Response to Commentaries on Who's the Bigot?

25 Pages Posted: 4 Mar 2020

See all articles by Linda C. McClain

Linda C. McClain

Boston University - School of Law

Date Written: March 1, 2020


This Essay responds to insightful commentaries by legal scholars Melissa Murray, Douglas NeJaime, Imer Flores, and James Fleming, philosopher John Corvino, and political theorist Sonu Bedi on my book, Who’s the Bigot? Learning from Conflicts over Marriage and Civil Rights Law (Oxford University Press, 2020). The book argues that charges, denials, and countercharges of bigotry are frequent in the United States. Bigotry is a fraught and contested term, evident from the rejoinder that calling out bigotry is political correctness. That is so even though renouncing—and denouncing—bigotry in all its forms is a shared (although imperfectly realized) political value with a long history; preventing bigotry has engaged the efforts of civil rights activists, religious leaders, social scientists, politicians, lawyers, judges, and ordinary citizens. People disagree, however, over who is a bigot and what makes a belief, attitude, or action bigoted. My book argues that the rhetoric of bigotry poses puzzles that urgently demand attention: can a sincere religious belief or one rooted in conscience be bigoted? Is “the bigot” a distinct type of personality, or is everyone a bit bigoted? Is “bigotry” simply the term society gives to repudiated beliefs that now are beyond the pale? What does it mean to brand someone as a bigot? To illuminate such puzzles, the book investigates past and present controversies over interfaith, interracial, and same-sex marriage, desegregation, and the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as ongoing conflicts between religious liberty and state antidiscrimination laws protecting LGBTQ persons. Such conflicts reveal that bigotry has both a backward- and forward-looking dimension: we learn bigotry’s meaning by looking to the past. Even so, people disagree about the lessons bigotry teaches for making new judgments about forms of bigotry and coming to new understandings of injustice and justice. This Essay sketches some further implications of my book’s central arguments, spurred by observations made in the six commentaries.

Keywords: bigotry, civility, LGBTQ rights, Donald J. Trump, Harper Lee, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, Obergefell v. Hodges, Justice Kennedy, racism, sexism, public accommodations law

Suggested Citation

McClain, Linda C., Response to Commentaries on Who's the Bigot? (March 1, 2020). Boston University Law Review, Vol. 99, No. 2713, 2020, Boston Univ. School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 20-10, March 2020, Available at SSRN:

Linda C. McClain (Contact Author)

Boston University - School of Law ( email )

765 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
United States

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