That President Obama sure is trying to get a lot done, and for a beleaguered Republican Party that doesn’t quite have the votes to stop him on any consistent basis, strategies of resistance have become increasingly
crazy innovative. Here’s one they seem to think might work: Let’s scare the crap out of Americans by suggesting this country will end up like Canada. Ahhh! That’s right, our terrifyingly dystopian, bleakly totalitarian, Orwellian nightmare of a northern neighbor is surely a cautionary tale for anyone worried about education, healthcare, democratic rights, the environment, and overall quality of life. WE MUST NOT GO DOWN THAT ROAD TO MADNESS. (And by we, I mean you, as I am a card-carrying Canuckstani who hates your freedoms.) So how bad could it get?
Let’s begin with scary South Carolina senator, Jim DeMint, who will scare you with his scary speeches about scary Canada (the fun starts about six minutes in). The subject: criminalizing hate speech, or as DeMint would put it, “endorsing thought crimes.” DeMint has many concerns:
The Slippery Slope Argument
“What is to stop us from following the lead of certain European countries and American campuses where certain speech is criminalized? [...] What about pedophiles and sex offenders claiming protection under this act?” Yes, Jim, how will a theoretically transparent democracy with a series of checks and balances grapple with the question of whether or not dogs should be able to sleep with monkeys or if Minnesotans should be allowed to marry spacemen or if setting your neighbor’s tree on fire and calling it “free speech” is a crime? WHO IS TO SAY ALL THESE THINGS MIGHT NOT HAPPEN!?1!
“Can priests, pastors and rabbis be sure that their preaching will not be prosecuted?” Whoops, I think you’re missing something in there, Jim… What’s that other Judeo-Christian religion that worships the same cranky God as the Jews and the Christians… Oh yeah, the one whose charities already get illegally wire-tapped by the government! Or, as the government is sometimes referred to, “Big Brother.”
The Argument By Example
So, some Canadian pastor got in trouble with one of our Human Rights Commissions for, as DeMint put it, “publishing a letter critical of homosexuality, which is in the Bible you know?!” (that last clause is paraphrased). By trouble, really, he had to pay some fines and promise not to publish stuff like the following:
My banner has now been raised and war has been declared so as to defend the precious sanctity of our innocent children and youth […].
Our children are being victimized by repugnant and premeditated strategies, aimed at desensitizing and eventually recruiting our young into their camps. […]
Come on people, wake up! It’s time to stand together and take whatever steps are necessary to reverse the wickedness that our lethargy has authorized to spawn. Where homosexuality flourishes, all manner of wickedness abounds. […]
Homosexual rights activists and those that defend them, are just as immoral as the pedophiles, drug dealers and pimps that plague our communities. […]
I understand that for Americans, the idea of not being allowed to publish something is abhorrent, and I’m generally of the “more free speech is the best way to deal with bad free speech,” but every now and then, when people like Fred Phelps come along with those lovely “God hates fags” placards, I kind of wish there was recourse to an authority. The crux of the debate can be found in DeMint’s final rhetorical question:
“Once we endorse thought crimes, where will we draw the line, and more importantly, who will draw the line?”
To which I bang my head against the wall and reply: “Us! The people! The citizens of this democracy! Through open dialogue and informed debate, we (and our democratically elected proxies) will rigorously examine, on a case-by-case basis, the problems that arise when heated speech drifts into incitement and the rights and safeties of others are placed in jeopardy. This ongoing process will be imperfect, and we will make mistakes, but it will be as imperfect and mistake-ridden as our democracy, and if we have faith in that system, surely we can have a little faith in ourselves to make decisions on right on wrong over time. Democracy is all about drawing lines and constantly examining our moral standards as they are reflected in law and legislation. So let’s do some more of that? (Oh, and “freedom of religious expression” is not carte blanche to agitate for the deaths of men who like men. Fuck that.)