What to do with rude people

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?

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17 Responses to What to do with rude people

  1. Jonathan says:

    I think this qualifies as one of the rudest local incidents and blog posts I’ve encountered. The writer of the “Children and the Democratic Way” letter, a Lovettsville resident, gave professional anti-gay activist Eugene Delgaudio a $250 contribution in 2003. What do to? John 13 explains:

    “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”

    We have to be patient with these folks and do our best to educate them. Smile, be pleasant and always work with them from where they are at. They’re thirsty. Give them a drink of water.

  2. Jack says:

    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.

    Interesting. Is such violence now being used now on homosexuals “to interfere with federally protected activities like voting and attending school”?

  3. Jonathan says:

    You obviously didn’t follow the link in my comment, nor did you grok the open season on all GLBT people orchestrated by a now retired VA Delegate who didn’t like the student authored play “offsides”.

  4. Jack says:

    I did follow the links, but you’re right, I don’t get it. What does the “offsides” play have to do with anything?

  5. David says:

    Jack, I was only providing some history of hate crimes legislation, a history FRC would rather not acknowledge. That, as far as I can tell, was the initial attempt at dealing with the problem, which at the time was defined as in what you quote above. The scope of the problem has obviously been reassessed since then.

    Rather than have this thread go wildly off topic, how about a suggestion for how this epidemic of rudeness can be fairly addressed? You certainly don’t think that behavior like David Ott’s is acceptable, do you?

  6. Jack says:

    No, I don’t think David Ott’s behavior is acceptable. However, as you already noted, he is being charged with harassment. Do you think he should be subject to additional penalties because of the content of his harassing speech? If he threatened the other person, he will be charged with threatening him. Should he be subject to additional penalties, based on the reason he made the threats?

  7. David says:

    I guess that depends on whether such provisions address a genuine difference between his harassing behavior and some other kind of harassing behavior. Under domestic violence law, there typically is a different set of provisions for a perpetrator who stalks an intimate partner, that wouldn’t apply to the same behavior toward a stranger. Presumably such differences are based on the reason for the behavior. Sometimes there is justification for considering the reasons for the commission of a crime, don’t you think?

  8. Jack says:

    The domestic violence laws are a special case because the individuals live together, so the victim has no sanctuary from the perpetrator. It is not the REASON for the harrassment that causes the distinction, but the relationship of the perpetrator and victim.

    “Sometimes there is justification for considering the reasons for the commission of a crime, don’t you think?”

    Only insanity.

  9. David says:

    It is not the REASON for the harrassment that causes the distinction, but the relationship of the perpetrator and victim.

    The reason and the relationship are kind of hard to separate – anyway, it’s not so much the relationship per se, but, as you point out, the effect that circumstance has on the impact of the crime.

  10. Jack says:

    “The reason and the relationship are kind of hard to separate…”

    No, they are not. A man beats his woman because she slept with his best friend. If they are living together, it’s domestic violence. If they are not, it’s assault and battery. Abusers are often abusers even before the couple cohabitate. (BTW, this is one of the reasons Virginia has a law against cohabitation.)

    “[It’s] not so much the relationship per se, but, as you point out, the effect that circumstance has on the impact of the crime.”

    Essentially. The domestic violence laws exist because the victim cannot go home without being in the presence of the perpetrator, so the domestic violence laws are set up to remove the perpetrator from the home, rather than forcing the victim to leave.

    Contrarywise, harrassment between strangers is simply that. There are no special circumstances. The REASON for the harrassment is irrelevant.

  11. Russell says:

    I do think the reasoning for the harassment matters.

    For instance, a reasonable person, when presented with boundaries that the person who is being harassed has set up, will, most likely, alter their behavior for a number of reasons; unaware that what they were doing was considered harassing by the other person; realizing what their behavior was doing to another person, embarrassment, etc. when the reason for the harassment was caused by a misunderstanding, a personality conflict, i.e. – things of an INTRApersonal relationship nature.

    When, however, the reason for harassment has been moved from that intrapersonal relationship to the INTERpersonal, then the reason for harassment moves from the control of the person doing the harassment to an external source and catalyst, and is justified and defended with this source and catalyst – i.e. – religion based justification and defense. What this does is removes the personal responsibility of behavior and transfers that responsibility to outside of the harasser’s accountability. In their mind ““ it is rational because it is defensible using the external source. So, in essence, the person can’t control themselves based on their own rational behavior alone and is overcome, the external source has control and is the rationale.

    Domestic harassment violates a intrapersonal relationship, but, agreeing with Jack that it is a special case because there is no sanctuary.

    That is why “reason” has a sense of importance – when there is a lack of it within a person and it is displaced to something external ““ then you can justify it with good conscious ““ i.e. ““ “it says so in the bible”.

  12. Jack says:

    If the person were reasonable, he would not be harrassing strangers in the first place. Everyone who does so thinks that he has some justification for doing so, and that justification is always something external to himself, otherwise he would have to take responsibility for his criminal behavior. Criminal punishments have been established to remind the individual, and to show others, that the individual will be held accountable by an external agent.

  13. Jonathan says:

    Jack seems to be missing the point that the AGI promotes and justifies David Ott’s “unreasonable” behavior. See the video “Censoring the Church”. Maybe we need to schedule a showing.

  14. David says:

    Yes, this is what I’m trying to get at. This isn’t an instance of some random individual with an ego problem, it’s the logical and intentional outcome of an ideological system that tells these people that they are entitled to behave this way. It’s a group, not individual, phenomenon.

    This behavior is unrelated to hate crimes because it doesn’t involve violence, and the transparent attempt to conflate them in this video is another issue altogether. Because a large majority of people support both hate crimes legislation in general and the particular extension currently before the Senate, the AGI can’t effectively argue about the actual bill, they have to make up something else with which they might be able to gain traction, i.e., the idea that freedom of speech is involved.

    I agree, Jack: If the person were reasonable, he would not be harassing strangers in the first place. This becomes something more than that at the point where this unreasonable person is transformed into a martyr and a hero by ideological leaders who tell him that he is not unreasonable. That seems to be the case here. The producers of the video present what Ott did as eminently reasonable – he was just sharing his faith with someone who, in his mind, was “trapped in the homosexual lifestyle.” The closest the presentation comes to admitting the truth is when Ott allows as how he was “pretty fired up.” Even this, though, is framed as a positive expression of Ott’s passion about the issue, that may, regrettably, have been misinterpreted by the stranger. The overall message is that Ott did absolutely nothing wrong.

    That’s a very different situation than one in which some guy who is just full of himself accosts a stranger because he doesn’t like his bumper sticker. There would not be, in that case, an entity countering the social opprobrium directed at the behavior, telling the perpetrator that he was completely entitled to behave that way.

  15. Jonathan says:

    One additional point. Ott claims to be “ex-gay”, so he knows what it means to be “trapped in the lifestyle” and has “special rights” to be rude and unreasonable. This is typical behavior for activists trained in the MO of the “ex-gay” movement.

  16. Jonathan says:

    Update, just received a missive from the Family Research Council. Here are the money quotes:

    The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) Web site features a new video about the dangers of using foreign law to interpret the U.S. Constitution. It offers examples of cases such as Goodridge v. Massachusetts, in which the state ruled marriage unconstitutional, citing a Canadian Court of Appeals decision as the only precedent.

    Examples of foreign law that could lead to problems in the U.S.: In France, it’s illegal to criticize homosexual behavior;

    The social Left, the cultural Left, has known for a long time that the only way they’re going to achieve their agenda is through the courts,” he said. “So they have looked to international institutions to try to build up arguments that the ‘international community’ supports certain things like abortion or gay marriage and that, therefore “” according to them “” we in America should pay some attention to that.

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