Demonizing Dissent: The New Reality

Like most people in Canada and the US, I suspect, I have taken for granted the many freedoms I enjoy, like freedom of expression and religious freedom. The idea that someone or something would one day threaten those freedoms never really entered my mind in the past.  At one time, I would have responded to anyone who even suggested such a notion: “Not here!  Unthinkable!”  Today, I’m less certain. 

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On Wednesday this past week, the Supreme Court of the US (SCOTUS) voted to strike down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages even if they were allowed under state law. DOMA was signed into law in 1996 by then President Clinton with the backing of 380 legislators. In writing the majority opinion, Justice Kennedy, the swing voter who killed Section 3 of DOMA, stated that “the avowed purpose and practical effect of DOMA” was to impose “a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages.”  The framers and supporters of DOMA had been motivated by a “bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group.”  According to Justice Kennedy, those who had enacted DOMA seventeen years earlier were driven by animus towards gays and lesbians.

Justice Scalia, one of the four dissenting judges, reacted strongly to Justice Kennedy’s assertion. “To defend traditional marriage is not to condemn, demean, or humiliate those who would prefer other arrangements…,” replied Scalia. “It is one thing for a society to elect change.  It is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race,” said Scalia.

Imputing ill will towards gays to the drafters and supporters of DOMA as Justice Kennedy does, is troubling, but not all that surprising, really.  Those of us who support traditional marriage are told frequently how we’re in the minority now, how we’re ‘out of step’, how we’re ‘on the wrong side of history’, that we’re against marriage equality, that we’re anti-gay, even homophobic.  I support traditional marriage, not because I’m anti-gay, but because of what I believe marriage to be: a Creator-designed, God-ordained, relationship between one man and one woman in a committed lifelong union.  Moreover, from time immemorial, marriage has been the foundational institution of society, playing its unique role in the creation and nurture of children and, ultimately, the continuity of the human race.  A homosexual relationship can thus never be rightly defined as a ‘marriage’.  And I, and all others who support traditional marriage, should be able to say so without fear of being labeled a ‘homophobe’ or a ‘bigot’.

Those who value freedom of speech should be unsettled by another development in recent days. Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, two American bloggers who write about the threat to Western society from militant Islam, were informed by the UK’s Home Secretary’s office that they should not travel to the UK as they would be refused admission.  Spencer and Geller were slated to speak at a rally held by the English Defense League (EDL) in Woolwich, site of the brutal slaying of drummer Lee Rigby.  They had planned to lay flowers at his grave on Armed Forces Day.  Britain’s Home Secretary Theresa May deemed their presence in the UK “not conducive to the public good” and labeled the organization they founded, Stop of the Islamization of America, an “anti-Muslim hate group.” 

I’ve read the blogs of both Spencer and Geller, as well as some of Spencer’s books. Spencer has spent years researching Islam and authored a dozen books on the topic, two of which I have read:  The Truth about Muhammad (2006) and Religion of Peace?  Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t (2007).  I found Spencer’s writing informative, not inflammatory–although Muslims undoubtedly would be uncomfortable and unhappy with what they read or, certainly, some of what they read.  However, with so many terrorists these days quoting the Qur’an to justify their actions, is it not prudent to take a closer look at Islam’s Prophet, his life, and his message in order to determine what motivates the jihadists?  The UK bans Spencer and Geller, yet tolerates radical clerics like Anjem Choudary, who says that Rigby deserves no sympathy because he was “a non-Muslim.”  And after eight years of trying, the UK still has not been able to oust Abu Qatada, who calls for the killing of those who leave Islam.  The “anti-fascist” group Hope Not Hate, which regards Spencer and Geller as rabble-rousers, played a major role in keeping Spencer and Geller out, collecting a petition with 26,000 signatures. I guess the signers of the petition are those who, rather than confronting the problem of militant Islam, simply hope the problem will go away.

To me, Judge Kennedy’s opinion and the UK Home Secretary’s actions point to a disturbing trend in society, where certain views and expressions of those views are no longer socially permissible, where certain topics are “off-limits.” To break those rules is to be called a “hater.”  I see our cherished freedom of expression slipping away even as we celebrate our tolerance.  Last Wednesday when the ruling that ended DOMA was announced, the National Cathedral in Washington DC rang the cathedral’s bells in celebration.  Maybe the National Cathedral was, unwittingly, sounding a death knell. 

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