If you wanted to radically diminish the influence of Christianity in America, what would you do? You would make it against the law. You would bring the law down on the Christian faith by labeling its core teaching as “hate speech.”
The claim that same-sex attraction is an unnatural state, and that homosexual acts are intrinsically immoral, is homophobic. The belief that marriage only exists between one man and one woman, for life, is puritanical. The idea that Christianity is the only true religion is intolerant on every possible level. Or so our critics say.
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These expressions of hate must encourage violence towards a person or group based on race, religion, sex, or orientation before they qualify as “hate speech”—as least, according to the Cambridge Dictionary. Thus far, merely believing these teachings has not fallen under legal scrutiny—although the thought police are already at work making sure only certain people are hired, heard, or welcomed in elite social groups.
Soon, that may change. A member of Joe Biden’s transition team, Richard Stengel (pictured), wrote an op-ed last year in the Washington Post arguing that “All speech is not equal.”
Mr. Stengel opines: “Where truth cannot drive out lies, we must add new guardrails. I’m all for protecting ‘thoughts that we hate,’ but not speech that incites hate.” Some may be nodding along to this point. But then he adds: “Domestic terrorists such as Dylann Roof, Omar Mateen, and the El Paso shooter were consumers of hate speech. Speech doesn’t pull the trigger, but does anyone seriously doubt that such hateful speech creates a climate where such acts are more likely?”
Two of these shooters are self-professed white nationalists. Mr. Stengel focuses on what kind of media they consumed—how their reading, listening, watching, and personal associations were part of a “climate” inciting mass violence. And I do not doubt that Mr. Stengel’s hope for vast hate-speech policing will be granted both legal and regulatory authority. But just who (and what) will be fingered for creating the “climate” Mr. Stengel presumes to have caused those shootings?
For instance, a priest or minister preaching on Paul’s letter to the Romans can be accused of inciting violence against those women who “exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones” or men who “also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.” Remember, no actual violence has to occur as a result of the sermon. The mere possibility of “imminent” incitement is enough to call it hate speech (see: Brandenburg v. Ohio, 1969).
Yet, the “climate” issue is already with us. Speech codes have long been adopted throughout the academy and industry to assure that employees “feel safe.” These codes received greater legal sanction with Virginia v. Black in 2003. The Supreme Court went further, describing hate speech as “those statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals.” The speaker, however, “need not actually intend to carry out the threat.”
The issue of subjectivity looms large over what can be considered incitement. Any person or group who reports feeling “unsafe” can initiate an investigation. How the so-called need for safety can be weaponized is sadly illustrated by the case of Providence College reported by eminent writer and translator Anthony Esolen.
A resident advisor—called “Dominic” at the (Dominican) college—put up a poster, as was his right, expressing the Catholic view of sacramental marriage. In a photograph, a bride and groom are before an altar with a cross behind. The caption read: “Traditional Marriage: God ordains it. Nature reveals it. Science affirms it.” The board also showed a stick-figured man and a woman holding hands alongside a small boy and girl. The caption reads: “Marriage should be reinforced, not redefined.”
The board was taken down immediately. Dominic received permission to put it up again, only to have it torn down. A third copy was posted and removed as well. As Professor Esolen reports, “The pushback was quick and severe and now includes a cartoon posted in his dorm (and, of course, on social media) of Dominic being anally raped.”
Although some faculty vigorously defended Dominic, the College administration did not. A letter came forth from the administration, not defending Dominic, but practically blaming him for the threats. The administrators said that people should not “vilify” others because it “divides our community.” They meant Dominic, of course—not his classmates who were threatening to rape him.
Those same students demanded the president condemn Dominic and promise such posters never again be allowed on campus. The students claimed to want a “safe space,” meaning a space safe from the teachings of the Church. Professor Esolen himself left Providence College, where he had taught for twenty-seven years, because of the furor he caused by questioning the College’s diversity stance.
Dominic’s experience at Providence College is a paradigm of how much power the LGBT lobby already has, even in institutions whose founding principles do not support their aims. Their power will increase exponentially when the Biden Administration (if it should come to pass) begins to instantiate Mr. Stengel’s vision of cleansing the “climate” of American life.
It’s quite telling that Mr. Stengel claims the original hate speech laws were passed in Europe after World War II to combat anti-Semitism. As a matter of fact, hate speech laws began in the Soviet Union and its satellite states in order to limit free speech and send dissenters to the Gulag. Chew on that.
[Photo credit: Jemal Countess/Getty Images Entertainment]