Religious Homophobic Speech: Incendiary or Protected?

May 4, 2010 at 4:40 pm | Posted in Religion | 2 Comments
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I came across an article today while browsing the Telegraph’s website:

Christian preacher arrested for saying homosexuality is a sin

I’m torn, but I think, ultimately, I have to agree with Voltaire:

I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.

Now, I’m a religious person myself. I have studied Jewish texts for years, and starting next year, I will be going to graduate school at the same institution that trains Reform rabbis. I was a Jewish studies major in undergrad, and my mother has a PhD in Jewish Education. I have taught in synagogues for almost 10 years now, and I plan on becoming a Jewish professional. I’m conversant, if not fluent, in Bible Talk. (Okay, yes, I’m much better at the Torah/”Old Testament” than the Christian Bible/”New Testament,” but I have learned enough to hold my own in either language.)

I firmly believe that religion can coincide very nicely with a queer lifestyle. I believe that God created this world, and its inhabitants, for the purposes of love and creation rather than hatred and destruction. I believe that, in context, the injunctions against homosexuality are there for the purposes of admonishing (a) non-consensual relations and (b) homosexual acts used as a form of “induction” or subjugation, as in the Greek army, in which older “mentors” had sex with the young boys when they first started. (In this theory, which I’m not the only one to hold, this stems from the “separatism” in the Torah: many laws are in place to separate the Jews from other peoples, such that we may be different as the “chosen ones,” rather than for any particular moral reason. It’s the difference between not eating shrimp and not murdering: one is a law to protect our fellow man and to behave in a moral manner, while the other is in place so we’re not “like them,” with the “them” being groups such as pagans and polytheists, primarily.) I believe that if we are all made in God’s image (b’tzelem Elohim), then that includes all of us: straight people, gay people, bisexuals, transgender people, intersex people, the works. And if we find happiness and love in queer expressions and relationships, then we are permitted, nay, obligated, to find happiness and love in that way.

I’m trying to keep this short, so I’ll move on.

Now, is it okay for a street preacher to spew out bits of the Bible, including injunctions against homosexuality, in public? I obviously strongly disagree with him. If I came across him on the street, I very well might start a conversation with him and debate him on parts of his speech if not all of it.

However,  arresting him for such is flat-out wrong, so long as he stays within certain boundaries.

If he started calling individual people sinners and decrying “the sinful homosexuals” who are “destroying this planet,” then that may be basis for a charge of inciting violence or riots. That’s not okay.

But off-handedly mentioning the Bible’s supposed admonishment of homosexuality, along with a long list of other sins like “blasphemy, fornication, adultery and drunkenness,” is different. If he’s disturbing passers-by and upsetting people, perhaps it would be better to ask him to move to an area that is slightly less busy… but arresting him? That goes a bit far.

And in this situation, he wasn’t even spewing homophobic religious tidbits. He was handing out leaflets on the Ten Commandments and a woman started talking to him, and the point came up in the conversation. Perhaps it was a loud conversation, but nonetheless, was it really enough to warrant police action?

In a free and democratic society, such as the UK claims to be, religious speech is protected. I’m glad that the British police find anti-homosexuality speech offensive and incendiary, but there must be a limit here. And that limit was reached in this situation.

What are your thoughts?

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