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Bloomington United... against censorship

By Scott Tibbs, June 08, 2002

The Old Paths Baptist Church returned to Bloomington on June 3rd and 5th to spread an anti-homosexual message and call for repentance from it. They carried signs with statements like "God hates fags", "AIDS cures fags" and others. But while many people are angered, offended or put off by the protesters message or methods (or both) the reaction of Bloomington's extreme Left should frighten those who value freedom.

Shortly after OPBC members arrived, a counter-protest quickly organized, and People's Park became a hotbed of debate. Those who oppose OPBC's message have every right to counter-protest a demonstration that they feel is hateful or inappropriate. But some took their opposition way too far. One Leftist was arrested after repeatedly shoving an OPBC member, and another ripped a sign out of the hand of an OPBC member and ran away with it. No matter how offended someone is by a protest they disagree with, acts of physical violence are unacceptable and the community must show a zero-tolerance attitude toward it.

While the Herald-Times denounced the confrontational methods the OPBC employed, nary a word was written in Bloomington's main paper about acts of violence that were far worse than any words that OPBC protesters had written on their signs. Not condemning, much less mentioning, the violent acts of the extreme Left in the staff editorial sends a terrible message to the community as such acts are 180 degrees from the image of a "Safe and Civil City" that Bloomington wishes to project.

Even worse, anti-freedom forces are already beginning to call for censorship of protests like the one at People's Park. One letter to the editor in the June 8th Herald-Times called for protests like the one the OPBC participated in to be relegated to the County Courthouse. Given that holding a protest at the county courthouse requires a registration fee and a significant security deposit, financially strapped political groups may well have their free speech rights eliminated.

Another letter suggested that these types of protests be restricted to an area away from the city, like the old Furrow's parking lot. Were this to be done, the city might as well completely ban all forms of protest it doesn't like. All thinking citizens of Bloomington must immediately and soundly rebuke frightening totalitarian proposals like the above.

In addition, who gets to decide what protests are "disruptive", and who gets to decide what political or religious messages the people of Bloomington must be "protected" from? Will it be legislated? Will a city bureaucrat arbitrarily decide the type of messages censored?

Once one group or idea has been eliminated from the public arena, then a precedent has been set that other ideas can be quashed as well. Protecting the free speech of one group protects the free speech of all groups, which is why the American Civil Liberties Union has gone to court to protect the free speech rights of Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.

Fortunately, hysterical proposals by H-T letter-writers are strictly prohibited from being implemented by the First Amendment's guarantee of protection for freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Such regulations would also be in direct violation of the Indiana Constitution's order that "No law shall restrain any of the inhabitants of the State from assembling together in a peaceable manner, to consult for their common good." I don't see a hammer and sickle on the American flag, so I am confident that the Indiana and U.S. Constitutions have not yet been revoked.

The Founders understood the importance of freedom of speech and religion, which is why they protected both in the First Amendment. The writers of Indiana's Constitution understood that as well. In a free society, dialogue and debate on issues is healthy, even if those issues are emotionally charged and/or divisive. We should assume that the people are intelligent enough to sift though the various ideas and philosophies presented to them, and will pick those that they find to be best. Would-be censors assume the worst about people, that people are too stupid or immature to handle certain types of speech and must be "protected" from it. The arrogance of this position is far more offensive than any "hate speech".

If so-called "hate speech" is as bad as its detractors claim, let it be exposed for the fallacy it is in a free and open debate. Pushing "hate speech" underground only encourages those who speak it, that their message is true and their opponents want to silence the truth. Censorship also creates sympathy for those whose rights are violated.

The answer to speech you find offensive is not censorship. The answer is more speech. It may be a cliché, but it is true and it is the law of the land.