Thursday, May 29, 2014
Dahlia Lithwick in Slate calls attention to--and eviscerates--the campaign, by a couple of University of Virginia students (one actually a new alum) and an LGBT advocacy group, against Doug Laycock of UVA. The campaigners claim they want to open a "dialogue" with Prof. Laycock about "the [allegedly harmful] real-world consequences" of his work in defense of religious freedom in the contexts of gay marriage and the HHS mandate. They claim they don't want to silence or harass him but only to make him aware of how conservative groups have used his writing. But the campaigners have initiated their "dialogue" with a FOIA request for telephone and email records in order to see Doug's communications with conservative groups.
Lithwick's article says most of what needs to be said against this. (So does our MOJ friend Steve Bainbridge: "You don't start a dialogue with FOIA requests.") It's remarkable, the disingenousness of these campaigners in claiming they're simply seeking to educate one of the leading and most thoughtful religious-liberty scholars of our time--and that a FOIA request is somehow part of an effort to promote dialogue rather than to harass an academic because of some of his positions.
The dark lesson one could draw from this (and other episodes like Brandon Eich at Mozilla) is that left-ish activists will increasingly try to intimdate those who depart from their views on even one important matter--even on whether to protect religious dissenters (since Prof. Laycock, as many MOJ readers will know, is a supporter of same-sex marriage itself). That kind of pressure will no doubt intensify in the future. (The FOIA tactic, it should be noted sadly, is increasingly being used by both sides in political/cultural wars.) More optimstically, however, one could note that this pressure campaign drew no support from major gay-rights groups, at UVA or elsewhere, and has quickly been condemned by Lithwick and Brian Leiter--neither of whom, to put it mildly, sympathizes with the traditionalist position on gay marriage.