Monday, June 1, 2009

BEYOND HATE SPEECH

Hate speech may be legal, but it will never be civil, morally defensible, or spiritually survivable

TAGGING AND TARGETING. So, the immediate situation is the Sunday morning murder of Dr. George Tiller, a physician who practiced abortion and who was publicly and repeatedly vilified by Bill O'Reilley. Tiller was murdered in the lobby of his Kansas church as he prepared to attend worship. O'Reilly targeted Tiller no less than 28 times on his FOX News show, tagging him "Tiller the Baby Killer" and used forceful hate speech freely.

AFTER THE MURDER. Now the questions: To what extent is Bill O'Reilly implicated in the murder of Dr. Tiller? Would it have happened had not O'Reilly singled Tiller out and publicly and repeatedly impressed his avid listeners that Tiller was a murderer whom the government would not stop? These questions will be debated on news shows this week. Expect O'Reilly to condemn the murder and also deny any connection between his hate speech (even self-righteously denying the use of hate speech) and the murderer and the murdered. Expect pro-choice advocates to heap up blame on O'Reilly and those who use hate speech against abortionists.

LEGALITY OF FREE SPEECH. The problem is that hate speech is generally legal. Its purveyors are as protected as a physician who chooses to honor a woman's desire to have a safe abortion. Bill O'Reilly can use the public airwaves to condemn abortion and vilify abortionists in the most strident terms, in the most uncivil ways, and with the intensity and tone that communicates "don't let them get away with it" to his audience. At least one person has taken the hate speech of O'Reilly and others seriously enough to take action, taking the life of the very abortionist singled out and targeted.

HOW TO COUNTER HATE SPEECH. Curbing hate speech without infringing upon free speech is difficult. Personally, I find hate speech morally reprehensible. I think it is uncivil. I don't think it has a place in public discourse. I think it reveals fears and spiritual sickness. I find it irresponsible and offensive and I wish it were not used at all. But I am unwilling to give up my own personal privileges of free speech just to keep other people from saying what I do not like and what I think hurts others. If anything, I must use my right of free speech to influence people to choose a better approach to addressing the challenges of abortion than what Bill O'Reilly does.

CONNECT THE DOTS. I am personally convinced that free speech ends where words of hatred can be reasonably connected to acts of violence of any kind against individuals or groups. If you can readily connect the dots between hate speech and violent actions, it's not free speech. That is something legislators and the courts wrestle with and I am sharing my own thoughts with legislators in this regard. Historically the connection between hate speech and acts of violence against individuals and groups is clear and frequent. It is a responsibility of the citizenship and leadership of a civil society to ensure public discourse is both free and free from expressions that are known to lead to violence against its citizens.

A BETTER WAY. But, ultimately, hate speech must be undercut and overcome by love speech, actions that win hearts and minds, strategies that disarm hatred, and relationship development that turns enemies into friends. What Mahatma Gandhi called "soul force" can be used to expose the ineffectiveness of hate speech, undercut its power, and delegitimize its purveyors. Love in action works at the level of identifying and addressing feelings and needs in otherwise offended parties to disarm them and bring them together to address common problems.

FREEDOM TO BOYCOTT. One way I begin to undercut the legitimacy of hate speech is to boycott the products and confront the corporations that sponsor those who engage in hate speech. Economic self-interest can speak to a corporation when civility and moral decency doesn't. I will begin to address this strategically more and more. This is one way so-called "consumers" can exercise their own freedom to influence free marketers. But a boycott is but the beginning in a process of transformation.

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Post update:

An insightful piece by Frank (Franky) Schaeffer on The Huffington Post regarding his sense of complicity in the killing of Dr. Tiller. Schaeffer was a hero to me during college days, when I championed the film series "Whatever Happened to the Human Race" on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University. I commend him anew for his repentance and maturing faith. I, too, have since repented of toxic faith and the politics of anger. Following Jesus is greater and calls for more responsibility than things we said, represented, and promoted in the 1970's and early '80's. It is possible to address the challenges of abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, capital punishment, violent crime, human rights, and human value without demonizing people and institutions or reducing the Gospel to fear and hatred.


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