Everyone is entitled to his opinion, until, of course, someone thinks he isn’t. Recently, three incidents have challenged our concept of freedom of speech.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants the United States to extradite New York Knicks center — and Turkish dissident — Enes Kanter ostensibly for suspected terrorist activities but actually for supporting exiled Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen — credited with the failed 2016 Turkish coup — and describing Erdogan as “the Hitler of our century.”
Then reigning ballet bad boy Sergei Polunin of Ukraine was dropped from the Paris Opera Ballet’s “Swan Lake” after making derogatory remarks about gays and overweight people while proclaiming his love for Presidents Donald J. Trump and Vladimir Putin. (Polunin, who was cheered a few nights later in a sold-out Bavarian State Ballet performance of Alexander Glazanov’s “Raymonda,” had Putin’s face tattooed on his chest. Not quite former Greco-Australian tennis player Mark Philippousis’ shoulder tattoo of Alexander the Great, is it?)
Finally, second lady Karen Pence has returned to teaching art, this time at Virginia’s Immanuel Christian School, which bans LGBTQ. The controversy over this has led Lady Gaga to call Pence and her husband, Vice President Mike Pence, “the worst kind of Christians” and the vice president to call such criticism an attack on Christianity.
Let’s take this in order, moving from the easiest to the most complex. U.S. extradition law is clear: Unless you commit the same crime here that you allegedly did in the country requesting extradition, you cannot be extradited from this country. Kanter has said he does not have so much as a parking ticket in the U.S. and that the only thing he “terrorizes is the (basketball) rim” — although the Knicks organization, which is playing him less, might dispute his rep for terrorizing opposing teams. Whatever his future with the Knicks, his future in America seems secure, because freedom of speech is protected — at least it was last time I looked. Even slander — in the form of libel (written slander) or defamation (spoken) — is more difficult to prove against a public figure like a president.
But what about a company: Can it be held to the same standards as a country? There’s no question that Polunin is a brilliant but difficult dancer, the Nick Kyrgios of ballet as I wrote in WAG magazine, who has the talent but not necessarily the temperament and love for what he does. While he might not care about his reputation, private companies certainly value theirs. Clearly, the Paris Opera Ballet thought he was a bad fit for its gay-friendly profession. The Bavarian State Ballet had other ideas. Does that make the State Ballet homophobic for hiring Polunin or merely interested in his talent? Can we afford to choose that talent at the expense of the artist’s personal opinions? I happen to think the Paris Opera did the right thing — I mean, who needs a head case in your ranks — even as I continue to admire Polunin’s beauty and charisma.
It’s easy for me to agree with the Paris Opera’s exclusionary attitude here, far more difficult for me to accept the Immanuel Christian School’s rejection of the LBGTQ community. In the first place, religion is supposed to bring people together. The word comes from the Latin, meaning “to bind.” Today, it seems to divide and it begs the question: How can something whose central tenet is compassion be so hard-hearted?
Yes, many major religions have precepts against homosexuality, although there is no proscription against it in the Christian Bible. Jesus offers nothing against it. But even if you think it’s evil, whatever happened to hate the sin but love the sinner?
There’s something else to consider here: Pence is the wife of the vice president, who represents all of the people, whether they voted for him and Trump or not. As such, she is a role model and, even if she believes that her anti-homosexuality stance merely reflects her Evangelical beliefs, there are those, religious or not, who will take her actions as a license to hate and abuse gays.
Karen Pence should reflect on the idea — as in the case of Polunin — that those who reject others often wind up rejected themselves.