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If you happened past our state Capitol last weekend, you would have been in for a surprise. Looking for our state flag, flying proudly over the Capitol building, you wouldn’t have found it. Our governor ordered it taken down. Not lowered. Removed. In its place, a flag that represents some of us, but certainly not all of us. A flag that stands for a specific social, moral and political movement that many Montanans find abhorrent, and in direct conflict with their fundamental values, religious and political beliefs. This past weekend, the standard of the LGBT “Gay Pride” movement replaced the flag of the sovereign state of Montana.

Bullock’s flag replacement occasioned Helena’s largest-ever gay pride celebration. Do I have a problem with that celebration? Not a bit. Like most liberty-loving Montanans, I honor and defend the right of others to free expression, and to promoting their personal political, cultural and religious convictions — no matter how strongly I may disagree with them. But conversely, I draw a very bright line against compelling other individuals to adopt, support or “celebrate” political values and causes to which they are personally opposed, or that violate their sacred consciences. Symbolically, this is exactly what Gov. Bullock has done by substituting our state flag with the rainbow flag — and this is one Montana citizen who is not willing to be Steve Bullock’s political pawn.

Private organizations and corporations may do whatever they please, and indeed, many engage in various social causes and political advocacies. In their case, the rules of the game are very different. They operate in a competitive marketplace, where their customers can approve or disapprove of their corporate causes and vote their dollars accordingly. But in the public realm, political advocacy is prohibited by law. There is only one governor of a state, who represents all of its people, and is the ultimate trustee of the state’s honor, reputation and everything that the flag Bullock pulled down stands for.

We can judge for ourselves how we feel about the political alignments of a given business, and make our feelings known. A case in point was my disappointment with my favorite baseball team’s recent celebration of “LGBT Night.” I wrote, in part:

“Let’s be honest enough to recognize the strong political and religious undertones of the LGBT movement … To me, it’s also bizarre that the Dodgers would devote a special night to celebrating people’s private sexual habits. I mean, really. I don’t view that as any of my business — especially when settling in with family to simply enjoy a baseball game. Moreover, I do not wish to be politicized at times like that, and neither do most fans, regardless of the issue. How would they feel if instead, the game was dedicated to the Sanctity of Life, and an abortion survivor threw out the first pitch?”

Note that I never questioned the team’s right to do this — only its wisdom. Predictably, I never heard back. I had just touched the ultimate third rail of political correctness, and they were hesitant to touch that rail themselves. Perhaps it’s that socially enforced censorship that I object to most of all.

One purpose of this column is to encourage people to speak up for their values and beliefs, and not allow others to label them bigoted or intolerant for doing so. The self-certified arbiters of “acceptable public discourse” are all around us, enforcing their political correctness on the college campuses and in the public square. Just don’t listen to them.

The politically related issues and agendas of the LGBT movement are as fair game as any other. If respectful discourse, disagreement and debate are to return to this country, then those who cry foul and accuse others of intolerance the most, need to learn to live with the diversity they claim to love. They need to get out of the mouths and the ears of the people, walk in integrity, live in liberty, and acknowledge that freedom is the one thing you cannot possess for yourself unless you are willing to give it away.

In the meantime, if I am labeled a bigot for expressing my beliefs, I will keep on speaking. If I am trashed as intolerant for expressing my beliefs, I will keep on speaking. If I am isolated and ostracized for expressing my beliefs, I will keep on speaking. I will not be intimidated. I will not be silenced. I will walk the walk and talk the talk of a free man, no matter how much others choose to hate me for it.

Last I heard, freedom of thought and freedom of conscience are still cherished principles in this nation. And the First Amendment still applies to everyone.

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Republican Roger Koopman represents district 3 on the Montana Public Service Commission, and is a former state legislator from Gallatin County.

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