David French is lost

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on March 13, 2023

About a decade ago, lawyer and National Review writer David French was someone I generally agreed with. He worked as a lawyer for the Alliance Defending Freedom and before that, the Jay Sekulow's ACLJ.

But, like a lot of people on both the right and the left, it appears that he was broken by Donald Trump. Like me, French formally left the Republican Party when Trump became its titular head, but it appears over the years that French has also been slowly but steadily  abandoning his conservative principles.

In the wake of the first Masterpiece Cakeshop decision in 2018, many conservatives, including Ben Shapiro, National Review's Andrew McCarthy, and yours truly panned the milquetoast decision in that religious liberty case that failed to address the rights of conscience at the heart of the case, and instead ruled that the open anti-Christian animus of Colorado's "Civil Rights" Commission rendered the commission's verdict flawed, null and void. French pooh-poohed our concerns, but his victory lap was short-lived.

Just months after the Supreme Court ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop, the entire process started all over again for owner Jack Phillips. A hateful and odious trans woman (aka "man") sued Phillips after he refused to make a "gender transition" cake for him. As expected, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission has again sided against Phillips—though without the obvious anti-religious bigotry—and various courts have found that he again is in violation of Colorado law and earlier this year a panel of the Colorado Court of Appeals found against him yet again.

Phillips has spent the last decade fighting court battles without surcease. French seemed to not understand—or perhaps as a lawyer he didn't care—that the entire legal process had become the punishment.

In the ensuing years French has defended the right of public libraries to hold "Drag Queen Story Hour" as part of arguing for a wide-open public space where all variety of views can be expressed. I support a large public square for the discussion of a variety of viewpoints, but I think that exposing small children to drag queens is little different than taking them to a burlesque show with plenty of nudity. I did a Google search to see where French stands on "all ages drag shows," but it doesn't appear to me that he has voiced an opinion on the subject.

David French on transing kids

In Sunday's New York Times, French wrote a pox-on-both-your-houses article over the current culture wars which included what appears to be an endorsement of transing kids—that is, chemical and physical castration—if the parents, kids and doctors are all OK with it.

Attacking a move by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to treat the transing of children as child abuse—which is what it is.

And because every culture war action against civil liberties has its mirror image on the other side, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas issued a directive to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate as “abuse” both surgical and pharmaceutical interventions for transgender children, regardless of the good faith and desires of the parents, children and caregivers involved.

Sunday's piece appears to be a recycling of a Dispatch piece he wrote last year. French's Times piece follows up with this:

To understand the gravity of the state interference with parental authority, it’s worth remembering the words of Chief Justice Warren Burger in the 1972 case Wisconsin v. Yoder, in which he wrote that the “primary role of the parents in the upbringing of their children is now established beyond debate as an enduring American tradition.” To simply presume that parents are abusive because they may dissent from state consensus on transgender care is to violate this principle of American law.

I agree that parents should have wide latitude over the raising of their children, but child abuse or neglect does not fall into that safe harbor—a point that French concedes. Where I and many of us on the right differ with French is where to draw the line at "abuse." The surgical removal of breasts, the penis, and gonads, or the administering of puberty-blocking drugs on a minor I consider abuse. And it is rather heinous abuse, regardless of the depth or sincerity of the parents' beliefs. French believes it isn't.

In a twitter thread where he was called out on his position that parents should be allowed to trans their kids without legal hurdles because to do so is part of a culture war, French said that he personally opposes medical interventions to trans kids, but apparently not if it means taking the kids away from the parents.

French has failed to respond, and it's pretty clear why he has remained silent—you can't have it both ways. You can't say that transing kids is wrong and simultaneously oppose government efforts to prevent it from happening. If transing kids is within the allowable "normal" range of raising your children, then is the Florida vegan mother who starved her son to death with a raw fruit and vegetable-only diet wrongfully imprisoned? How about the gay Georgia couple that pimped out their adopted sons? If the kids are OK with it, should it be allowed?

I strongly suspect that French would say no in both these cases, but I'm not sure. A year ago I would've believed that a self-described evangelical Christian would believe that these sorts of surgeries on children are definitively child abuse, yet yesterday he took to the pages of the Times and made the case that having the state treat it as child "abuse" (his scare quotes) is an attack on our small-l liberal democracy and parental rights.

I had held out hope that French would return to something resembling mainstream conservative and Christian thought.

The hope is gone.

David French is lost.


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March 2023



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