Saturday, August 20, 2005

OP ED: Anti-anti-gay is politically correct at Allstate

Allstate insurance company recently fired an employee, J. Matt Barber, for writing an online tract condemning homosexuality as morally wrong and harmful to society. As far as I can see, the written material did not propose harm or extreme action. Nor was there any apparent job performance issues. The bosses made no secret of the reason for the firing. He was first suspended for the writing, and then fired. All because he expressed an outside-the-office opinion.

I am in the mode of Voltaire, who said, "I may disagree with what you say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it." I do not share Mr. Barber's opinion. I tend to be one of those quasi-libertarian conservative types. My views on gay rights cuts both ways, depending on the specific issue. But, this is not about my views on that issue.

I am appalled that a major company would fire a person over private opinion. Allstate likely has many employees who agree with Mr. Barber ... and a lot who do not, including quite a number of gay workers, I suspect. It is chilling to think that a person can be fired, their career injured, over a legitimate opinion on a contemporary social issue.

We would be horrified if a person was fired only because they were gay, or privately expressed support for gay issues (at least most of us would be). Certainly those opinions would find objection and offense among many co-workers at Allstate. The fact that Allstate is a corporate sponsor of gay activities undoubtedly offends some workers.

However, it is a huge mistake for a company to get into the middle of the social issue by firing employees holding personal opinions. It cannot even be argued that Mr. Barber is expressing an unpopular opinion. Polls suggest that his may be the majority view, more or less.

To their credit and innate common sense, most workers, on either side of issues, share offices without consideration to their private political views. Republican and Democrat. Liberal and conservative. Pro this and anti that. They understand that the work place is not the arena to impose doctrine. Apparently, Allstate management is not so smart.

Allstate terminated Mr. Barber because they claim to be protecting their self proclaimed "diverse" work force. Apparently not so diverse as to include those with a views that are widely shared, albeit politically incorrect by liberal mores.

Personally, I hope Mr. Barber is successful with his lawsuit, and wins a ton of money in compensation. America will be better for it. It will have an appropriate chilling effect on companies that exercise their civic citizenship to the detriment of Constitutional freedoms. It is the same wish I would make on behalf of any gay worker who might be fired for publicly expressing quite the opposite view.

I guess Allstate, the insurance company, is too busy trying to avoid paying legitimate claims to premium payers to consider a little thing known as the First Amendment.

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