Mercedes Allen

When Belief Speech Becomes Hate

Filed By Mercedes Allen | October 02, 2008 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: Concerned Christian Coalition, David Popescu, Ezra Levant, free speech, hate speech, Paul Fromme, Red Dear Advocate, rightwing nutjobs, Stephen Boissoin

A little while back, I blogged about some fear-mongering from the religious right that alleged that the passage of SB200 in Colorado to protect transgender people had somehow effectively banned the Bible. One recurring theme we keep getting from Fundies is that they feel their freedom of speech should trump GLBTQ civil rights.

This attitude continues to empower bat$#!t people like David Popescu. Oh, sure, he's an independent candidate in a Canadian Federal election, not likely someone who will ever hold sway on public policy. But I wonder how much of a personal impact it may have had on some of the kids in the crowd:

"Police are investigating whether an independent federal candidate committed a hate crime by telling high school students homosexuals should be executed." - The Sudbury Star

There is an immense difference between "free speech" and speech intended to terrorize, marginalize and incite. In legal matters, this is ideally the divisor between free and hate speech.

It remains to be seen if there will be charges or how far the case will go. Likely, it will not receive the high profile that occurred with Rev. Stephen Boissoin's letter to the Red Deer Advocate, published in 2002 and culminating in an oft-cited (even south of the border) ruling last year. In the letter (which the newspaper published under the headline, "Homosexual Agenda Wicked"), the executive director of the Concerned Christian Coalition blatantly compared gays to drug dealers and pedophiles. The full text of the letter appears to be quite difficult to find, and is perhaps still sealed as a result of the ruling (if someone has a copy, I would be happy to acquire it), but it certainly left an implicit suggestion that "something should be done."

And something was done. Less that two weeks later, a teenager was beaten in a homophobic attack that the courts found to be circumstantially connected.

"There are some reasonable lines that need to be drawn and some responsibilities that come along with free speech." - Darren Lund, complainant in the Boissoin case

Terrorize, marginalize and incite. Like Boissoin's letter, David Popescu's comments would not be considered acceptable if leveled at any other group characterized by race, age, gender, disability or faith. And yet, Leviticus 20:13 is still taken as justification to advocate this level of terror, marginalization and incitement of violence against the gay community -- despite being a part of a mass of outdated scripture (Leviticus to Deuteronomy) that includes tenets about when it's acceptable to do other things that our society does not tolerate, such as stoning children to death or beating one's wife.

(What I would like to know is why the other candidates -- including a Liberal and New Democrat (slightly left of liberal), of which both parties paint themselves as GLBTQ champions -- felt it appropriate to leave the comments unchallenged. It took protesting students acting of their own accord to get the authorities involved.)

Popescu was interviewed by the Sudbury Star later in the day, and he reiterated: "A young man asked me what I think of homosexual marriages and I said I think homosexuals should be executed. My whole reason for running is the Bible and the Bible couldn't be more clear on that point." (He also said at one point that "God would hurt a woman who had an abortion")

Matt Guerin has it right when he points out how this speech is seriously damaging enough that it warrants infringing on that freedom of speech:

"Words like those uttered by David Popescu are designed to dehumanize and destroy the peace of mind of those targeted. They are designed to increase the suffering of their victims and make their lives more miserable. Even if no one obeys folks like David Popescu and executes or kills homosexuals, the environment has still been poisoned all the more in favour of greater hate. Without penalty, people like Popescu win."

So while the potential for this case to end up before the Human Rights Commission may eventually trigger Ezra Levant, the anti-HRC lobby (that's "Human Rights Commission," for you Yanks) and neo-nazis like Paul Fromme to rail against infringements on freedom of speech yet again, every queer kid who had been in that crowd (the law of averages would put that at about 10%, based on the rate of incidence in the rest of society) and may now be feeling suicidal or a target illustrates exactly why hate speech laws remain necessary to maintain and enforce.


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Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | October 3, 2008 5:59 AM

I agree with Mercedes but I’d like to add a note of caution becasue hate speech is very powerful stuff - it kills.

We now have a fairly accurate count of the reported number of African Americans murdered by lynch mobs galvanized by religious inspired racism. The figure since the betrayal of Reconstruction is well over 50, 000.

History has dozens of examples of recent genocides justified by religion. Christist inspired anti-Semitism in Europe, over 6 million. Christist islamophobia in Bosnia-Herzegovina about 200,000 and in Nigeria over 50,000. Judaic inspired apartheid against Palestinians about 510,000. Islamist inspired genocides against Armenians 2.2 million and in Darfur/Sudan against Africans half a million.

Religion, because it’s an amalgam of 10,000 year old ethical standards and based on a superstitious suspension of reality is the “preferred” excuse when people want to go on a killing spree. Religious hate speech is a powerful incendiary to incite murder.
As a weapon of mass destruction in the hands of bigots it’s extremely dangerous.

In terms of homophobia the reported death toll in North America and the western part of the EU ranges up to 25 per year but in the states of the former Warsaw Pact it numbers in the hundreds per year in many countries.

The Canadians and now the English have the beginnings of good laws but we need much more.

There are plenty of openly bigoted cult leaders who incite harassment and violence against us. Thirty and forty years ago they incited racist violence but as that became personally costly many of them retargeted on LKGBT folks. People who incite violence and harassment should be charged as co-conspirators when hate crimes occur and given the same sentences as the thugs they mobilize. Their hate speech has to be reclassified as a weapon, and not protected as speech.

That won’t be easy to do. Dozens of catholic bishops and hundreds of priests are accessories to the rape of children, the interstate flight of child rapists and the suppression of evidence of the rape of children. The same story is true of many protestant cults where boys and girls are raped, especially in the more extreme fundamentalist cults.

None have been prosecuted and no demands have been made for their extradition from the vatican.

Bill Perdue said: People who incite violence and harassment should be charged as co-conspirators when hate crimes occur and given the same sentences as the thugs they mobilize.

Hence why we have the 1st Amendment. Entrusting the government to define and set "speech policies" will be about as effective as their handling of monetary policy.

It is far too easy to classify unpopular speech as "hate speech".

Our right to speak freely; articulating any point of view using any combination of words, is our right simply by birth.

The right to free speech is inherent, not a negotiated benefit from government.

Any attempt by a group of individuals to "classify" their version of hate speech is arrogant and wholly ignorant as to the differences between rights and privileges.

I have to agree with Alli, and I'm not going to drink this Kool-Aid. Censorship on the left is just as dangerous politically as censorship on the right.

Although it is despicable, the statement that homosexuals should be executed is protected speech under the First Amendment. And since it does not present a clear and immediate danger (the speaker is not encouraging murder in the immediate sense, but instead he/she is promoting a potential legislative policy), it should be protected speech.

The statement "All fundamentalist Christians should be thrown into concentration camps" is equally protected, even though it is equally despicable for a civil liberties standpoint.

I think we should be clear though that the US 1st Amendment doesn't apply in Canada.

While I'm a big proponent of free speech (Jerame and I argue all the time with me taking Alli's position most of the time), advocating for the execution of another person takes it too far.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | October 4, 2008 9:05 AM

What I proposed is an elementary public health measure just as much as a legal measure. Rabid dogs, Jimmy Swaggart and Ratzinger, etc.

We'll get laws against hate speech and hate crimes sooner or later because they're essential to preventing murder. There's a move on to suppress the right of defendants to use the "gay panic" or '"transsexual panic" defense in the court room. It will instruct judges to prevent that kind of speech in murder trials. That suppression of ‘free’ hat speech is correct.

During the battle for the suppression of violence we're simply going to ignore the kind of people who think the Nuremburg Trials were unfair.

Bil Perdue said: We'll get laws against hate speech and hate crimes sooner or later because they're essential to preventing murder. "

So will banning free speech be more or less effective than banning handguns as it relates to the essential prevention of murder?

Honestly, that is an absurd correlation.

The day the 1st Amendment is legislatively usurped, is the day I start exercising my 2nd Amendment rights.

Don't tread on me.