What were they thinking?

This letter is in response to a full page advertisement that has appeared in some Loudoun newspapers, including the Leesburg Today, Ashburn Today, and Loudoun Easterner. As one reader commented, “When I first saw this ad, I thought it had been placed by Fred Phelps.” We will certainly keep you apprised of where this patently offensive ad was and was not accepted for publication as new information becomes available.

Leesburg Today
June 25, 2007
By David Weintraub
President, Equality Loudoun

Last week, this newspaper chose to accept for publication a full-page advertisement paid for by an organization calling itself “The Church of the Valley.”

The ad made the astonishingly false claim that a bill currently before Congress will “make it a crime to preach from” specific Bible passages, or to “say anything negative about homosexuality.”

Readers with even the slightest familiarity with the U.S. Constitution looked askance at this ridiculous statement, realizing that this can’t possibly be the case.

They are correct. The bill in question, H.R. 1592/S. 1105 (the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act/Matthew Shepard Act), not only applies exclusively to violent physical acts — not speech — it also contains an explicit and redundant clause that reiterates the freedom of religious expression protected by our Constitution.

Newspapers are not held responsible for the factual accuracy of the ads they accept. Jay Ahlemann, the leader of this nominally Christian organization, will have to answer for his behavior in this very public instance of bearing false witness.

Newspapers are, however, accountable for what they choose to put in print. No paper is required or expected to accept every ad it receives, and ads that are inappropriate, offensive, or obscene are routinely rejected.

A paid advertisement with the banner headline “Will you ask your Pastor to take a stand against the sinful practice of homosexuality?” is an open attack on Loudoun’s many gay families. It is no more acceptable than would be an ad asking that people “take a stand against the sinful practice of” interfaith marriage, followed by a litany of inflammatory lies about “the Jews.” Would this paper have accepted an ad singling out any other group of people for such outrageous treatment?

You have shown very poor judgment in choosing to print this open invitation to attack a segment of your readers and advertisers. It is extremely disappointing, and an apology is in order.

This entry was posted in Advocacy and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to What were they thinking?

  1. Jack says:

    The ad was certainly factually incorrect, and should have been rejected on that basis. How was it offensive?

  2. Jonathan says:

    and Jack has eyes but he cannot see, ears but he cannot hear.

  3. Jack says:

    You did not print the full text of the ad, did you?

  4. David says:

    I would love to post a .PDF of the actual ad for those who don’t have access to our local papers. The format is too large for me to scan it from here. If anyone has the ability to make this available, please send us the file and we’ll post it.

    That said, I don’t think it’s necessary to see the whole ad to get the idea of what’s wrong with it. That ought to be clear from my letter.

  5. Jack says:

    You mention “inflammatory lies about Jews,” implying that there were similar lies about homosexuals in the ad, but do not specify what those lies were. I assume it is those lies that were offensive? Could you post some of them?

  6. Jack says:

    “I can find multiple inflamatory lies in your posts…”

    Then do so.

    “Implying anything less than our right to full and equal participation in society, democracy, religion, and anything less than full respect for who we, as the authority on our own lives, were created to be by God, is offensive.”

    We all have our First Amendment rights, which include freedom of speech and religion. So my speaking of my religion offends you. You do not have a constitutional right not to be offended.

  7. David says:

    That is exactly right. There is no constitutional right not to be offended. Ultimately, the objections of anti-gay people to our full participation in society come down to their perceived right to not be offended. They are offended by having to share the world with us. They feel entitled to a world in which they do not have to be aware of our presence. That is what all of this is about.

  8. David says:

    And yes, everyone has a constitutional right to be offensive. Our Constitution protects unpopular and offensive speech, as it should. This is not about whether such speech is legal, it is about whether such speech is acceptable in a community.

  9. Jack says:

    Such may indeed be the case for some, but the real issue here is not the offensiveness of the ad, but the lies in the ad. People have the right to put out offensive ads, but they do not have the right to lie, and I think the paper does have some responsibility to fact-check the ads that they publish.

    (Since the same group(s) lied about the hate crimes legislation, I do not really doubt that they lied in this ad, too. I’m just interested to see what those lies were.)

  10. David says:

    I think it’s important to address both aspects, so that’s what I did in my letter. I don’t think newspapers are legally responsible for the factual accuracy of the paid ads they publish, and I’m not sure where you could draw that line.

    Ethically, though, this was a glaring, egregious example that should have raised all kinds of red flags. It would have been a simple matter to look up the actual language of the bill. It’s not as if there is some gray area here, or this is a difference of opinion. The lies in this ad are not new or original, but the same ones I’ve discussed in previous posts. We now have a pdf of the ad up, here.

    As for the offensiveness, the test is simple. Would these newspapers have published similar language that singled out any other group of people in this community? I don’t think they would have.

  11. Jack says:

    Thanks for posting that, David, but I’m missing something. Your letter to the paper says:

    A paid advertisement with the banner headline “Will you ask your Pastor to take a stand against the sinful practice of homosexuality?” is an open attack on Loudoun’s many gay families. It is no more acceptable than would be an ad asking that people “take a stand against the sinful practice of” interfaith marriage, followed by a litany of inflammatory lies about “the Jews.”

    That last sentence implies that there are inflammatory lies about homosexuals in the ad, but the ad does not say anything about homosexuals at all.

  12. David says:

    Well, I don’t think the ad actually makes any sense, which is another aspect entirely. It’s a smear of our community, not an exercise is logical thought.

    Clearly, the banner headline is an attack on gay couples and families – as discussed elsewhere, that is the functional meaning of the term “practice.” That, coupled with the inflammatory lies about the bill, sends the clear message that it is the gay community that is attacking freedom of speech and religion, and is therefore the enemy. It’s not necessary to state that point outright in a logical manner in order to make it, if that is what you are suggesting.

    The ad 1) targets the gay community with inflammatory, demonizing language, and 2) is composed of a litany of outright lies with the objective of defeating legislation that would address systematic violence against the gay community.

    Is that not enough? Any more hairs you would like to split?

  13. Jack says:

    I have too few hairs as it is to go splitting any of them, but that’s another issue.

    “The banner headline is an attack on gay couples and families…”

    So, calling the practice of homosexuality “sinful” is offensive? OK, I’ll grant you that. So what? We have senators calling opponents of the amnesty bill “bigots” and “racists.” That’s offensive, too.

    I can certainly understand your objection to the ad on the mischaracterization of the bill, but not on it’s “offensiveness.”

    Now, homosexual marriage is illegal in Virginia, but legal in some states. But who is breaking up your families? No-one. Meanwhile, polygamous marriages are illegal in EVERY state, and polygamous families really ARE being broken up.

    Would you object to an ad saying that the practice of polygamy is sinful? (That position, BTW, is NOT supported by the Bible.)

  14. David says:

    Interesting question. Short answer: I don’t know.

    Is “the practice of polygamy” analogous to the practice of a religion? It would be widely considered unacceptable to publish an ad singling out a particular faith community for condemnation, and religious affiliation, although chosen, is treated in practice as the equivalent of other kinds of (non-chosen) characteristics.

    I could be wrong, but I don’t think that there is a category of person that has a polygamous orientation – at least I have never heard anyone make that argument. That makes “the practice of polygamy” qualitatively different from “the practice of homosexuality.” One refers to living in accordance with a cultural preference, while the other refers to living in accordance with a state of being. I see those as very different, so I don’t think that an argument equating them in that sense gets very far.

    That point is moot, however, if we treat religious affiliation as analogous to immutable personal attributes like race and national origin, and consider polygamy to be a religious practice. We’re already taking apples and oranges and treating them as equivalent.

  15. David says:

    Addressing the statement that polygamous families are being broken up: How? Are people barred by law from living together in a polygamous arrangement, or are you just saying that it is illegal for a man who is already married to one woman to marry someone else?

    Excepting cases in which there may be prosecution and imprisonment for breaking the law, how are these families being broken up?

  16. Jack says:

    Exactly — they are being prosecuted and persecuted in Utah.

  17. David says:

    But not for living together as if they are married – for actually marrying more than one person in violation of the law. If this is supposed to make a point about the situation of gay couples, I don’t see it. Are there cases in which people in polygamous relationships are actually being forbidden to live together, or to have a sexual relationship?

  18. Jack says:

    David — marriage is a religious act — a sacrament in fact. Do you not agree that the law violates their first amendment right to free excercise of religion?

    And yes, it is hard to live together when one is in jail.

    Doug, you are pardoned.

  19. David says:

    Ah. So the government should be out of the marriage business entirely? Inasmuch as marriage is a religious act, you must also agree that the law in Virginia and elsewhere violates our first amendment right to free exercise of religion.

    We do have a problem, in that if marriage is a religious sacrament, there should be no law to break. If the state is going to be in the business of issuing licenses for it, on the other hand, it’s a civil matter. What we have currently is a mish-mash in which people’s rights are being violated and some religious beliefs are being privileged by law above others.

    Now, I still don’t know why these polygamists are in jail. If they see their own plural marriages as a religious sacrament, why go to the trouble of running afoul of the law?

  20. Jack says:

    “Ah. So the government should be out of the marriage business entirely?”

    I thought we had that conversation during the debate on the Virginia Marriage Amendment, but that may have been on another blog.

    Yes, the government should be out of the marriage business entirely. If it were, there would be no government benefits for marriage, and I would have no objection to homosexual marriage (unless it is in my church).

    “If they see their own plural marriages as a religious sacrament, why go to the trouble of running afoul of the law?”

    I don’t understand your question. By having multiple, simultaneous marriages, they run afoul of the law. How can they not, and still be married?

  21. David says:

    By not partaking of the civil variety. If they consider marriage to be a religious sacrament, aren’t they married regardless of government sanction and legal status? If they are seeking plural marriage licenses and the concomitant benefits from the state, then it seems to me that they must see it as more than a religious sacrament.

    Which is perfectly valid, but the breaking up of families is then the outcome of violating marriage law, not because the people are living in polygamous relationships.

  22. David says:

    I mean, assuming they are married in their church or whatever it is that they do.

  23. Jack says:

    Got it. No, they are not trying to get any government advantages or anything else. Just going through a marriage ceremony when one is still married is illegal. Under Virginia law, anyone getting married must have a license. It is illegal to get married without a license, and it is illegal for someone to solemnize a marriage without those licenses. Assuming the same is true in Utah, they cannot legally have a wedding at all.

  24. David says:

    I wondered if that was what you meant. So that law is actually being enforced in Utah? That was one of the concerns I expressed about the Virginia amendment, which no one, including the Attorney General, seemed able to address. It certainly seems to me that barring a religious sacrament unless it has a state license associated with it is a violation of the First Amendment.

    The person who raised this flag for me is a devout Anabaptist. He is generally not a friend of the gay community, but we’re sure on the same page on this one.

  25. Jack says:

    Yes, the law is being enforced in Utah. (BTW, outlawing polygamy was a requirement imposed by the federal government to accept Utah as a state.)

  26. David says:

    “[i]t is illegal for someone to solemnize a marriage without those licenses.”

    This is a genuine, concrete threat to our rights under the first amendment. I am unaware of any cases of this law being enforced in Virginia, but it remains on the books and theoretically could be. If people like Jay Ahlemann are concerned about the erosion of our religious liberties, why aren’t they screaming from the rooftops about this? Why are they putting their resources into disseminating lies about the proposed hate crimes bill, instead of opposing a bad law that actually exists? (I don’t really expect you to answer that. Besides, I think I know why.)

    Is enforcement of this law in Utah being challenged on constitutional grounds?

  27. Jack says:

    It was challenged, and lost: Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145. (1879)

  28. David says:

    I’m not sure we’re talking about the same thing. I’m asking about the law that makes it a crime to perform the religious rite of marriage in the absence of a marriage license from the state, not the law banning polygamy.

  29. Jack says:

    Sorry. I misunderstood you.

    Anyway, I have not found such a court challenge, but I did find this article. Make sure you follow the link to the pastor’s whole message. He’s good.

    It seems to me this would be a great case to try. (The following is NOT meant to be snippy or snide, but serious.) I think you and Jonathan should find a Unitarian priest that is willing to perform a marriage ceremony for you here in Virginia, and publish the announcement in the Washington Post. Reading the Virginia Code 20-13, I don’t think there’s a great risk to liberty or property. You’ll have to walk the links in the Code, but there does not seem to be any penalty mentioned, or even what level of “crime” it might be (3rd degree misdemeanor or whatever) to get married without a license.

    If you’re not trying to claim “Married Filing Jointly” on your taxes or any other government-mandated benefits, I don’t see what the state can do about it.

  30. David says:

    Actually, people do that all the time. That’s why I would be surprised to find a similar law in Utah being enforced.

    It just seems obvious to me that challenging such religious rites would buy one a short trip to court. Perhaps I am too trusting.

  31. Jack says:

    I would hope you are correct, but when we have a Supreme Court that upholds bans on election advertisements during election season, but protects pornography, any thing’s possible

  32. David says:

    Jack, sorry it took me so long to get back to this, if you are still reading. Interesting link to Pastor Trewhella. I agree wholeheartedly with this part:

    The definition of a “license” demands that we not obtain one to marry. Black’s Law Dictionary defines “license” as, “The permission by competent authority to do an act which without such permission, would be illegal.” We need to ask ourselves- why should it be illegal to marry without the State’s permission? …

    …You must understand that the authority to license implies the power to prohibit. A license by definition “confers a right” to do something. The State cannot grant the right to marry. It is a God-given right.

    I think that is exactly the crux of the matter. Then we quickly part company over this head-scratcher: He provides a good condensed history of how marriage law ended up where it is today, with the State having used it as a vehicle to usurp all of these individual liberties that should be the purview of the family – so far, so good. Then he drops this non sequitur:

    (As for homosexuals marrying, outlaw sodomy as God’s law demands, and there will be no threat of sodomites marrying.)

    This has provided my household with a great deal of entertainment, as you might imagine. I trust I need not explain this further.