Every person in America needs to know about what has been going on with Ryan T. Anderson and his grade-school alma mater, The Friends School. Put simply, the ironically named institution has declared it wants nothing to do with Anderson, his degree from Princeton, his Ph.D from Notre Dame, or his numerous fellowships and Ivy League speeches.
Why? Because Anderson is opposed to same-sex marriage.
Normally schools take pride in accomplished alumni. Graduates who go on to distinguish themselves and excel in their professional fields are usually a badge of honor for the people and places that invested in them. That seems to have been the first reaction by the school when this excellent profile of him was published in The Washington Post.
The school linked to the article on its Facebook page, citing it as an example of the way that Friends promotes independent thinking.
And, that’s when things got ugly.
One online commentator compared Anderson’s views to those held by Nazis and members of the Ku Klux Klan. Others likened Anderson’s opinions to hate speech — a caricaturization with which Anderson strongly disagrees. Still other writers said that by linking to the Post profile, Friends was implicitly endorsing Anderson’s views.
Eight hours later, as Anderson put it, “Friends caved.” The post was deleted, with a short apology to students and alumni.
Not only did the school apologize, it turned suddenly and viciously on Anderson. Anderson has preserved the now-deleted statement from Head of School Matt Micciche on his personal Facebook page. It is a masterpiece of moral nonsense and illiberalism:
My [Micciche] decision, in other words, places a priority on the very real and human sentiments of the actual members of our community (as expressed to me in the wake of our posting of this article) over the more purely philosophical commitment to the free flow of ideas. Those of us in the majority – in this case, the heterosexual majority -have the luxury of treating the debate about same-sex marriage as an issue of abstract ideals. That luxury is simply not available to those whose humanity and civil rights have historically been degraded in this area and many others…
Read that again very carefully. Micciche clearly says that the “free flow of ideas” is MOSTLY a good thing–unless they are ideas about same-sex marriage. We can’t afford “the luxury” of honest debate over the definition of marriage because LGBT people have experienced discrimination. So, game over, debate finished, turn out the lights and go home.
No serious person–including Ryan Anderson–doubts that LGBT people have faced serious discrimination and hostility in American culture. But is there really a shred of intellectual integrity in using that fact to say the debate over the definition of marriage is de facto over? Of course not.
But Micciche goes much farther. Near the end of his statement he informally disowns Anderson and satisfies those who want to see him punished for his heresy:
By choosing to highlight an article about an alumnus whose work is based on a set of beliefs that begin from an assumption of inequality and that argue for the denial of rights to an entire segment of the population based on their identity, I now realize that we erred. I promise that we will draw on this experience as a tool for learning about how we can help to create a sense of acceptance and well-being for all, while also providing for the open and respectful exchange of ideas.
If there’s a modicum of coherent meaning in this paragraph, I can’t find it. The “assumption of inequality” line is a bold-faced accusation of homophobia. It’s also a gross mispresentation of Anderson’s arguments, as the Post profile makes obvious. How can you have an “open and respectful exchange of ideas” if you can’t even be honest about what your ideological opponent really believes? But of course, fairly representing viewpoints is a waste of time if debate and dialogue are only sometimes valuable.
The more I think about this entire debacle, the more it occurs to me that this didn’t happen because Anderson is special. It didn’t happen to him because he’s a brilliant conservative mind. It happened to him because he transgressed cultural orthodoxy, and because we now have large swaths of American political culture under the control of an angry mob. This isn’t the “price of citizenship.” Anderson was not refusing to serve LGBT people or calling for others to do so. Yet his alma mater disowns him as a bigot, simply because they don’t agree.
Here’s the thing: Don’t think for one second this kind of illiberal culture won’t affect you. It is impossible for a culture that punishes dissent to work only in one direction. Turning dissenters into enemies of the state is an equal opportunity occupation. A generation is now learning that no one is entitled to hurt their feelings by disagreeing with them about something important.
If you’re indifferent towards the plights of people like Ryan Anderson and Brendan Eich, think about yourself for a moment: Where might you disagree with the people in your community or your hometown? Where might you fall out of step with the Gallup poll? Now that you’re thinking of what that might be, ask yourself this: What if everyone who disagreed with you about that treated you the way Anderson was treated by his school? Is that a world you want to live in?
I doubt it.