Free Speech Only Matters When We Protect Ideas We Hate: Marriott CEO’s Stand for Inclusiveness

Recently there have been calls for Marriott to abrogate a meeting contract with a group that the Southern Povery Law Center calls an anti-Muslim hate organization. (Let’s leave aside that the Southern Poverty Law Center considers a wide range of organizations hate groups, not just what most people think the phrase means.)

While Marriott is a private business and chooses with whom to book meetings, in an interview with Skift Marriott’s CEO Arne Sorenson said they shouldn’t be in the business of vetting the messages of each group that books a meeting.

Speaking publicly for the first time about the controversy, Sorenson said, “The fact they are having a meeting with us and using our hotel does not mean we support their point of view. If I could wave a magic wand, I’d love to have it so that those types of groups never exist.”

…Do we really want, as a society, for companies like Marriott and the peers in our industry and others to sit and make judgments or points of view on people sitting in our meeting rooms? I shudder to think that we really expect that my role or Marriott’s role is to say your views are not acceptable in our hotels and that another person’s views are …

This isn’t an issue of free speech rights per se, the government isn’t dictating who can and cannot speak or meet at a Marriott. But it is a question of an open society.

Sorenson makes the case that it’s also important for an inclusive one.

We are serving people from all around the world, from all walks of life, with all points of views, equally and with a genuine welcome, with people who are equally diverse. Our arms need to be open.

Marriott got calls to drop the meeting when the same hotel allowed the Council for American Islamic Relations to hold an event. I believe even Nazis should be able to hold meetings. And we should criticize them every single time they do (and even when they don’t). Shutting down speech we don’t like is dangerous, and I applaud Marriott’s stance not taking part in that. Let’s hope they pursue that position consistently going forward.

Interestingly the same people who call for Marriott to make a judgment about whom they’ll do business with on the basis of their values likely don’t support bakeries choosing to provide wedding cakes only to heterosexual couples. (I strongly support same sex marriage for what it’s worth.) The issue here is that people increasingly want to shout down their opponents and deny them a voice, rather than countering that voice.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. So you’d be ok with Nazi’s holding a meeting at a chain like Marriott or Westin? Nazi’s and white supremacists have a well documented history of brutal violence in this country. I’m sure many guests of color at a property that was holding these meetings would be reasonably and justifiably concerned for their personal safety.
    I think people can walk and chew gum at the same time. This whole idea of “abhorrent views but I support their rights etc etc” doesn’t make sense. No one is against the dissemination of conflicting views but when those views can literally endanger people’s lives and safety then we need to draw a line.

  2. I agree. It is concerning that a sizable minority of college students now believe that the 1st Amendment does not apply to “hate speech” (a label which is increasingly applied to anyone who does not affirm one’s viewpoint or life choices). The only reason we needed a 1st Amendment in the first place was to protect speech that some people would want to silence. Nobody is trying to keep you from saying “have a nice day.” Furthermore, a democratic society requires the free exchange of ideas, and that means that we have to be able to listen to and engage with all types of ideas and arguments, even those we find offensive or that make us uncomfortable. I am very glad to hear that Mr. Sorenson is not heeding the calls to silence others.

  3. A classic SJW tactic for the past ~5yrs was to run to people’s boss’s when somebody said something controversial, and demand they be fired. The SJWs would justify it by saying “The First amendment doesn’t apply to the employer/employee relationship.” Now that conservatives have some power in Washington, they’re doing the same.

    It was slimy then, and it’s slimy now.

  4. @Flyerguy10 – nope (sometimes folks who comment for the first time, include urls in their comments, or change their name and email to comment as someone else get trapped in a moderation queue for me to review before going live rather than showing up instantly)

  5. The idea of falsely shouting “fire” in a crowded theater arose from the Supreme Court’s 1919 decision in the case Schenck v. United States. The Court ruled unanimously that the First Amendment, though it protects freedom of expression, does not protect dangerous speech. See Schenck v. United States. BTW, Schenck was a leftist anarchist who opposed the draft and US entry into WWI. The so-called conservatives were mostly supportive on this concept for almost a century … why the change now?

  6. Strange, I would consider a group of people whose members routinely bomb, decapitate, etc anybody who disagrees with their worldview, as well as oppresses women and homosexuals, to be the hate group, not a group of people who point out the obvious dangers of such a group.

  7. As always the real test is in the margins…

    Can’t wait for the full acceptance and lack of outcry when Marriot hosts the Hamas Recruitment Convention, the Taliban Best-Practices Symposium, NAMBLA Conclave, the US-flag Burning Association, etc.

  8. It’s obviously easy for a hotel company to say we’ll take the money of anyone who wants to hold a convention at their hotel. 🙂 And, reasonably, a hotel company should not be in the business of screening the political correctness of its convention seekers. That said, there is a line that will have to be enforced. If the convention is likely to make a large number of other guests uncomfortable, and that discomfort is reasonable, the convention should not be allowed. So it’s an easy call to deny a Nazi group (if you could actually find one who could afford a Marriott) their convention. The same would go for antifa (but they’re probably not scheduling hotel conventions either). On the other hand, you’d probably have to allow a Black Lives Matter convention and most Alt-Right groups.

  9. The SPLC, a self-appointed hate group that monitors other hate groups, does not get to be the decider of who can hold a meeting. By the way, look into this group’s finances and where they keep their money if you want to see what their motives are.

    Nor do progressives who conflate a clear and present danger like shouting fire in a crowded theater with speech they don’t agree with.

    How about this, snowflakes: If an innkeeper deems BLM to be racist, does he get to deny sleeping rooms to BLM members?

  10. Great article Gary. What I would expect from a truly thoughtful and intelligent person.

    Free speech has always been a cherished right for America, much more than most western countries due to the religious plurality in our history (mostly different kinds of Christians).

    It is massively hypocritical of anyone to say they believe in free speech but only if that “free” speech falls within certain parameters and is deemed acceptable (orthodox).

    This is exactly what so many people who declare themselves to be “tolerant” or supporting “love” (defined in a very narrow way) are doing to those they disagree with – mainly social and religious conservatives.

    Anyone who takes time to think will quickly see through the rhetoric and slogans and sound bites. Unfortunately there are not that many people who do this.

  11. I don’t understand how free speech consistently gets conflated with being able to discriminate against a gay (or black or Jewish or female or elderly or disabled or Muslim or Latino or Asian) person.

    No one is saying that the Nazi or bakery can’t say what he or she wants to say. That is protected.
    And, in a free market, that in itself is probably enough to steer the Jew or the gay away from doing business with a person that espouses those beliefs.

    What is unacceptable is if a gay or Jewish person enters a shop, asks for a cake, and is told that the baker will not make cakes for this kind of person.

    That is called discrimination, regardless of whether the Supreme Court upholds the rights of the baker OR the gay couple. We have protected classes of people under the law; all the LGBT community is asking is to be included. The fact that religious groups are so frightened of that is indicative of how they practice their own prejudice.

    Just ask Bill Marriott, a practicing Mormon who manged to welcome gays and lesbian workers with domestic partner employee benefits – despite his personal beliefs about same sex marriage – long before it was trendy.

  12. And I will add that the Nazi is publicly calling for the banishment or segregation of people by race or religion or characteristic; the gay / BLM movements are being asked to be treated equally under the law.

    While I tend to agree that hoteliers should not be in the business of making judgments, it is pretty easy to see make a judgment call.

  13. @iahphx – So who gets to decide what line cannot be crossed when selling hotel rooms? You? Me? The republicans? The democrats? Who gets to draw that line? And, who gets to enforce it? A very slippery slope. Marriott can rent to anyone it wants. I get to decide if I want to stay there.

  14. The SPLC raises millions of $$$ on the back of the “racial grievance” industry, shamelessly lining their own pockets. Without a fawning media corps they would have slid into irrelevancy long ago. Thanks, Marriott, for not caving in to intimidation.

  15. Personally I don’t agree with what the convention holders message is, but I do agree with Marriott’s position as well. Since I’m a huge fan of Marriott/SPG I don’t really want to see the sh*t storm that will probably happen, regardless of which way they go.
    My solution for them to save face would be to hold the convention, but donate all the profit or even revenue to a group that fights against the messages that the conference will promote, and announce this in advance. The group may end up changing their plans, or if not, they will have the knowledge that their little convention is supporting the people they hate.

  16. SPLC was shown in court to be a hate group. They put a Christian political group, Family Research Council, on their hate list simply because they disagree with their viewpoint. A man who saw the list went into the FRC and shot, hoping to kill people. He succeeded in wounding the security guard, and in court the SPLC was shown to be the origin of it all.

  17. Based on the variety of comments I have a couple of observations. 1) unlike many internet boards, these comments seem much more objective and less extreme. 2) why does it seem acceptable to stereotype social and religious conservatives but not LGBT, antifa, social and religious liberals (or the group considered the opposite of ‘conservatives’ above), legal immigrants, illegal immigrants, deplorables, non-deplorables, etc. 3) outside of this internet board and physical harm to someone does anybody real care about this issue?

  18. Frankly, I’m more interested in a good night’s sleep, fresh coffee in the lobby and a clean room than in political statements and social grandstanding.

  19. Your political views sure came through in this article. No bueno. A few things to consider as you rethink your faulty position:
    1. No one is infringing on this organization’s free speech rights. Your Constitutional rights protect you from government interference in your free speech but do not cover booking a meeting at a commercial venue.
    2. No one is saying that Marriott is or should be required to deny the meeting booking. This is a “could/should” conversation, not a “must/have to” conversation. This “infringement” position is blatantly inaccurate.
    3. What IS happening is that Southern Poverty Law, under their rights to free speech, is bringing awareness to whom Marriott is deciding, on their own legally protected accord, to conduct business with. This allows Marriott’s customers, partners and vendors to make informed decisions on whether they want to do business with Marriott based on this information.

    Fake News.

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