Wednesday, October 10, 2007

More lies, more aggravation

As soon as I get over anti-gay industry lies (see Monday's post), more come my way.

John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute wrote a piece today, Criminalizing Your Thoughts, that criticizes the recently passed Matthew Shepard Act.

Naturally he is touting the same "this law will lead Christians to be arrested for speaking out against homosexuality" lie. The following caught my attention:

For example, Christians have been prosecuted under a state hate crime law for “singing hymns” and peacefully “carrying signs” while attending a homosexual fair in Pennsylvania. Because the signs challenged the morality of homosexuality, these Christians were charged with three felonies and five misdemeanors and faced 47 years in prison for attempting to preach at a homosexual street fair. Indeed, a state judge determined that the prosecutions could go forward. His rationale was that the Christians’ speech constituted so-called “fighting words.”

This of course is not true. According to People for the American Way:

The story as told by Repent America and other Religious Right groups – most recently in two videotaped ads by grandmothers who participated in the Repent America protest against the festival – is that people were arrested merely for “sharing the gospel” on public property. The arrest of the protestors and subsequent charges against them on several counts – some under Pennsylvania’s hate crimes law – is, in the mythology of Repent America, proof that the goal of gay rights activists in general, and hate crimes laws in particular, is to outlaw the gospel.

The kernel of truth at the bottom of the propaganda pile is that the two grandmothers and others were in fact arrested while protesting Philadelphia’s OutFest, and a local prosecutor did charge them with violations of several laws, including the state’s hate crimes law.
But none of those charges were for “sharing the gospel.”

Repent America doesn’t mention that a federal court later found that the women “insulted individual attendees, blocked access to vendors, and disobeyed direct orders from the police, who were trying to preserve order and keep the peace.” The police arrested the protesters only after “their presence disrupted public order.” Unlike the organizers of OutFest, Repent America leaders failed to obtain a permit from the city. The city and the police gave the women great leeway, but they still overstepped the bounds of peaceful protest.

The First Amendment allows equality advocates to rally, and allows those with a different point of view to protest. But it doesn’t mean that protestors have the right to disrupt the rally or drown out its speakers. It is universally recognized that public safety officials can place reasonable “time, place, and manner restrictions” on people exercising their first amendment rights in order to preserve public order and prevent one group from trampling another’s rights. The court, which noted that Repent America did not get a permit for their protest, found that the police applied the law reasonably when the bullhorn-wielding Repent America protestors refused a request to move to another location and instead sat down in the street.

It is also important to note that the court dismissed the hate crimes charges in this case. In fact, the resolution of the situation proves the opposite of what the Right claims – despite their disruptive behavior and refusal to obey police requests, the protestors were neither convicted nor sentenced for breaking hate crimes laws.

The Rutherford Institute claims that it is a "civil liberties organization that provides free legal services to people whose constitutional and human rights have been threatened or violated."

Apparently telling the truth doesn't seem to fit into these noble goals.