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Monday, December 17, 2012

Think Before You Silence the WBC

Along with most of America, I felt disgust and outrage when I learned that the Westboro Baptist Church planned to picket the vigil planned in Newtown, Connecticut. I felt saddened that we as a nation boast more than enough evil to go around. I felt the same way after the shooting in Tuscon and when I later heard that the WBC planned to protest the funeral of a nine year old following that tragedy. I feel the same way every time I see their name and messages plastered in the background of any military funeral.

Personally, I find the overall message of the Westboro Baptist Church disgusting. They preach that God hates homosexuality - which is true. But the important thing to remember is that God also hates the little white lies you told last week, the stop sign in the quiet neighborhood that you always run and the fact that you didn't quite wait until you were married to practice the Clinton definition of "not sex." But they also preach that "God hates fags" - which is not true. God's love extends to all sinners, because if it did not Heaven would be empty. To claim that God raises a hand of judgment against one group of sinners apart from all others is to teach false doctrine and to replace the judgment of the Lord with the judgment of a finite and fallen human being.

Despite my personal feelings about the WBC, I find myself equally appalled by those who are calling for physical violence and God's judgment against them. How is us judging the WBC for their actions any different from them judging the actions of any other sinner? How can we as Christians advocate violence against someone whose sin we find abhorrent - when the sin in question is advocating and cheering violence against someone whose sin those in the WBC find abhorrent? 

But my disgust also extends to those who seek political action against the WBC. Why? Because I am something of a free speech purist. In the words attributed to Voltaire, "I may not agree with what you say - but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

The WBC won their Supreme Court Case by claiming that their speech, however abhorrent and hateful, was protected under the First Amendment. AND IT SHOULD BE. The First Amendment was written to protect offensive speech. There is no need to protect speech if it is not offensive. If all we did was fawn before our elected officials and spew popular sentiment, there would never be a need for any protection of any speech. But the founders realized that sometimes what is necessary to say may not be popular, and what is truth may be offensive. That's not to say that what the WBC says is either true or necessary, but in order to protect one you must necessarily allow the other.

I am especially disturbed by those who associate with Tea Party groups or ideas who are calling for violence against members of the WBC or demanding that they be silenced. They of all people should be sensitive to the notion of being silenced by those who disagree politically. When Steven Crowder was cold cocked by a union member last week in Michigan, the media maintained radio silence. When 2500 occupiers got arrested over the course of six months (compared to 0 Tea Party activists in over three years), the media covered the occupiers' message but not their actions. Politicians are actively pushing policies like "The Fairness Doctrine," which will effectively impose tv/radio silence on anyone who dares to disagree with the progressive majority.

But the real problem is this: even if we were to all agree that certain kinds of hate speech SHOULD be silenced, who gets to make the determination as to what constitutes such "hate speech"? Will the definition of "hate speech" change every time the balance of Congress shifts? The balance of the Supreme Court? And what is to stop said authority, once given the power to silence one group or individual, from silencing any group or individual they choose to, whether based on arbitrary whim or political favor?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Never Let a Tragedy Go to Waste

Let me preface this post by saying that I am not here to rub salt in anyone's wounds. My intent is not to politicize a tragedy, rather to point out the fallacy being committed by those who are currently doing so.

This morning, tragedy struck a small town in Connecticut. A young man opened fire in an elementary school, killing at least 26 - one of whom was his own mother, and most of whom were small children.

As is wont to happen after such senseless tragedy, we look for answers. We ask ourselves, our families, our friends, and our leaders: How did this come about? How can we keep this from happening again?

The answer is simple: evil exists in this world because people insist on trying to push God out of it. The grace of God is the only thing that prevents you or me from being the shooter, our parents and children from being the victims. It is only by that same grace that those touched by today's tragedy will ever know peace.

But if you look at any social media site today, along with the prayers and condolences, you will see people making blanket statements about gun control. The artful Jay Carney brilliantly politicized the tragedy by stating that he was not going to politicize it...yet. The President hinted at it in his tearful address as well, claiming that meaningful action was needed - regardless of politics. (Read: the Republicans aren't going to like it, but I'm going to force them to do it anyway.)

What really got to me was the nastiness between friends over whether or not further gun restrictions could solve this problem. The reality is that, unless we tear up the Constitution, gun ownership is a right afforded to private citizens (provided they meet certain qualifications in most states, such as never being convicted of a violent crime) that the federal government has no justification to take away. Cities such as Chicago and Washington DC are shining examples of the results of strict gun legislation - they have some of the most stringent gun laws in the country, and they also have some of the highest rates of gun crimes. Why? Because if the only people who HAVE guns came by them illegally, why on earth should we expect them to not also USE said guns illegally? The contrast is seen in the small town of Kennesaw, Georgia: gun ownership there is mandated, and the town currently boasts one of the lowest per capita crime rates in the nation.

A few people made comments about the number of deaths caused by motor vehicles, and noted that no one was suggesting that we ban cars. The pat response to that was, "well, guns are made with only one purpose: to kill people. Cars are made for transportation, not for killing. They at least have a legitimate use." And that exchange got me thinking...

If we accept the premise that guns are made to kill people and cars are not, what happens when we look at the relevant data?

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 40,000 Americans are killed by cars annually.

According to American gun violence statistics, in 2010 8,775 Americans were killed by firearms. And it should be noted that the number of Americans killed by firearms has consistently decreased annually since at least 1995.

The assessment then is that although cars are NOT made for the express purpose of killing people, they seem to be accomplishing that objective at a much greater rate than the firearms that supposedly ARE made for that purpose. I'm thinking that at the very least "but guns are made solely to kill people" is going to have to be replaced by an argument that makes a little more sense.