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Demand Honesty – Sometimes You’ll Get It

Timothy Kincaid

July 16th, 2009

The Illinois Family Institute is decidedly anti-gay. They believe that your “lifestyle” is inherently evil and they know no limits in their fight against “militant homosexual activists.” IFI is one of only 12 Anti-Gay Hate Groups listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

But even those persons at IFI who have dedicated their lives to anti-gay activism are approachable. And recent events demonstrated this to me.

At this time yesterday, the IFI had a flyer on their website which they were encouraging their followers to pass out at church (it was conveniently sized to fit in a church bulletin). “Urgent!” it warned and then listed just why Illinoisans should fear Senate Bill 909, the Matthew Sheppard Hate Crimes Bill.

As its second bulletin point it declared:

It Infringes on Freedom of Speech and Religion.

Miss California , Carrie Prejean, could have been charged with a “hate crime” for her views on same-sex marriage if S. 909 was already law. What could constitute a “hate crime” under this bill is a homosexual man or woman claiming they were discriminated against and hurt by what was said.

Now, those who read here know that this is complete nonsense.

The bill says nothing about “claims” or “hurt by what was said.” Instead it provides states with federal assistance for a crime that

(A) constitutes a crime of violence;
(B) constitutes a felony under the State, local, or tribal laws; and
(C) is motivated by prejudice based on the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of the victim, or is a violation of the State, local, or tribal hate crime laws.

And I think we all know that Carrie’s babbling about “opposite marriage” was not a violent felony. Indeed, if hate crimes legislation could lead to Carrie’s arrest, it would have; Nevada has hate crimes protections in place.

So I contacted the Illinois Family Institute and had a lengthy email exchange with David E. Smith, its Executive Director. Smith was not quick to agree that his claims were baseless. He decidedly did not want to admit that his claim was hyperbolic, dishonest, and a flat-out attempt to lie to those who use IFI as a resource a claim based more in desire to influence belief about the bill than in any real possible scenario. *

But I appealed to Smith’s integrity and the commands of his (and my) faith not to lie, and ultimately Smith had to admit – mostly to himself – that his flyer was not truthful.

And he changed it. And I commend him for making that change.

It’s not now a glowing endorsement of the bill, but at least it reads a bit more honestly:

It Infringes on Freedom of Speech and Religion.

To see where “hate crime” laws lead, we can look to other countries where such laws have been passed, and also to our nation’s public universities. More than 230 public universities have so-called “speech codes” that are being used to restrict Christian speech. The majority of these speech codes censor any speech that challenges homosexual behavior.

Now I don’t think that S. 909 will lead to “speech codes”. But, unlike the false claims about Carrie Prejean, this slippery sloap is at least a legitimate concern and a credible issue over which reasonable people can disagree.

I am sure that our readers will continue to see false, offensive, or inflamatory statements in the many anti-gay writings of IFI. But that is not why I tell this story.

I want to let this serve as a reminder that the most effective strategy is not always to go in with guns blazing and call an opponent a homophobic lying bigot. Even if you think they are.

Now some folks have no interest whatsoever in the truth. They lie because that’s what lying liars do. But some – even those most extreme – don’t want to think of themselves as liars. They want desperately to “win”, but perhaps not at the cost of their immortal soul.

And I think that we could have a more reasoned debate, tear down a few walls, find some common ground, if we insist that all of us – those who agree and those who disagree – speak the truth, hold ourselves with honor, and demand honesty.

Sometime you’ll get it.

* The Illinois Family Institute objected to my characterization of their efforts as “a flat-out lie”. As I cannot state for certain what went on in their heads, I will concede that perhaps they were so confused by their own rhetoric as to actually believe that Carrie Prejean could have been arrested for saying that she supported “opposite marriage”.

Comments

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Donna
July 16th, 2009 | LINK

It’s nice that he changed it so it’s no longer lying-through-his-teeth; however, the headline “It Infringes on Freedom of Speech and Religion” is still false.

If he’s worried about a slippery slope, that headline should read something like:

“It sets a precedent which may lead to laws restricting speech and religion.”

I’d contact him again and be like, thanks for the gesture, but you’re still wrong.

Timothy Kincaid
July 16th, 2009 | LINK

Donna,

It is seldom useful to argue over opinion. In this case it would be a waste of time.

“Infringes on Freedom” is a matter of opinion. “This law defines” is a matter of fact.

Donna
July 16th, 2009 | LINK

Another point: if he’s concerned about slippery slopes, he should reject hate crimes statutes in their entirety — including protections in place for race- and religion-motivated crimes.

If hate crimes laws led to restrictions on speech, it wouldn’t just affect “Christians” preaching against homosexuality; it would affect anyone making fun of racial differences, mocking religious stereotypes, or joking about disabled people.

I can understand objections to hate crimes laws in general; they essentially create “thought crimes,” punishing a crime more harshly depending on the criminal’s motive. It’s easy to see why people may challenge hate crimes laws in general.

However, IFI and their ilk attack new bills to expand hate crimes protections because it includes a group against which they are personally biased — and that’s the only reason.

They blow hot air about how hate crimes laws lead down a slippery slope, yet do not attack previously-in-place laws that protect race, religion, etc. (Laws under which THEY THEMSELVES are protected.)

If we’re going to give them kudos for honestly, let’s wait until they’re actually honest. Right now, they’re only telling half-truths.

Donna
July 16th, 2009 | LINK

Timothy,

But it doesn’t infringe on anyone’s freedom. It just doesn’t. That’s a fact.

Burr
July 16th, 2009 | LINK

Quite true Donna.

I’m actually not fond of hate crime legislation myself because of that.

However, if we’re going to have them on the books, they need to be applied equally.

Jason D
July 16th, 2009 | LINK

“I can understand objections to hate crimes laws in general; they essentially create “thought crimes,” punishing a crime more harshly depending on the criminal’s motive. It’s easy to see why people may challenge hate crimes laws in general.”

Donna, you clearly don’t understand what a hate crime is. It doesn’t punish thought. It punishes action.

So what’s the action? Harassment, assault, intimidation. That’s the action.

Someone writing “My Town is Cool” on the side of a business in spray paint is just committing one crime – vandalism.

But someone writing “Jews Must Die” on the side of a synagogue in spray paint is committing two crimes. They are using vandalism to commit harassment and intimidation. Picture this synagogue in a predominantly jewish community and it’s not hard to see that harassment is part of the equation.

Surely you see why mere vandalism is much less of an issue than vandalism with a threatening message?

Bigots often intimidate and harass their victims and community with petty crimes, the kind of thing that serves no jail time. Fines, slap on the wrist, and they’re out the door to commit another misdemeanor to harass and intimidate their victims. This becomes a campaign of harassment, often with the victim terrorized and finally murdered. Why not nip it in the bud when it first happens rather than waiting until they escalate?

Prosecuting as vandalism doesn’t do enough, hate crime law enhancements however, act as a deterrent to more harassment crimes (hate crimes).

The thing to remember about hate crimes is the word “crime”. If no crime is committed, then there CAN’T be a hate crime. Which is why these aren’t punishing thought, they’re punishing action.

And even if they did punish “thought”, then you should also be worried about murder vs. manslaughter because the difference is based on intent — in other words, thought.

Are you suggesting that we should just have one charge, murder, and we apply it regardless of circumstances? Well, it would take the guesswork out of sentencing if nothing else.

lurker
July 16th, 2009 | LINK

“To see where ‘hate crime’ laws lead, we can look to other countries where such laws have been passed”

Ocourse this is just ridiculous, as everyone knows. “Other countries” (e.g., Canada, Sweeden) have hate speech laws; we have the first amdendment. No local law is going to trump anyone’s first amendment rights in this country, and that’s a really glorious thing.

lurker
July 16th, 2009 | LINK

“To see where ‘hate crime’ laws lead, we can look to other countries where such laws have been passed”

Of course this is just ridiculous, as everyone knows. “Other countries” (e.g., Canada, Sweden) have hate speech laws; we have the first amendment. No local law is going to trump anyone’s first amendment rights in this country, and that’s just a really glorious thing.

andrew
July 17th, 2009 | LINK

lurker – and that first amendment should insist that we prosecute on the actions of an individual, not on his personal politics (or animus). i’m no believer in hate crimes laws, and i don’t believe in picking this group or that for those “special protections” we’re always defending ourselves against (this also has the benefit of being a PR nightmare).

just a point here: as a 5’6″ tall gay male, i’ve noticed something rather striking. i’ve never been assaulted by someone making a point of my sexuality. but i have been targeted any number of times because of my size. are we going to set up a height-based test for hate crimes next?

Jason D
July 17th, 2009 | LINK

lurker – and that first amendment should insist that we prosecute on the actions of an individual, not on his personal politics (or animus).

Then we would have to do away with manslaughter or murder — because the difference between those two crimes is based upon intent, animus(or lack thereof).

If you accidentally kill someone, and you didn’t mean to, that’s often charged as “manslaughter” because you demonstrate no animus.

Should someone who lost control of their vehicle and plowed into a pedestrian serve the same time as a cold blooded killer who planned the murder for month?

Jason D
July 17th, 2009 | LINK

For those who insist that we should only punish actions and not “thoughts” or “intentions” or “animus”.

Do you not know that establishing motive is part of criminal investigations? It’s also the basis upon which we sentence lawbreakers?

Think about it, if we are to ignore intentions then everyone who acts in self-defense can be charged with murder and (where applicable) given the death penalty. Self-defense is a motive, an intention, a thought. But if the action ends in the death of someone else — if we go by the “only punish the action” rationale — then a cold blooded killer is no different than a father protecting his family from an intruder.

By the same reasoning, we already had “thought crimes” before we ever even considered hate crimes legislation. We have always dealt severely with those who callously take life with no remorse. Or steal without regret. By that same rationale, we’re punishing those people for their feelings AND thoughts!

Christopher Waldrop
July 17th, 2009 | LINK

I feel it’s futile to ask this, but I’ll ask anyway: is David E. Smith encouraging any of his followers to “build bridges”? I don’t think those of us who are willing to be respectful and who attempt to reach out should change our tactics, but at some point shouldn’t we expect people on the other side to also be respectful and make some attempt to reach out?

In spite of a small change in the language he’s used, David E. Smith is still a liar. He may not like being called a liar, but is pointing out a single example of his dishonesty really going to make him change his behavior in the long term?

Timothy Kincaid
July 17th, 2009 | LINK

Christopher,

Perhaps it’s only a small change. But I genuinely hope that I can encourage David Smith to ask himself if he really believes what he’s saying or if it has a shred of truth.

For too long, anti-gays have never even asked themselves that question. The see or hear something anti-gay and just repeat it or embellish on it.

No one in their camp calls them on it, and they don’t care what we write on our blogs – they think we are the liars.

But if we can gradually point out that their statements are untruthful, perhaps over time some of them will choose to either only tell the truth or, at least, refuse to repeat the lies of others.

The most important part of the process is to get them to really think about whether they are lying. I believe that some of them actually care whether they are.

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