In Defense of Reason Part 4: Sticks and Stones and Concentration Camps

On May 13, 2012 in North Carolina‘s Providence Road Baptist Church, Pastor Charles L. Worley publicly advocated the forced relocation, imprisonment, and subsequent death of gays and lesbians. Apparently not only does pastor Worley believe that a 100-mile-long electrified fence would be adequate to hold the entire gay population, but also that such an act of Christian charity would cause the species known as homo queer-ius to become extinct, due to the hereditary nature of sexual preferences. Correspondingly, the Providence Road Baptist Church is in danger of losing its tax-exempt status from the IRS because of Worley’s less than subtle reproach of President Obama’s recent evolution on marriage equality. In addition, a CNN investigation by Anderson Cooper uncovered a 1978 recording of pastor Worley reminiscing about the good old days or, more precisely, the days when gays and lesbians were lynched.

However, this type of shameless religiosity is hardly an isolated incident. Earlier today, GoodAsYou.org, a progressive GLBT media watchdog, reported that Curtis Knapp of the New Hope Baptist Church in Seneca, Kansas, suggested that gays “should be put to death.” Furthermore a viral youtube video of the Apostolic Truth Tabernacle Church in Greensburg, Indiana shows a congregation giving a boy (no older than the age of five) a standing ovation after the boy sings, “ain’t no homos gonna make it to heaven.”

These insensitive but otherwise unremarkable stories of baptist bravado have captured the attention of the mainstream media, and given them an excuse to replace real news with prepackaged sensationalism disguised as socio-political commentary. But if these events are as unworthy of national attention as I claim, why would I take the time to discuss them? I believe the real story here is not the preponderance of loud and obnoxious religious zealots, but the ease with which liberals and progressives can dismiss the free speech of their enemies. No, I do not intend to fall into the cable news trap of false equivalency and compare Worley’s disgusting remarks to jokes from Bill Maher. But I do intend to disallow liberals the sanctuary of self-righteouness.

First and foremost, there is no such thing as hate speech, only hateful speakers. And contrary to the singers of KumBaYah it is still constitutional to hate people. Granted, the distance between words and deeds is a slippery slope. I cannot deny the fact that some words might even be dangerous. But the strength of a democracy is the ability to allow the very things that can endanger it to exist.

Let me be clear: I am in no way advocating bigotry, nor am I suggesting that one must accept the bigotry of others. What I am saying, however, is that one must allow bigotry to exist. You cannot outlaw the language of hate and be a lover of justice, because there is nothing just about claiming victory through exclusion. I am making a messy, but necessary distinction between rejecting speech and regulating speech. Rejection connotes evaluation, the appraisal and subsequent dismissal of an idea based on merit; while regulation connotes power, a restrictive impulse responsible to nothing and no one but the rule of the mob. This type of regulation does not require a state apparatus or legislation, but simply an emotional prohibition.

The public service announcement featuring Wanda Sykes that outlines the proper usage of the word “gay”, or the NAACP’s funeral for the word “nigger” are perfect examples of liberal attempts to regulate speech. Even members of Catawba Valley Citizens Against Hate, the activist group that organized the protest against pastor Worley, attacked Worley’s rhetoric as dangerous and harmful, rather than attack his logic, or better yet dismiss his sermon entirely.

But why should we care so much for the rights of those Americans who care so little for everyone else’s? As counter-intuitive as it sounds, free speech is a form of control, because in the absence of speech, people do. Without an avenue to express their hate and vitriol these psychopaths might actually explode, and I would prefer to be able to identify the racists, the homophobes, the sexists, and the xenophobes by their words rather than their actions: sticks and stones may break my bones, but rants are better than concentration camps.

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Photo credit: The Blaze