I think we have grown familiar with the ritual of some celebrity or politician making a racist or anti-Semitic or misogynistic statement and then entering into a period of public penance. There are public relations firms that specialize in this sort of thing. The current example is Paula Deen. But we’ve seen it before with folks like Michael Richards who played Kramer on Seinfeld, and Mel Gibson, and Don Imus. How sincere and convincing were their apologies? Did they suffer sufficiently for their remarks? How long before we forgive them? Can they ever find work again?
This is the way the public uses shame and moral condemnation to punish hateful thoughts. It’s not a violation of anyone’s First Amendment rights, but it can feel that way. “I’m not allowed to say what I think!”
It’s a fine line when you face no legal jeopardy for speaking your mind but can nonetheless lose your job and become a national pariah. How free are you to speak? If you were criticizing your employer rather than hurling hateful epithets, it would be easier to see the potential problem.
This is why religious conservatives like Justice Antonin Scalia fear that their attitudes about homosexuality are being defined as indecent. They are not merely wrong, but they are the enemies of mankind. They don’t want their deeply-held religious beliefs to become the social equivalent of white supremacy.
Yet, to win acceptance of homosexuality as a naturally-occurring facet of human life it has been necessary to insist that anti-gay beliefs are wrong and discriminatory in nature. No one set out to insult religion or religious belief, but in some sense it can’t be helped.