As a private club, Old Town Sport & Health Club has every right to accept or deny memberships. However, the revoking of Richard Spencer’s gym membership is alarming for one basic reason: As a republic, we protect the speech of citizens.
A gym member, Christine Fair, a professor who specializes in peace and security studies, said that she “exploited the full range of my First Amendment entitlements by telling him that this country does not belong to white men.” She explained that Mr. Spencer’s presence at the club was “an unfair burden upon the women and people of color — and white male allies of the same.”
Like Fair, I disagree with Spencer’s message and his “alt-right” organization. However, I disagree with the decision of the health club.
Of course, Fair had every right to approach Spencer. But he had also every right to be there, going about his business. She views her actions as exploiting her “entitlements.” What about Mr. Spencer’s rights? As far as I know, he was privately going about his business as a private citizen in our republic.
In his fine study of the working poor in Winchester, “Deer Hunting With Jesus,” Joe Bageant quotes one of his friends who described her new doctor as “a rag head.” Bageant then reminds us that while we may not like or agree with that language, many people in our country talk that way, and we need to listen to them. His book was written long before President Trump was elected.
At several high schools where I was an administrator, the National Coalition Building Institute presented workshops on building community. We were taught how to engage people with different views in conversation as a way of reaching accord and building community. I suggest Fair contact the D.C. office of NCBI and explore that approach. Her use of “exploited” and “entitlements” indicate that she probably wanted a confrontation with Spencer, not a conversation about his beliefs.
For the health club: If Mr. Spencer was peacefully using his membership, then it should never have been revoked; for her unnecessary scene, perhaps Fair’s should have been.
We must listen to each other, as Bageant writes. Yes, we may not like the words, but we must hear them in order to be the republic we claim to be. After all, in my reading of the Gospels, Jesus often ate in the home of a Pharisee.
The writer is a retired dean of students at the National Cathedral School. He now lives in the Shenandoah Valley.