue; I am sure about payroll taxes, since we just approved hiring someone two weeks ago, and went over the numbers in detail).

    And, for whatever it's worth, I support same-sex marriage (civil and religious, though my own denomination isn't there yet) and will not be eating at Chik-Fil-A anytime soon.

  5. thefrogprincess1:53 PM

    Sure, there isn't a constitutional right to build a restaurant wherever one likes, but the barriers to building have nothing to do with an owner's personal beliefs or where he chooses to put his profits and everything to do with building codes, city planning and preservation priorities, and documented instances of employee or customer discrimination.

    So while I think that those supporting Chick Fil-A are often doing so using intentionally flawed or confused understandings of free speech, there is a slippery slope here when it comes to the actions that government officials can take.

  6. I recognize that there are potential problems with the mayors' threats. That's why I support the ACLU, which has folks with the legal training to work to protect all our rights. And they have, for many years, worked to protect our rights from abuses from every angle.

    But the boycot thing I'm referring to has been going on for well over a year here and is about local politics more than this national thing, though yes, I did post about it in the same post as I put the chicken restaurant link. The folks I know who think I'm wrong because I don't want to go to this or that restaurant for job candidate dinners were on my mind, not far away mayors.

    I think his point that the chicken restaurant CEO and people with similar attitudes are trying to make my (and his) personal life criminal is what's important. Because even making it really difficult to put a restaurant in Chicago doesn't begin to approach making his personal life criminal. It doesn't approach making it impossible for gay and lesbian partners to share benefits easily, to get the same tax benefits and survivor benefits.

    Thanks for the caveat about the taxes. Good point.

  7. Regarding the mayors threat: for some reason, my city doesn't allow strip clubs within city limits. Regardless of my thoughts about the issue, how is this different than not allowing the chicken chain within your city limits?

  8. In this particular case, it would be so clearly a governmental response to somebody's political beliefs. If, say, a city banned all fast food joints out of concern for the health of its citizens, that would be one thing. (I suspect something along those lines is why your city has a restriction on strip clubs--something probably about attracting a "bad element" or some such.) But here, it's crystal clear what exactly the objection is.

    For what it's worth, I'm boycotting Chick Fil-A for all the reasons you cite, Bardiac. I just worry that we cede ground if we're glib about actual violations of the first amendment.