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R.J. Johnson and Deb Jordahl: Respect the free-speech rights of the Wisconsin Realtors Association, others who weigh into campaigns

February 27, 2019
R.J. Johnson, left, and Deb Jordahl

The Wisconsin Realtors Association recently withdrew its endorsement of state Supreme Court candidate Brian Hagedorn, explaining that “recent disclosures regarding past statements and actions” by Hagedorn led to its decision.

According to a statement by the WRA: “The real estate-related issues that served as the basis for our endorsement have been overshadowed by other, non-real estate related issues — issues with which we do not want to be associated and that directly conflict with the principles of our organization and the values of our members.”

The WRA statement in no way challenges Judge Hagedorn’s Christian faith. It simply says the group believes some of the judge’s past statements and actions are in conflict with the values and principles of its members. If WRA’s critics were being honest, they would acknowledge that the WRA has every right to consider Hagedorn’s extensive wri tten record and determine whether those views are intolerant and outside the mainstream of public opinion and that of their members.

Instead, some conservative opinion leaders, including some politicians, have viciously accused the WRA of being “anti-religious zealots.” This is a bogus and cynical claim that is being used to suppress the rights of others to speak freely. No one, including the WRA, is disputing Judge Hagedorn’s right to his beliefs. And no one should dispute the WRA’s right to free speech and association based on its own values and beliefs.

The WRA is not a group of anti-religious zealots or zealots of any kind. The WRA is a trade and business association representing a large membership as diverse as the voting population itself. The group exists exclusively to serve the interests of its members, period. Sometimes that includes supporting candidates for public office who best represent those interests. That is a right and a choice we are all afforded under the First Amendment. And when the WRA determined it could no longer support Judge Hagedorn, that also was its First Amendment right — especially when you consider that Judge Hagedorn says he stands by everything he has written.

Those who continue to attack the WRA or any group or individual that chooses not to support a candidate for any reason are denying their right to free speech and association, and their behavior is likely to silence other important voices in the future.