Freedom To Disagree


Freedom To Disagree


Leonard Zwelling

This blog has been criticized for seemingly opposing the concept of “wokeness.” To me it is not wokeness that is the problem. People can believe what they want to about people who are unlike themselves. Does that include people who discriminate against other people? Unfortunately, it does. But it is not wokeness per se with which this blog disagrees. It is forced wokeness—when one group demands that everyone think like it does.

The article above describes such an example.

To summarize, the National Hockey League was having a “Pride Night.” During Pride Night, the players were to wear rainbow emblazoned jerseys and sport rainbow tape on their hockey sticks during warm-ups. One of the Philadelphia Flyers refused to participate because he wanted “to stay true to myself and my religion.” His name is Ivan Provorov and he is a Russian Orthodox Christian. In the piece above (WSJ, January 21), the Orthodox Jewish writer Tal Fortgang defends Mr. Provorov as he should. It is fine for the NHL to declare a night for inclusivity, but if the demonstration of inclusivity is forced upon anyone, that’s just wrong.

This blog has defended the baker who refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding because it was against his religion. If those who call themselves woke were really woke, they would not force their beliefs or displays of those beliefs on anyone. Either you’re tolerant of others or you aren’t. If wearing the rainbow was against Mr. Provorov’s religion, so be it. He should not be forced to adhere to the desires of the NHL or its woke fans.

Mr. Provorov and the Flyers were deluged with criticism on Twitter and other social media venues for not forcing Mr. Provorov to comply with the spirit of Pride Night, even if complying would be against his religion.

This is a great example of the problem of movements like Black Lives Matter and wokeness. Not only are they a putative expression of offense to discrimination, these movement also fly in the face of freedom of individuals to believe what they wish. There are people who genuinely don’t support Black Lives Matter because it espouses preferential treatment for one group which of necessity espouses poorer treatment of others. Affirmative action is about to be questioned at the highest court in the land. These woke movements are demanding that people believe a certain way, when they ought to be reflecting tolerance for all opinions, even the ones with which they disagree.

Diversity, inclusion, and equity are worthy goals. Treating people equally is part of the very fabric of a free society. But so is respect for the beliefs of those with whom we do not agree and there are definitely people who profoundly do not believe in LGBTQ+ values. I think they are wrong, but they ought to be allowed to adhere to their beliefs just as the woke crowd demands the same thing.

When you think about it, the hallmark of totalitarianism is the lack of tolerance for beliefs that the leadership does not share. It is autocracy to force someone to demonstrate his or her loyalty to a set of tenets with which he or she disagrees.

That’s what the NHL did here and that is what the corporate cultures of many firms and academic institutions are doing with their outward bowing toward wokeness.

As Mr. Fortgang notes, “American pluralism is a glorious thing.” To maintain peace in a pluralistic country, we have to agree to disagree and allow each of us to express our opinions, even ones that might offend someone.

We can outlaw discriminatory practices, but not discriminatory thoughts. And we should not force anyone to act in a fashion that is against his or her beliefs. In America, even Nazis have rights, even if that makes a lot of us uncomfortable. Once they storm Capitol Hill, however, that’s another matter.

This is very tricky stuff. I can understand much of the woke agenda. But I also understand the opinions of those who find wokeness threatening. A balance must be struck and each case is different. And complicated.

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