Monday, January 23, 2023

Almost Completely Right

Lawyer and radio and television broadcaster Michael Smerconish, once a Republican and now an enthusiastic Independent, weighed in on his weekly CNN show Saturday on a controversial LGBTQIA matter. The transcript:

SMERCONISH: An NHL defenseman under fire because he's uncomfortable with those who play for the other team. But did he deserve to be benched? Ivan Provorov is a 26-year-old Russian national who plays for the Philadelphia Flyers. Last Tuesday was pride night for a home game, and when the flyers took the ice for their pre-game skate before facing the Anaheim Ducks, players were wearing LGBTQ pride night warm up jerseys and using sticks wrapped in rainbow tape.

But Provorov stayed in the locker room. He cited his Russian Orthodox faith. I've talked here about the Russian Orthodox Church, which is part of the larger communion of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, its Patriarch Kirill has a close association and friendship with Vladimir Putin.

The church maintains that homosexuality is a sin and will not bless same sex unions. In fact, Patriarch Kirill has used homosexuality as a justification for the Russian invasion of Ukraine. After the game, Provorov was asked about his decision.


IVAN PROVOROV, DEFENSEMAN, PHILADELPHIA FLYERS: I respect everybody and I respect everybody's choices. My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion. That's all I'm going to say.


SMERCONISH: Many are saying the Provorov should have been benched for that night's game and are calling for his punishment. Philadelphia Inquirer Columnist Marcus Hayes had this blunt reaction. He said, "So let's not complicate the issue. Provorov refused to warm up Tuesday night against Anaheim because he does not support the right of LGBTQ people to even exist. He cites his devotion to the Russian Orthodox Church. In his eyes, their life is a sin.

I read again Hayes' column because it's hard to believe that a legitimate, even somewhat respected, columnist for a more-respected news outlet would state without proof that an individual "does not support the right of LGBTQ people to even exist." Remarkably, the columnist did inaccurately and dishonestly charge Provorov with opposing the existence of LGBTQ individuals. Had the Flyer been asked, he probably would have explained, simply or otherwise, that all human beings are God's creatures and nothing more needs to be said.  Smerconish continued to quote Hayes:

About that, Patriarch Kirill, the church's leader in Russia and reportedly a former KGB agent, in in May justified Russia's invasion of Ukraine because Ukraine allows Gay Pride parades. And if Russia and other homophobic states do not oppress LGBTQ persons, then human civilization will end there.

This is homophobia at its most extreme. And if you subscribe to this belief, you're a homophobe. A little rainbow tape on Provorov's hockey stick wasn't going to send them to hell. So yes, if the Flyers were staunch in their advocacy, Provorov should have been benched."

Provorov never suggested that any of this has anything to do with anyone going to hell. Smerconish commented 

To give you a sense of the widespread public fallout on this issue, some have even hurled nasty comments at the Instagram page of the adorable golden retriever belonging to Provorov's girlfriend. She felt compelled to post, this is a dog's page, please stop sending me hateful messages.

As is often the case, the facts are straightforward here, but the issue is a little bit complicated. It has echoes in several recent cases that have reached the United States Supreme Court. You'll remember that in December, the Court heard the case of a devout Christian website designer from Colorado who didn't want to make a website for a same sex wedding, notwithstanding that she had not even been asked to do so.

Which was similar in many respects to another Colorado case, the baker who didn't want to bake the wedding cake for the same sex couple, who the Court ruled in favor of by a seven to two margin. The website designer is challenging a Colorado public accommodation law that prohibits most businesses from discriminating against LGBTQ customers. She argues that requiring her to create websites for same sex couples that would violate her freedom of speech.

And it seemed from the argument and the reaction to the argument that the six three conservative court is poised to support the wedding designer. On one hand, you had liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor saying, hey, allowing the designer to refuse would be, quote, the first time in the court's history that it would rule a commercial business open to the public, serving the public, that it could refuse to serve a customer based on race, sex, religion, or sexual orientation.

But Chief Justice Roberts countered. He said, to force the designer to build the website for the same sex couple, that would be compelling her to speak. And he then asked, quote, "In what other case have we upheld compelling speech. In other words, not simply restricting speech but actually compelling an individual to engage in speech contrary to their beliefs?"

We don't know the outcome yet of the website case. My hunch is that the court is going to distinguish between service and speech. In other words, the baker, the website developer, the florist will be treated like artists who speak through their work. And therefore, are allowed to refuse business or service.


The guy who delivers the tables and chairs to the wedding, not so much. My own view is that if you're a baker of wedding cakes, it's your responsibility, it's your obligation to bake a cake for all wedding couples. The same with the wedding Web site designer or the pharmacist, for that matter, who has qualms about distributing birth control.

You signed up for the gig. You cannot now stand behind your religion as a shield when you discriminate. Instead, maybe you need a career change.

Religious views must not be used as a shield to discriminate and that would be the case even if Jesus Christ had told a group of Jews or Gentiles "thou are to persecute sexual and racial minorities." He didn't, but even if we had, we should know well enough that it isn't acceptable in modern society. Now making a distinction both sensible and legally defensible, Smerconish adds

But I see the hockey player differently. Provorov was hired to play hockey which he's doing. I personally wish that he had skated with the Pride Night jersey and stick during the warm ups. But in not doing so, unlike the baker, unlike the Web site developer, he's not discriminating against anybody. He's not denying service.

I think we need to distinguish between discriminatory acts and discriminatory beliefs. Provorov is free to think what he wants and should not be compelled to wear a hockey jersey with a political viewpoint that he finds objectionable. Now, if he takes up baking or Web site design in his retirement that will be a different story. 

This is indeed a strange time in history, one in which discriminatory acts and discriminatory beliefs are commonly conflated with one another. My only quarrel with this commentary is that Provorov was right not to have skated with the Pride Night Jersey. He not only acted in a manner consistent with his beliefs but also was willing to stand out from the crowd, not to conform with what all others were doing, 

It is odd also that among many people on the left, a worker who doesn't have the same values toward a socio-political movement as does his employer must do as he/she is to told.  He's not to question the bosses even if- perhaps especially if- he is being used as a prop.  Virtue signaling is all the rage, and if the employee (albeit a well-paid one) dares to have a different opinion and not join the employer's political cause, he is condemned for being "patently homophobic and, frankly, rather ignorant."  As Michael Smerconish recognizes,  "Provorov is free to think what he wants." Or should be.


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