A high school column in Kansas that seems to call for the death penalty for gay people has a school under fire and has started a debate on the limits of free speech in high school publications. Here are the paragraphs that people are worried by:
Some teens see it as abnormal, as well as the intimacy that comes with it. Some people believe that since the Bible verse Leviticus 18:22 said "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination," they do not think it is proper for same sex relations.
Also, less commonly cited, is the death penalty called for in another Bible verse, Leviticus 20:13, "If a man also lie with man, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them." These are the most common arguments against homosexual marriage and/or dating.
Same sex dating in high school is not accepted by many, despite the efforts of a few. It is a social disruption in many cases, and should be kept out of school to ensure our educational mission with as little of a distraction as possible.
I'm very reticent to favor censorship of speech, especially when it comes to student publications where it's too easy for people to write off the agency of those expressing an opinion at a time when we should be fostering writers' learning, including learning to be responsible for the consequences of their speech. At the same time, the paper is being distributed to other students who have little choice in whether they go to a school and whether or not they're presented with the paper.
But the paper's response is just silly:
We acknowledge that many people have been offended by the content of the editorial and the reference to the Bible. It was not the intention of Colin to promote violence in any way. Our readers are not being given enough credit if the public sincerely believes students will begin engaging in violence against LGBT students based on the opinions of one individual.
How is advocating people be "put to death" not a promoting violence?
The problem here seems much less about students' free speech than it is about how much tolerance we have for Christianity's, um, eccentricities in the West. If a Muslim student had written a column advocating spousal abuse and quoted Surah 4:34, the school wouldn't have published the column and, had they, rightwingers' heads would have exploded about how Islam is a backwards, medeival, violent religion that should be shunned in the US and definitely not used to justify violence in a school paper. And liberals wouldn't have come to the student's defense.
But the Christian Bible? Well, no one really thinks that people should be killed every time the Bible mentions the death penalty. It's a term of art, or it's a way of expressing condemnation, or part of the law that Jesus said to interpret less literally, or, or, or.... But it's definitely not a sign that there's violence in the Christian religion. Christianity is a great religion, and Good Christians simply can't do bad things.
The hemming and hawing about what Colin meant seems more like jingoism than anything else, where we see our tribe as inherently good and even when they do terrible things we find ways to justify it.
Which is why this is just a false equivalence:
That being said, Colin Johnson has rights protected by the Kansas Student Publications Act, which states that "Material shall not be suppressed solely because it involves political or controversial subject matter." Although his editorial was interpreted by many as distasteful, he has a legal right to publish his beliefs. An unwillingness to enforce those rights would be destructive to the freedom of press in its entirety and make it hypocritical for the "Messenger" to allow students to publish material in favor of LGBT relationships in the future.
Unless the "material in favor of LGBT relationships" is actually calling for the death of homophobes, then, no, there is no hypocrisy.
With that in mind, it becomes easier to countenance homophobia so long as someone blames it on their religion. Kansas was considering a law this week (which was tabled in committee) that advocated codifying that mentality:
As you all know, Manhattan, Kansas recently passed an amended human rights ordinance that will add sexual orientation and gender identity language to the existing anti-discrimination ordinance.
In response to this ordinance, House Bill No. 2260 was presented to the House Judiciary Committee in Topeka the next day.
This Bill would allow individuals to discriminate against members of protected classes not included in the state statute, so long as the individual can claim that such discrimination is a protected religious belief.
It also reminds me of the proliferation of columns in the UK in mainstream publications that defended a hotel owner's right to turn away gay people so long as they blamed their prejudice on Christianity.
People really don't get that Good Christians can do bad things, but if they expect all of us to read the Bible literally, then we should start reading the violence of the Bible literally as well. It's simply inconsistent to take one passage out of context from Leviticus and say that it means that homosexuality is wrong, but then to look at the same passage and say that it is not advocating violence because "it's not the intention" of that passage to promote violence.
There are strong protections for free speech in school publications, but advocating illegal activity and creating a disruption are two of the exceptions. If Colin Johnson wanted the Bible passages he cited to be read literally, then the column is definitely advocating illegal activity. It's also a distraction for the gay students at that school to be told in between math and history classes that they should be put to death.
At least the school paper's editors are learning a few rules about mainstream media, though: claim that journalism is central to democracy, living, etc., while simultaneously scoffing at the idea that anyone could be influenced by what they publish; let the home team off the hook even when they advocate violence (like wars in Iraq, the death penalty for anyone, or torture) because they seem like good people; and present both sides to an issue even when there aren't two sides or the two sides aren't really discussing the same thing.
Heck, these kids could be writing at The Washington Post in a few years, if it's still around.