Well, it turns out that the Family Research Council video (“Censoring the Church”) promoted by Jay Ahlemann in his last ad (apparently meant to be taken as “evidence” in support of his misrepresentations about the hate crimes bill?) is pretty bad. As one might expect, it’s composed of half-truths, gross omissions, innuendo, and yellow journalism-type associations, all delivered in a tone of grave, you-won’t-believe-this tabloid. You really have to see for yourself the shockingly poor quality of this. It’s insulting to their audience.
It would be impossible (and boring) to list all instances of these propaganda techniques, but here’s one typical example. In describing the current bill that would expand federal hate crimes legislation, the editors introduce the language “…motivated by prejudice based on the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of the victim…” without mentioning that the latter three categories are being added to already existing law. They try very hard to make it sound as if “hate crime” is a brand new concept, invented nearly exclusively, as they tell it, for the GLBT community to use to “silence Christians [sic].”
They even go so far as to showcase an African-American minister railing about “these hate-crime people” trying to stop him from preaching, completely erasing from the picture the reason that hate crimes legislation exists. The original 1969 law permitted federal prosecution of offenders who engage in violence or intimidation toward “any person because of his race, color, religion or national origin” because such violence was being used to interfere with federally protected activities like voting and attending school. Hate crimes legislation was instituted to address racist backlash to the Civil Rights Movement – but you would never learn this from FRC.
In order to set up their fallacious premise that hate crimes legislation is designed to “censor the church,” the editors must first make the terms “hate crime” and “hate speech” interchangeable. Then they present “shocking” cases of people who were were supposedly charged with a “hate crime” for merely exercising their first amendment rights. One of these cases is that of David Ott. As he tells his story on camera, one day he happened to see a pro-gay bumper sticker on a car at a service station. Naturally, he therefore decided to approach the driver and “ask him a few questions” and share his views with the man about his “lifestyle.” (Mr. Ott adds that he had just come from a church service where the pastor was “talking about homosexuality, so I was pretty fired up.”) Apparently, Mr. Ott’s attention was unwanted, but he was persistent. He was later charged with harassment.
Another widely reported case is the one in which activists from a group called “Repent America” tried to invade a gay pride festival in Philadelphia. As they tell it, they were facing 47 years in prison for “publicly reading Bible verses.” In actuality, their behavior involved a bit more than this. They berated the crowd using bullhorns, singled out festival attendees for personal insult, disrupted the program, and blocked access to some of the vendors who had paid for their spaces. When ordered by police to move to another area where they could express their viewpoint lawfully, they refused and were arrested. It’s fairly clear that in this case the perpetrators were trying their best to be arrested, in order to generate a legal case that could then be used in exactly the way we see it used here. Some of the charges – specifically, the ones pertaining to their speech – were later dropped (but you would never learn that from FRC, either).
Neither of these cases – and in fact, nothing in this video – has any bearing on the hate crimes bill. But they do raise an interesting question. What stands out about these incidents is their extreme rudeness, a rudeness born of the idea that the perpetrators have special rights. The thinking seems to be this: “Because I have a belief about sexuality, specifically your sexuality, I have the right to say anything I want to you. If you don’t accept that, you’re censoring me.”
Because David Ott has this belief, he felt entitled to accost a complete stranger in public, questioning and lecturing him in the most personal and insulting way imaginable. What sort of self-delusion would allow a person to believe this behavior is acceptable? Ott’s delusion extends to his apparent belief that he did nothing wrong and that he is actually the victim.
Being rude, of course, is not illegal in and of itself. People say rude, inappropriate things to each other all the time, which is why we have Miss Manners. At what point, though, does rudeness such as that displayed by Mr. Ott cross the line into unlawful harassment? I think that’s a legitimate question. Freedom of speech can’t be used as an unlimited shield for people who feel that their beliefs are so special that no boundaries apply to them.
So, what should be done to correct the behavior of people who are this rude without violating their constitutional rights?