Anti-SSM Politician Asks Boss To Order Pro-SSM Employee To Shut Up

09.10.2012, 5:02 AM

Brendon Ayanbadejo, a football player for the Baltimore Ravens, has been outspoken in support of marriage equality. Maryland state Delegate Emmett Burns, a Reverend and a Democrat, wrote to Ayanbadejo’s boss (Ravens owner Steven Disciotti) on government letterhead (emphasis mine):

I find it inconceivable that one of your players, Mr. Brendon Ayanbadejo would publicly endorse Same-Sex marriage, specifically as a Raven Football player. Many of my constituents and your football supporters are appalled and aghast that a member of the Ravens Football Team would step into this controversial divide and try to sway public opinion one way or the other.

Many of your fans are opposed to such a view and feel it has no place in a sport that is strictly for pride, entertainment and excitement. I believe Mr. Ayanbadejo should concentrate on football and steer clear of dividing the fan base.

I am requesting that you take the necessary action, as a National Football League Owner, to inhibit such expressions from your employees and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions. I know of no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing.

Please give me your immediate response.

I hope I don’t need to explain why this is appalling behavior. (I should note that after massive criticism from liberals and democrats, Burns backed down. Reminds me of that other Reverend who boldly announced his opposition to Obama because of Obama’s pro-SSM stance, and then backed down a week later. Oh, wait, that was the same dude.)

When a similar situation happened earlier this year, many pro-SSM bloggers (including some big names, like Andrew Sullivan) spoke up to defend Chick-Fil-A’s free speech rights, as did major pro-SSM organizations like the ACLU. Have any major anti-SSM bloggers or organizations spoken up to defend Brendon Ayanbadejo’s free speech?

I don’t know. But I can say for sure that NOMBlog — which posted countless times on the Chick-Fil-A mess, often several times a day — has yet to post about Burns’ attack on Ayanbadejo’s free speech rights.

(Postscript: While looking – unsuccessfully – for examples of NOM standing up for free speech of people they don’t agree with, I came across this video of Brian Brown passionately arguing that it’s wrong to describe this FRC statement as “spewing hate”: “One of the primary goals of the homosexual rights movement is to abolish all age of consent laws and to eventually recognize pedophiles as the ‘prophets’ of a new sexual order.”

Brown shouldn’t have trouble unambiguously condemning a statement like that; and that he does have trouble suggests that his moral balance is seriously skewed. Things like that are why so many people consider NOM an anti-gay group, rather than an anti-SSM group.)


26 Responses to “Anti-SSM Politician Asks Boss To Order Pro-SSM Employee To Shut Up”

  1. La Lubu says:

    Things like that are why so many people consider NOM an anti-gay group, rather than an anti-SSM group.

    This. The only message of theirs that comes through to me, that doesn’t have all kinds of qualifiers attached, is “gays and lesbians are destructive people.” (see: The Gathering Storm).

    The ship has already sailed on what most USians agree constitutes marriage. Everyone can relate to marriage as being about commitment and companionship. Not everyone agrees that children are essential for a marriage (41% believe children are important for a happy marriage). Everyone can relate to the importance of shared values to a marital couple. Not everyone agrees that organized religion is a good source of those values (19% of the US population claim no religious affiliation, and that doesn’t include the much larger number who will nominally claim a particular faith even though they haven’t attended any services in say, forty years (other than weddings and funerals) and don’t have any connection to (or necessarily knowledge of) the theology of the faith….more like a tribal identification).

    NOM (and any other anti-SSM organization I can think of) hit all the bullet points most likely to alienate people who are otherwise open to hearing about how marriage is still a worthwhile social institution and means for couples to strengthen their marriages. (and yes, I’m one of those people: I believe marriage is a worthwhile social institution, and that’s why I’m pro-SSM). Patriarchy won’t save marriage; patriarchy is what people are abandoning.

  2. Schroeder says:

    That is really bad, Barry.

    Does anyone know if there have been any SCOTUS test cases about a government official’s misuse of government stationary constituting an abridgment of first amendment rights?

    (I ask this with the understanding that, if Delegate Burns had written a similar letter as a private citizen and not using government stationary, it would have been stupid but obviously not unconstitutional. Is this understanding correct?)

  3. Karen says:

    This person has NO legal leverage to squash his NFL players free speech. Period. But this ‘delegate’ doesn’t sound like he was using a legal threat when he wrote his opinion (even if he used ‘government stationary/letterhead’) It sounds like he was just expressing his strong opinion.

    There are several NFL players advocating for redefining marriage. I never heard about any them being attacked (via strong opinion backlash). Unlike what happened to David Tyree (a http://newsbusters.org/blogs/tim-graham/2011/06/26/new-york-sportswriter-attacked-black-nfl-star-brainless-opposing-gay-mar) and Tim Tebow (http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/story/2011-12-02/tim-tebow-faith-media/51582844/1).

    Jake Plummer, the latest to take pot shots at the embattled Denver quarterback, might have been speaking for anti-Tebowites everywhere when he said in an interview on a Phoenix radio station that he would like Tebow more if he would “shut up” about his faith in Jesus Christ.

  4. La Lubu says:

    Karen, by using government letterhead he is expressing his ‘strong opinion’ not as a private citizen, but as an agent of his employer. He was trying to use the weight of his elected authority as leverage to get this player censured. Unlike media celebrities, elected officials hold real power.

    Do you believe employers should have the right to censure, discipline or fire employees for speaking on sociopolitical issues or involvement with activism on their free time?

  5. fannie says:

    Karen,

    The use of government stationary coupled with the demand “please give me your immediate response” suggests that Burns actually is using his power as a government agent to try to squash the football player’s speech about same-sex marriage.

    A private citizen expressing mean opinions about Tim Tebow does not have the same power to restrict Tebow’s speech and demand his silence.

    What you seem to be referring to is non-existent constitutional right for Tim Tebow (or anyone) to say whatever he wants without other people being mean to him about it.

    I hope you see the difference between the two cases.

    Barry,

    Thanks for writing about this. Your observation about NOM is particularly apt and exactly why I personally believe the organization is anti-gay.

  6. Karen says:

    “Do you believe employers should have the right to censure, discipline or fire employees for speaking on sociopolitical issues or involvement with activism on their free time?”

    Absolutely not. I guess his crime was writing a personal opinion on a public office letterhead. Guilty I’d say.

    Fannie, I don’t think using that public stationary gives him ANY POWER above and beyond any other strong opinion holder. I agree that he messed up writing his personal opinion on that stationary. But beyond that he never had any power to do anything more than rant like the rest of us.

  7. Karen says:

    Also, since he is a publicly elected official, he can always be voted out of office because people don’t like his personal views or then again, re-elected because they do. From what I understand the Democratic Party is very divided on this issue (the legal definition/re-definition of marriage).

  8. La Lubu says:

    Karen, he does have more power than the rest of us. The rest of us can give our opinions on laws; elected officials actually write them, vote on them, and have deeper connections with the other politicians that do the same. Elected officials really do have more power than ordinary citizens (and incumbents are hard to unseat for structural reasons, including the wealth accumulated from powerful donors).

    Think about how much difficulty the local police chief or mayor could cause in your life—no matter how law-abiding you are—if you incurred their wrath. State reps and senators have more power than that.

  9. Karen says:

    How exactly does he have more power by writing a letter of strong personal opinion that happend to be written on “offical” stationary? It was a personal opinion but he IS also a publically elected official (and I agree that it should not have been written on that “official” stationary.) But I don’t think it means much beyond, he expressed a strong personal opinion, unforturnately on offical stationay (that’s it). As I said, the power is in the people who elected him – and that opinion of his could either MAKE or BREAK him. Marriage redefinition is not a democratic party line. We will see I guess.

  10. La Lubu says:

    Karen, the official letterhead is a veiled threat; it unequivocally states “in my official capacity, I will oppose legislation that benefits your business because you allow your employees to publically espouse opinions I disagree with.” That is precisely why he chose to send it on official letterhead—he wanted his voice heard as a public official and not as a private citizen.

    I don’t know where you’re getting the idea that SSM is controversial among Democrats at large.

  11. Karen says:

    Really? Is there a Law about that? That would be interesting to know if there is. As an aside, I never said the majority of democrats advocate for redefining marriage. I honestly don’t know of any democratic voting with in the democratic party to prove or disprove that assumption but i do know for fact some (many?) are not supportive of that redefintion.

  12. fannie says:

    Really, Karen? You ask:

    “How exactly does he have more power by writing a letter of strong personal opinion that happend to be written on “offical” stationary?”

    Really?

    Did you read the letter in the post? Burns specifically asked the football player’s boss to “take the necessary actions” to “inhibit” the player’s speech. That it was on government stationary implies that he was acting in his official capacity, with the power of government enforcement behind him.

    Maybe you feel differently if Burns wrote a letter to your boss (if you have one) that said:

    “I find it inconceivable that one of your employees, Ms. Karen Clark would publicly oppose same-sex marriage, as an employee of your company. Many of my constituents and your customers are appalled and aghast that one of your employees would step into this controversial divide and try to sway public opinion one way or the other.

    Many of your customers are opposed to such a view and I believe Ms. Clark should concentrate on her work and steer clear of dividing people.

    I am requesting that you take the necessary action, as Karen Clark’s boss, to inhibit such expressions from your employees and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions. I know of no other employee who has done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing.

    Please give me your immediate response.”

    That’s much different than someone being “mean” to you because of your views on “redefining marriage.”

  13. Matthew Kaal says:

    Fannie and all,

    Delegate Burn’s unfortunate use of official stationary to express his personal opinion that Raven’s players can’t speak into public issues is a classic case of official over-reach. Setting aside the obvious, that he has no right to demand that the Raven’s silence their player (a request that is as laughable as it is depressing) and that is unbecoming of a public official to attempt to intimidate any citizen or business into silencing their views of public issues, I still agree with Karen that there is very little that is actually that threatening about being sent a strongly worded letter from a low level city official who is obviously in the wrong. I think we need to be careful not to give this guy more influence than he deserves by reacting as if he was the Mayor or a Senator or someone with actual power (who would still be wrong, and just a deserving of the mockery Burns to now experiencing).

    Any one with any sense would do what the Ravens have done – leak this to the press and then back up their employee as he destroys the guy rhetorically for trying to block his free speech. And similarly I would expect that Karen’s boss, upon receiving such a hypothetical letter and checking with the company’s attorney, would tell the official in question what he could do with it.

  14. La Lubu says:

    In Illinois, there are clear policies against the use of official letterhead, envelopes, copiers, computers, blackberries, telephone, etc. for anything other than official business. I would imagine the same would be true of Maryland. Using official letterhead sends the message “this isn’t coming from Joe Blow; it’s coming from the State.” Offhand, I can’t think of any state-level examples, but a fairly high-ranking county cop in my area lost his job for stealing a copy of letterhead from the county health department to fake a syphilis notification letter to another county officer (this came out as one of the details in a sexual harassment suit). The harassment itself got enough bad press in the community, but the health department insisted on severe discipline as the act of this false notification threatened their mission.

    That’s how I see the misuse of letterhead: as an act that threatens the mission of government, which is obligated to serve all of its citizens with justice.

  15. Matthew Kaal says:

    It has just been pointed out to me that the Raven’s didn’t actually leak the story, Burns actually CC’d the media himself…nice of him to make it easy for them.

    Also, he’s a State Legislator…which I guess is marginally more powerful than a low level city official.

  16. fannie says:

    Most people here seem to agree that Burns was in the wrong. I would argue that by using his official stationary he was making an implied threat along the lines of, “See my official status? Shut up or else…”

    I have no idea if Burns actually thought he could silence the football player, or if he knew he had no legal ability to do so but tried to shut him up anyway, but his actions are a clumsy power trip gone wrong.

    What’s interesting to note, as Barry has done, is that few, if any, prominent opponents of SSM have condemned Burns’ attempt to stifle someone’s free speech about the marriage issue.

    Yeah, call Burns a “low level” government official, but I’m pretty sure that NOM would already have a website up martyring Ayanbadejo were he on “their” side.

  17. Karen says:

    Ahhh, that’s not what I’m saying Fannie but your rhetorical shaming/silencing strategy is VERY very effective! I do hope NOM will pick up on this though. There is a good message here.

    Thank you Matthew for this:

    I still agree with Karen that there is very little that is actually that threatening about being sent a strongly worded letter from a low level city official who is obviously in the wrong. I think we need to be careful not to give this guy more influence than he deserves by reacting as if he was the Mayor or a Senator or someone with actual power (who would still be wrong, and just a deserving of the mockery Burns to now experiencing).

    Any one with any sense would do what the Ravens have done – leak this to the press and then back up their employee as he destroys the guy rhetorically for trying to block his free speech. And similarly I would expect that Karen’s boss, upon receiving such a hypothetical letter and checking with the company’s attorney, would tell the official in question what he could do with it.

  18. I don’t think Burns actually had any power to do much to the Ravens… although it depends on what committees he’s on, and if the Ravens are currently lobbying for anything (as large sports organizations fairly often do).

    But for him to try and do so at all — especially in this way, by writing someone’s boss asking them to shut an employee up — is an abuse of his position.

    I don’t think it’s a big deal. In the larger scheme of things, SSM is a huge issue, and many or most politicians are bigmouths and blowhards, so local politicians acting like idiots now and then is probably inevitable. They really don’t have any legal leg to stand on, and the people they’ve been picking on are well-known and able to defend themselves.

    But by the same token, I didn’t think the Chick-Fil-A thing was a big deal either. And I do feel there’s sort of bad faith on the part of SSM opponents (like NOM) who considered the Chick-Fil-A story HUGE, but don’t even bother to comment on this extremely similar story. You’re not in favor of free speech unless you’re in favor of it even for people you disagree with.

  19. Chick-Fil-A is a multimillion dollar corporation; they have lawyers and deep pockets. Brendon Ayanbadejo is (I think; I don’t really get football) a local celebrity with a fan base to call on. Neither of them are easy to pick on.

    But I can’t agree with Matthew here:

    And similarly I would expect that Karen’s boss, upon receiving such a hypothetical letter and checking with the company’s attorney, would tell the official in question what he could do with it.

    I don’t know who Karen’s boss is or what her resources are. But, generally speaking, ordinary employees have virtually no protections against their bosses pressuring them or threatening to fire them over their political speech – including political speech outside the workplace. (Remember the pro-SSM jerk who got fired for being mean to a CFA employee?)

    If a business expects to be asking the legislature for any favors at all — and it’s not uncommon for favors to be asked — then they’d have incentive to take a letter like this extremely seriously. And even without a letter from a legislator, many businesses have already shown their willingness to punish or pressure employees for their out-of-work political activities.

    I’d certainly HOPE that any boss would tell Mr. Burns where to shove his letter, but Matthew seems to assume that would always be the case. That seems very unrealistic to me. The US has some fairly good protections from unfair government pressure against free speech, but no protections from unfair employer pressure.

  20. La Lubu says:

    The US has some fairly good protections from unfair government pressure against free speech, but no protections from unfair employer pressure.

    ….unless you belong to a labor union.

  21. Karen says:

    I don’t know who Karen’s boss is or what her resources are. But, generally speaking, ordinary employees have virtually no protections against their bosses pressuring them or threatening to fire them over their political speech – including political speech outside the workplace.”

    Which is exactly why the Marriage Anti Defamation Allicance was created (http://marriageada.org/). Absolutely no one should be afraid or bullied from free expression of beliefs.

  22. ….unless you belong to a labor union.

    Quite right! Point well taken.

  23. Chris says:

    Karen, I went to the site you linked to, and watched the video that the MADA chose to highlight as an alleged example of anti-Christian bullying. Talk about blowing things out of proportion. As far as I can see, no one at the conference was “bullied from free expression of beliefs” by Dan Savage. On the contrary, Mr. Savage was simply expressing his beliefs about the Bible. Those beliefs may be controversial, and I think the way he expressed himself was inappropriate for a young audience. But criticizing the Bible is not equivalent to bullying Christians.

    The young girl featured in the video sounds like she is really not used to having her beliefs questioned or criticized. That’s normal for someone her age. But shaking and crying because Savage said that there was some “bullshit” in the Bible? That is an overreaction, and it’s the result of being extremely sheltered. The adults who are taking advantage of her by presenting her as a victim of the mean gay bully are doing her no favors. How exactly does this teach her that all viewpoints should be respected? How does it teach her that everyone has the right to free expression?

    What the MADA actually seems to be teaching this young girl is that she should have the right to express her religious beliefs without ever having them criticized or questioned. And that seems to be a common theme among many opponents of same-sex marriage: that they should be entitled not just to freedom of speech, but freedom from consequences.

  24. Karen says:

    Much has already been written about this story you are referencing…would you like links? There are other stories there though, like this one http://marriageada.org/damian-goddard/ . I’m not going to debate all the huge bundle of concerns here (which is really off topic), I just shared this in response to Barry’s comment that there are NO protections for people who express opinions that go against the PC politics surrounding this issue. There ARE resources and support and help (beyond labor unions) to those to DARE to publically speak anything other than the PC politics of today’s rhetoric.

  25. Karen writes:

    I just shared this in response to Barry’s comment that there are NO protections for people who express opinions that go against the PC politics surrounding this issue. There ARE resources and support and help (beyond labor unions) to those to DARE to publically speak anything other than the PC politics of today’s rhetoric.

    Karen, I meant legal protection — sorry that wasn’t clear. What I meant is, there’s no law against my boss firing me because she disagrees with my politics, even if I never mention politics while I’m at work.

    There are indeed some organizations which might try to help, depending on the circumstances, such as labor unions and the organization you linked to.

    You said you’re referring to “Barry’s comment” about “people who express opinions that go against the PC politics.” As reading my original post will make clear, that’s not at all what I said; this is a post about someone who had a legislator go to his boss because he supports SSM, after all.

    Which is exactly why the Marriage Anti Defamation Allicance was created (http://marriageada.org/). Absolutely no one should be afraid or bullied from free expression of beliefs.

    But that’s not what MADA stands for. They have no objection at all to pro-SSM being “afraid” or “bullied” from free expression of beliefs; note that they don’t say a word about Emmett Burns on their site. They stand for the principle that no one who opposes SSM should be bullied (or, as Chris correctly points out, even have their beliefs ever questioned), but nothing on that site leads me to think they’d ever stand up for the free speech rights of someone who isn’t either anti-gay or anti-SSM.

  26. Phil says:

    People. Seriously. It’s not about the stationery. It’s about writing (or communicating) in a way that clearly implied that Burns was speaking in his official capacity as someone who represents the state.

    Whether Burns was threatening Steven Disciotti, or whether Disciotti perceived there to be an implied threat, is immaterial. Whether Burns actually has the power to threaten Disciotti, either overtly or subtly, is immaterial.

    If a university official writes a letter (inappropriately) to a college professor and says, “I am requesting that you do not say X, Y, and Z in your classroom,” the real problem is not just whether the professor perceives a threat. The problem is that there is a chance that the professor will refrain from saying X, Y, and Z because he now simply perceives that is what s/he is supposed to do.

    A doctor abuses his authority when he tells a woman, “I need to perform a pelvic exam now” when there is no justification to perform a pelvic exam. It doesn’t matter whether the woman feels threatened at the time. It doesn’t matter whether she perceives that she is being sexually abused. It is not appropriate for the doctor, in his official capacity, to tell the woman to submit to a procedure that isn’t actually justified. The harm need not be quantified beyond that: all that matters it that the woman may perceive that she is supposed to do something that she really need not do. That is all that it takes for us to identify abuse of authority.

    With regard to Burns, all that mattered what that the coach may have perceived that the correct course of action was to quietly comply with Burns’ request. Burns didn’t have the right to make that request, period. It’s not a case of “Oops, I shouldn’t have used the office letterhead.” It’s a case of, “I have a duty to inform you that I am not speaking in any official capacity here.”

    Burns was in the wrong, period. There is no value to equivocating about this unless you want to argue that he wasn’t wrong.