Memories Pizza and the First Amendment

Over the last week, Indiana has experienced a political firestorm. Conservative legislators passed an expansive religious freedom bill, and our conservative governor signed it. Since then, you know the story: the NCAA, Angie’s List, Apple’s Tim Cook, and NASCAR have all voiced objections to the law. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce opposed the law before it was passed. Our governor ducked the “does this law legalize discrimination” on national TV several times in one interview, leading to his becoming the butt of late-night comedians’ jokes.

A new firestorm erupted yesterday when a small town pizza parlor in Walkerton, Indiana, caught the Internet’s attention when its owner said on TV that she wouldn’t cater a gay wedding because her religious beliefs don’t recognize gay marriage. While there have been plenty of voices of outcry and support, some of it has gotten ugly—threats to the family and the business.

This is wrong and should stop immediately.

Don’t misunderstand me. I disagree strongly with the owner’s religious-based point of view.

But she has a right to believe as she wishes and to even express those beliefs without fear of retribution. She has the right to say she wants to be able to discriminate legally.

Every one of us in the United States at one time or another believes something that may be wildly unpopular, even angering. Nevertheless, if free speech means anything it has to permit people to express views like the pizza parlor owner’s—and not have to worry about personal safety afterwards. The mob’s veto must never be allowed to silence free speech, no matter how distasteful or wrong it might be. As Justice William Brennan explained in the case of Texas v. Johnson, the answer to speech we don’t like is not restriction or mob veto. It’s more speech, with the aim of persuading the other person she is wrong.

Call the owner of Memories Pizza whatever you want: uninformed, bigoted, intolerant, stupid, anything. At the same time, please recognize that she has the right to her opinion and to voice it. You have the right to voice your opinion and persuade her she’s wrong, but you don’t have the right to use threats to force her to recant her views. That’s what fascists do. It would be unfortunate to meet intolerance with fascism. No one wins in that situation.

Lawyers winning beauty contests

The Miss America pageant they aren’t, but like other professions we have a variety of “beauty contests” that some lawyers strive for. The best known of these is probably Super Lawyers, which is a peer-nominated/selected group of highly respected lawyers in each state. The old warhorse of achievement recognition was the Martindale-Hubbell rating system. The front-runner online is Avvo.

Occasionally, a new organization pops up. Today it’s The National Association of Distinguished Counsel. I received a nice invitation packet from them (dated March 4—which means it must have arrived via Pony Express). The chair of the organization writes, “On behalf of the National Association of Distinguished Counsel, it is my honor to congratulate you for your selection as a Member of the Nation’s Top One Percent.” The letter goes on to describe how selection of members is objective, they serve as a benchmark for other lawyers to emulate, etc. etc. Members are regularly called on by national media to offer comments and analysis.

For $300, they will be happy to hear that I’ve accepted the honor.

I think I’ll pass. I took a look at the members in my state of Indiana. I know one of the handful personally—and I’ll be the first to say he’s a damn good lawyer. Being considered as a peer of his is a welcome compliment. But I’m not sure that spending $300 to have a nice plaque, permission to use their web site badge, and discounts from Toshiba is my style. (And, hey, I can boast about the invitation here on my blog for free.)

Of course, all of these various organizations are businesses trying to make a profit. I understand and respect that. But I’m not sure that they help potential clients that much. Avvo seems to be trying the hardest to do that, yet I can’t think of anyone offhand who contacted me because they saw my profile on Avvo. So, perhaps I’m making a mistake in tossing the NADC invitation into the trash. Or maybe I’m not. We will see.

Are you broken?

File this one under Broken as explained by Seth Godin.

This week I realized that my backup hard drive at home was not working correctly. It clicks when it is powered on, and no disk utilities I have can find it. I thought I’d try a fairly robust utility that I’ve purchased in the past. My copy is woefully outdated, so I decided to buy the new one. Go along through the web site, put in the billing information, all of that.

At the bottom, the web page asks for an email address for the serial number and a .zip attachment. In red letters, the site says, “Gmail accounts can’t receive .zip files.”

 

Every email address I use regularly is supported by Gmail. Even my work email address uses Google apps for business. I could use my .mac address, but frankly I’ve found that sometimes its spam filters are a little too good and legitimate email never reaches me (in my inbox or spam folder!). So I don’t trust that address for this task. The email address given to me by my ISP? Pfft. I never use it or even bothered to set it up. I wouldn’t know the password if it was on a sticky note.

Broken.

This is nuts. Absolutely nuts. Why on earth would any business want to set up its sales system to eliminate a huge chunk of the population? And another thing—the .zip format is primarily used on Windows. This particular business sells utilities for the Mac OS only. Why use a file format that’s essentially foreign?

What is in the .zip file they intended to send to me, anyway? The software? How about just letting me download it via a link? The serial number? How about having your system generate a PDF attachment instead? A .zip file? Really? It was created back when George H.W. Bush was in his first year as president—1989.

As you might guess, I did not purchase the utility. The lesson: if you want people to buy your products or services, don’t give them a broken web commerce system.

Don’t ask for help and then say I’m not allowed to answer

keyboardlockMy recent post on lawyers using email discussion lists as gofers has received quite a bit of attention, ironically, on at least one email discussion list. Today, something else popped up that I felt is worth commenting on. (Warning, slight rant ahead.)

A lawyer posted a question to an email discussion list. I replied (to the list and directly to the lawyer), and I received an automatic reply:

Sorry for the auto reply. In an effort to control spam I now allow incoming messages only from senders I have approved beforehand. If you’d like to be added to my list of approved senders, fill out the request form at the link below…

I was a little annoyed. I understand no one wants more spam in their email inbox. (Could I say this spam filter system was spamming me by putting the auto-reply in my inbox?) On the other hand, asking a question and then making me jump through a hoop or two to give you an answer seems a bit, well, off-putting. I quickly calmed down (I went from a 3 to a 2 on the Irritation Scale, so it wasn’t that big a deal) and realized there is an opportunity to share some lessons.

There are ways this type of spam control could backfire. If a judge wanted to email this attorney, could the judge even load the web site provided in the link? Many governmental IT departments blacklist a lot of web sites. If a potential client wanted to contact this attorney, will the potential client feel welcome or like they aren’t good enough to be heard from?

Spam (unsolicited commercial email, if you want to be technical) is a huge problem. Everyone needs some kind of spam filter. The better filters are those that don’t require an emailer to be white-listed. I happen to use Sanebox. Google Mail (the regular and apps for business version) has excellent spam filters. There are add-on software applications that will use databases to assess whether incoming email is spam. None of them require the sender to do anything to make sure her email gets through. Plus, who wants to have to take the time to approve email senders anyway?

I will be the first to admit that I’m becoming a bit of a curmudgeon. But technology is supposed to make our lives easier, not more annoying (yes, it has a long, long way to go in many instances). Making it even a little more difficult for people to communicate with you, in my view, is not worth the convenience on your end. If you’re using one of these “thou must be approved first” systems or services, you might consider looking for a better solution.