Cranking out newspaper columns is a tricky business: you've got to have an original voice, you have to come up with several whole ideas each week, and you need a nigh-oracular sense of the future. But sometimes the Sight fails, and columnists come up with a prediction that doesn't quite compute. Each week Washingtonian.com will search the nation's opinion pages for the best or worst pundit prediction of the week.
There's a terrific New Yorker cartoon, published in 2007, that shows a bewildered gentleman standing on his front steps as the military surrounds his house. "2:12 PM—August 16, 2007. The last secular humanist is flushed from his spider hole." It's a cartoon Robert Knight might have wanted to consider before banging out his Monday column in which he asks, "Will 'marriage' backers charge sedition?" His vision? That federal, state, and local governments will turn to coercion to force society as a whole to accept marriages between gay and lesbian couples. Knight writes:
To enforce this direct assault on common sense and God's building block of civilization will require all sorts of tyranny. Dissent will be crushed. Institutions will be denied funds. Firings will occur. Academics will face star chambers (that is, more star chambers). Governments at all levels will turn into battering rams against pastors, churchgoers, observant Jews and others who value truth above political correctness. In Boston and the District of Columbia, "gay marriage" drove Catholic Charities, the largest provider of homes for orphans, out of the adoption business. Massachusetts schools now teach kindergarteners through picture books that two men constitute a marriage. A father who objected was jailed. Orphans, kindergarteners and protective fathers, it seems, are just collateral damage to social engineers.
It wouldn't be the first time America's government turned on its own people. In 1798, the Federalist-dominated Congress enacted the Alien and Sedition Acts, which collectively consolidated national power. The Sedition Act was a hate-crimes law that punished dissent against national lawmakers.
First, a fact-checking note. Parker wasn't jailed for resistance to the ideas that same-sex couples form families; he was arrested on a trespassing charge after refusing to leave a meeting with an elementary-school principal and a curriculum director. If Knight was a genuine martyr to government tyranny, he might have to look for one with a tad more training in civil disobedience.
But more importantly, Knight's grim prediction of a crackdown on religious and organizational freedom, and a code that limits speech against the rights of gay people to marry. The reason? Support for gay rights may be climbing, especially among younger voters, but there's hardly a consensus on equal marriage rights among people in power. President Obama hasn't even moved on a request that now seems antiquated and timid to many members of the gay community, an end to the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy. The idea that he's going to issue marching orders on the larger issue of marriage, where it's not even clear that he personally supports equality at all, is quite the leap to make.
Ditto universities and churches. University faculties are obstreperous enough to avoid trying members for their beliefs, at least for the most part (no matter what anyone thinks about Larry Summers, his problems at Harvard had more to do with management than inarticulateness). And there's no obvious groundswell of support among the gay community for crushing institutions like churches and synagogues that don't embrace gay couples and gay rights under a government boot heel. Knight may have to worry about demographic shifts that produce a societal consensus in favor of gay rights. But time's going to produce that shift, not tanks and helicopters flushing the last opponents out of their homes.