This is another incredibly well-written piece from you, Elizabeth. I can’t say I agreed with all of it, but I really enjoyed reading it!
Regarding the Chick-fil-A debate, I think government officials who moved to shut down new Chick-fil-A locations in the San Antonio and Buffalo airports most certainly crossed a line. I believe there is at least one lawsuit pending against San Antonio, and I’m hoping they lose that lawsuit. I don’t think it’s appropriate for any government body to impose a religious test on companies that want to do business in public spaces.
When it comes specifically to the protests against Chick-fil-A, however, I think I may have to respectfully disagree with you. Though I do find some of the protesters’ tactics objectionable, I understand why they feel the way they do. They shouldn’t be allowed to form blockades outside of Chick-fil-A stores or harass customers who choose to eat there, but I get why they feel compelled to protest. The Cathy family’s position on gay marriage may not be widely considered an “extreme” position, but it is a position grounded in the belief that gay couples aren’t entitled to the same legal rights as straight couples. Not surprisingly, there are many in the LGBT community who interpret that logic as a potential threat, so I can’t really blame them for wanting to push back against that in a very public way.
That being said, I definitely share your concerns about the examples you gave. Public facilities like the Seattle Public Library must always serve as sanctuaries for open debate about important issues, which is why I’m quite relieved that the library refused to cave to the demands of protesters. Similarly, it’s completely inappropriate, IMHO, for a public university like the University of Ottawa to discriminate against conservative student organizations. And it certainly goes without saying that the death threats being made against the French teenager are way beyond the pale (and if the threats are coming from French citizens, I would hope they manage to locate and prosecute those citizens).
I also very strongly agree with the overarching theme of your piece — that disagreement is a necessary component of a healthy, pluralistic society. I’m a free speech extremist, for all intents and purposes, so I’m very much in favor of expanding the window of acceptable discourse to the greatest degree possible. And I very much loathe the notion that controversial speech constitutes violence. It’s a very short jump from “hateful speech is violence” to “we must censor hateful speech to protect ourselves from violence.”