Exodus, Meet The First Amendment

Exodus needs a lesson in basic high-school level Civics.

Jim Burroway

January 16th, 2007

Update: Mark, from Slapped Upsite The Head, left a comment to correct my feeble understanding of the intricacies of Canadian law. Meanwhile, Tor Billgren updates me via E-mail on the origin of Sweden’s hate speech law. Corrections and additions are noted below.

Many anti-gay organizations oppose extending hate crime laws to cover sexual orientation, claiming that to do so will take away their religious freedoms. Exodus added their voices to the chorus just yesterday by issuing this press release:

Today, as the nation celebrates Religious Freedom Day, Exodus International, the world’s largest ministry to those desiring freedom from unwanted homosexuality, joins pro-family groups around the nation in urging Congress to stop a hate crimes bill that would penalize those with faith-based beliefs about homosexuality.

Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International, said, “Today, we celebrate a sacred right to freely practice our individual religious beliefs, and at the same time, Congress is debating legislation that could eventually destroy these freedoms. Hate crimes legislation does not prosecute illegal actions that harm others, it prosecutes beliefs about homosexuality that for many Americans, is consistent with their faith.”

This is utter nonsense. Nothing in the hate crime legislation prosecutes beliefs of any sort. Anyone can believe whatever they want to about sexual orientation, and anyone can say anything they want to about their beliefs.

Alan Chambers is displaying an abysmal ignorance about one of the most basic tenants of our constitution. While we already have hate crime legislation in place for categories of gender, race and religion, none of it even remotely affects speech or beliefs. And the reason is simple: our First Amendment protects our right to say pretty much anything we want, no matter how ugly, hateful, or factually wrong we may be.

That’s right. The Nazis are free to march in predominantly Jewish Skokie, IL (with the ACLU’s help, I might add) because of the First Amendment, and the Klan is free to spew hatred against racial minorities in Cleveland. You can advocate genocide, you can defend Al-Qaida, and you hurl any racist epithet you want. It won’t help your comedy career much, but you can’t be fined or jailed for it. As long as you’re not shouting fire! in a crowded theater or threatening to kill the president, you can say pretty much anything you want.

The courts and legislators at every level have been exceptionally diligent in protecting everyone’s right to say anything, no matter how stupid, hateful, or disgusting that speech may be judged by others. Hate crime legislation in the U.S. simply cannot criminalize speech. Our constitution forbids it right there, in our cherished First Amendment, something that Alan Chambers really ought to read sometime:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

He also ought to remember that he lives in Florida, not Canada, Australia, Sweden, or Britain:

Canada, Australia, Sweden and other European nations have used hate crimes law to punish, even imprison preachers for speaking out against protected persons. Preachers have been fined or jailed in Canada and Sweden for quoting passages from the Bible about homosexuality. In England, a Christian was thrown in jail for passing out pamphlets with Bible verses condemning homosexual activity. In Philadelphia, eleven Christians were jailed for sharing a message from the Bible to a crowd of people attending a public pro-gay event.

Canada, Australia, Sweden and other European nations don’t have anything like our First Amendment. We’re quite exceptional in our absolute insistence on our infettered freedoms to say whatever we want. What happens elsewhere does not automatically happen here, nor can it. Our courts and constitution simply won’t allow it. If our laws can’t stop the Nazis and the Klan from marching, they won’t stop Exodus from denigrating gays and lesbians. Or exaggerating and lying about what has happened elsewhere.

Canada’s Bill C-250 criminalizes certain types of hate speech towards persons of any sexual orientation: homosexuals, bisexuals, or bisexuals. In other words, it protects everyone equally. But there is a clause, known in Canadian law as a “not withstanding” clause, which specifically exempts religiously motivated speech. In other words, religious freedom always trumps hate speech in Canada according to this particular law.

Sweden has a similar law that protects people from “unfavorable speech,” and like the Canadian law, it protects everyone equally: homosexuals, bisexuals, and heterosexuals. Swedish journalist Tor Billgren, who writes the blog Antigayretorik, was angered by Chambers’ press release. Defending his beloved Sweden, he e-mailed me to say that while they have hate speech laws there, no preacher has been fined or jailed for quoting the Bible:

Pastor Ã…ke Green was sentenced to 1 month inprisonment by the district court, but was aquitted by the court of appeal and the supreme court. He wasn’t jailed. There’s another case as well: Leif Liljeström, a christian (not a preacher) who owned a discussion forum on the web. He was sentenced to 1 month for things another person wrote on the forum (according to the swedish law the owner of the forum is responsible). However, this wasn’t quotes from the Bible, but extreme hate speach. This case will be dealt with by the supreme court. He hasn’t been jailed.

(Update) Sweden’s hate speech law goes back to 1948, when it was origionally written in response to the Holocaust. Laws like these limiting hate speech are quite common in many European countries. But that’s because their constitutions allow such laws to exist. Ours doesn’t.

Britain is a separate case altogether. The U.K. has no written constitution, nor does it have anything like our Bill of Rights. If I remember, that was one of the sore points between us more than two hundred years ago. While we may think of Britain as a free country, there is, in fact, no constitutional protections of free speech whatsoever. Consequently, Britain has a long history of banning all sorts of speech. As recently as 1988, Margaret Thatcher’s government banned the broadcast of all appearances and interviews of members of Sinn Fein and the IRA. (According to the BBC, “instead of hearing Gerry Adams, viewers and listeners would hear an actor’s voice reading a transcript of the Sinn Fein leader’s words.”). You just try to get that past our Constitution here.

And as proof further that our First Amendment protects everyone, each of the eleven Christians from Repent America who were jailed in Philadelphia “for sharing a message from the Bible” — messages that were lovingly shouted through bullhorns — saw all of their charges dropped. Why? It’s simple. As it was with the Klan and the neo-Nazi’s, their actions were protected by the First Amendment.

To defend our freedoms, sometimes some pretty disagreeable people wind up paying a price. That is unfortunate, but as we all know, freedoms aren’t free. Freedom of speech is only meaningful when that speech is offensive, and Repent America, Fred Phelps, the Klan and Nazi’s have all advanced the cause of free speech for the rest of us by being thoroughly offensive and disgusting. I guess we have to give them that. Exodus can thank them as well.

The hate crime laws that Congress in considering doesn’t address speech for one simple reason: It can’t. For Exodus to claim otherwise shows an abysmal ignorance of the law — or dishonesty. It’s one of the other. Take your pick.


September 6th, 2007

Not true 100%. In the work place.
I worked as a manager for a restaurant and I can tell you, that you will lose your job and you will be sued and you will pay hefty.
In the media, you don’t even have freedom of speech. Don Imus, Jimmy the Greek and other new casters were fired for their comments.
Jamie Foxx and Whoopie Goldberg, well it’s ok. They defended Mike Vick, by stating that, “Dog fighting is part of the young black culture where Vick comes from”
Well a white person could argue that same point in favor of Vick and he would have lost his job or sued.
Then they go after comics!
That’s B/S.
It went from Jewish Kramer to Black Eddie Griffin. What the F#%K?!

You say this now, you have the right to free speech but, we don’t. There is a price to pay. And with logic and reason and good taste being replaced by knee jerk reaction and white guilt, we have plunged into waters that will only get deeper and spread to other words and then to stiffer laws and jail time.
Believe it!
I know the facts, I’ve done the research and I have the experience and I am of color. It is still OK to make fun of Mexicans, yet we make up almost half the U.S. population and we pay taxes.
Yet, you don’t here us bitch. Why? Cuz we got better shit to do than nit pick words and material and comments.
We have become an economic force to reckon with and we have infiltrated all ranks of business. We didn’t care. We just worked and worked hard and when blacks and whites were fighting and feeling guilty and demanding the moon.
We Mexicans went unnoticed and now everyone has noticed and we don’t care,
‘cuz we out number blacks and whites.
Call me a beaner or wet back, please.
I won’t sue, I’ll beat your ass and you’ll think twice about using that word. That’s what the law should be.
That’s why everyone wants to use the word “nigger”. Just like a young child wants to say fuck. You tell someone they can’t “do” and then they want to “do”. Remember the 7 words you can’t say on television?
Yes I wrote it. Why write “N-word”? That to me is more offensive.
We all know what the hell the N-word is.
Iit doesn’t make it disappear. It’s just hidden in plane site. Believe that.
When I say N-word, your mind thinks nigger. You’re just trying to pull the wool over your own eyes. Sorry, it’s right there, I know it, you know it, everyone knows it.
I speak my mind and fear no one.
My friends are black, white, yellow, brown and rainbow. Catholic, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Atheist, and Jewish.
Rich, poor and middle class.
Educated in school and educated in the streets. Republican, Democrat, Green, Independent, and the libertarian.
They like me and they trust me and they know that I can back up anything I say.
I have studied and debated with the best.
Unfortunately everyones drinking the Kool-aid and it’s hard to debate with someone who as one eye, one ear and speaks out their ass.


September 6th, 2007

Angel, freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from any and all consequences. It just means whatever you say, the government cannot arrest you for it.

Imus and Jimmy the Greek weren’t thrown in jail. That’s what the first amendment protects. It says that you can’t throw someone in jail for speaking their mind.

The fact that you wrote the word “nigger” on a blog and haven’t been arrested proves that we have freedom of speech.

People say what they want, and others are allowed to disagree. Imus was fired because he did something inappropriate, not illegal.

In a nation of freedom, if you’re free to speak, others are free to disagree, and your employer is free to fire you based on your language.
You have yet to prove we don’t have freedom of speech by showing a court case in which someone was thrown in jail specifically solely because they spoke their mind.

Find that, and then you’ll have a valid point. The only thing that you’ve illustrated in your post is that freedom is not free of consequences, something that everybody knows.


November 17th, 2007

Small update on Tor Billgren:s comment on Leif Liljeström, He was cleared from the charges by the supreme court at Nov. 7.

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