How Tolerant Should We Be of Intolerance?

Posted on February 13, 2009 at 5:47 pm

I received warring press releases this week from both sides in the controversy over a film called Silencing Christians, each accusing the other side of intolerance and censorship. Each side believes that the other is infringing on its right to live within its beliefs.
“Silencing Christians” argues that the “homosexual agenda” interferes with their freedom of religion. It was produced by the American Family Association and scheduled to run on a Michigan television station as a paid broadcast (like an infomercial). But the Human Rights Campaign organized a protest and the station canceled the broadcast. The HRC, in requesting that the broadcast be canceled, did not ask for a one-sided portrayal of the issues but proposed that the station “air a fair discussion or debate on both the issues and pending legislation.”
Words like “propaganda” and “censorship” get tossed around in situations like this one, and they usually and understandably throw as much suspicion on the people using the terms as on those they are describing. Freedom of speech and equality are the foundation of the United States. They underlie every aspect of our politics and culture. When they clash, as they do here, we end up with both sides feeling that their rights have been trampled. The AFA wants the freedom to describe homosexuals in ways that affront the notions of equality of many people, including heterosexuals and others who are members of Christian or other faith communities. When does “speech” become “hate speech?” When is one side’s version of the truth so biased that it should not even be permitted to be said?
It is hard to make much of a case for censorship here, despite the television station’s decision (which was made not on the basis of the merits of the argument but on the equally valid basis that they did not want to be in the middle of the fight). Silencing Christians is available online. Even a few minutes’ viewing will raise some questions for anyone not already convinced. The use of terms like “agenda” should always be a red flag; for some reason everyone wants to accuse the other side of having an “agenda” but you never hear them acknowledging their own.
As a lawyer with a strong commitment to freedom of speech, my inclination is to let all sides be heard. The bigots, the ignorant, and the liars will betray their biases and hypocrisy with their own words. They get more attention by protesting “censorship” than they do promoting their views. Better to let them say what they have to say and provide a rebuttal. It only adds to the credibility of those who tell the truth to recognize that nothing anyone can say will mislead those who make their judgments based on facts, logic, and a commitment to fairness and integrity. “Silencing Christians” is itself the best proof of the spiritual and intellectual vacuum of its arguments.

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