This post at Black Dog asks where the money is coming from - how does Melinda Tankard Reist finance her activities, including getting an expensive lawyer to write to a critic and threaten her with legal proceedings? Who is backing her? What financial interests does she have in all this, beyond whatever she is paid for her books and articles?
These are pretty good questions. Unfortunately, with an issue like this some things get a bit murky. At one level, I don't care about Tankard Reist's theological views. As long as she puts purely secular arguments about alleged harms to women and children, it might even be said that she's doing the right thing. I.e., the electorate and the legislators can consider those arguments (and the counter arguments) on their merits, and, at one level, everyone is happy. The political system is operating on the basis of secular considerations, and all's right with the world.
In practice, of course, it gets murkier. Some of the arguments are only going to make sense on the basis of moral attitudes that are entangled with religion, we're going to find people who are swayed for religious reasons in any event, and as I said the other day high-profile activists like Tankard Reist do not merely put the secular arguments in a detached way - they appeal to emotion, attempt to cultivate a certain attractive public image, and so on. So inevitably, people are going to ask whether her viewpoint makes sense on a purely secular basis, whether she is actually biased by theological considerations, how sincere she is, whether her conclusions fit into some larger agenda, and on and on.
That's not really how I'd like it to operate in an ideal world. If Tankard Reist were merely writing books and academic articles, I wouldn't see much merit in probing beneath the surface of her alleged facts and the arguments that she uses. We don't all have to disclose a whole lot of personal background every time we put an intellectual argument.
But in the murky world in which we live, interrogating the ideological backgrounds and worldviews of outspoken, high-profile public figures is a fact of life, and is often necessary. I can even see how Tankard Reist might think that it's unfair, if she genuinely believes that she's been confining herself to secular arguments - I can't say how far she actually has done that, because I'm not very familiar with her work, and I certainly don't know what she subjectively thinks.
But what I do know is that she crossed an important line when she threatened to sue an opponent for speech that is pretty normal in public debate in the world that we actually live in. Even if - per impossibile - I agreed with her on everything else, I could not agree to that line being crossed. At this point, freedom of speech issues come into play.
If Tankard Reist is offended, or thinks she's being treated unfairly, because she thinks she's used nothing but secular arguments ... or whatever ... well, let her make her point and try to substantiate it. After all, she has no problem getting a public platform.
Admittedly, responding in that way to a relatively obscure blogger like Jennifer Wilson might have been counterproductive. But there you go - sometimes it's better to hold your peace if you're not really taking damage.
Tankard Reist now has the worst of both worlds - she's seen as an opponent of free speech, someone who is prepared to use the law to shut up a critic. At the same time, she's given the critic a much higher profile than she had to begin with (before this week, I for one hadn't heard of Jennifer Wilson). And she's drawn attention to the possibility that she might have strong biases, that her analyses might be distorted as a result, that there is now additional reason to scrutinise them, that they (and she) may suddenly look different when various dots are connected, and so on.
All in all, it wasn't a smart move. She should withdraw the threat to sue, and move on.