Saturday, February 11, 2012

Free Speech or Hate Speech?

"Censored" sign outside the Fort Des Moines Church of Christ

As a writer and a member of the Second Life press, I value freedom of speech. Censorship limits our personal growth, as we absorb a variety of ideas and opinions and sort through them to form our own. As an agnostic, I value freedom of religion. The ability to choose from a variety of faiths affords the opportunity to find one's own truth and enhances the chance of finding comfort in specific religious beliefs. However, when I see signs with messages posted like the one outside Fort Des Moines Church of Christ, I find myself torn between my belief that a person's freedoms should not be hindered and the activist in me that can only see hate in the message that gay is not okay.

This sign became newsworthy after a Fort Des Moines, Iowa resident took a photo of it and posted it on Facebook. Outrage over the message led to a barrage of angry comments to Reverend Michael Demastus and to the church's Facebook page. Gay rights advocates have chosen to protest tomorrow's service at the church.

Mr. Demastus has changed the sign to say "Adultery is Not Okay," although he is continuing with his anti-gay sermon. According to one source, Demastus changed the sign after recieving a message with his home address saying, "I hope you feel safe at home." I feel for him. I really do. I, too, have been forced to keep my sign changed in real life so that I can feel safe at home. I, too, have known the fear that someone may bring harm to my family if my sign speaks my truth. The sad thing is, my sign speaks only love where Demastus's sign supports hatred. The irony is bittersweet.

So, as I consider when free speech crosses the line, I feel that it crosses the line when it promotes hatred from either point of view. The lesson I see here is that, when we present ourselves with a message of hate, we open ourselves up to the same hate. Mr. Demastus would like to ensure that we all live in the closet that I know so well, and by presenting that argument to the world, he faced a backlash from those who refuse the claustrophobia. Might I suggest to Mr. Demastus that, next Sunday, he read through the actual words of Christ (many Bibles highlight Jesus's words in red, and as Jesus so famously said about homosexuality, "_________________________".) and put up a sign that may be more appropriate to the true message he should be preaching:

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