Mars Hill Forums #67 and #137 at Wesleyan University and Chase Collegiate: Questions of “Hate Speech”

John C. Rankin

On November 8, 2008, I addressed a panel discussion at Chase Collegiate, a day prep school, in Waterbury, Connecticut. The topic concerned “hate crimes.” There were ten panelists, including the co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee at the State House, Michael Lawlor, and I was the only one representing a biblical perspective.

The homosexual-rights movement is seeking to have crimes defined according to the intent of the mind or heart — “hate speech” or “hate crimes.” The problem is this: How can law interpret a person’s frame of mind?

Everybody’s unalienable rights to life, liberty and property should be simply protected, for people as people, regardless of secondary issues or group identities. And those who violate those rights should be punished according to the law where all people are treated equally. As Thomas Jefferson said, law applies to actions not opinions.

In the panel discussion, I relayed a story of what happened to me at a Mars Hill Forum at Wesleyan University, in Middletown, Connecticut, on April 18, 2002. The forum addressed same-sex marriage, and was scheduled by the sponsors during “Queer Awareness Days” on campus. The sidewalks across the main quad were full of chalkings in support of homosexuality and cognate sexual identities. As I approached the building where I was to speak, there were repeated chalkings, where by name, I was identified as someone who should be homosexually subdued or raped.

This was, indeed, “hate speech” calling for a “hate crime.” About the same time, the despicable Fred Phelps of www.godhatesfags.com – whom I had debated – put a cartoon on his website calling for me to be homosexually raped. Thus, both a homosexual and a homosexual-hater wanted the same crime committed against me.

My response? I am free to love those who hate me, and I have no need to resort to the law in such a case – though Wesleyan University might have been afraid of the possibility. I could have filed a complaint that the school, with its hate speech codes, was unconcerned when such hate speech was directed at an evangelical minister, an invited guest speaker on campus.

The university leadership did not communicate with me about the matter, but they did have an emergency meeting concerning it, and changed their policy on allowing such chalkings. Finally I wrote them, and belatedly they sent an apology that was in fact a non-apology seeking to avoid legal complicity. I never had any intent to file any legal action. To do so, based on “hate speech,” would be to betray the power of the Gospel.

At Chase Collegiate I said that far better than the “tolerance” of people who disagree with us, is honoring their “freedom” in a civil society so long as unalienable rights are protected for all people equally. Sadly though, this message was not comprehended except by a small minority of the 100 or so people, faculty and students, crammed into the modest sized auditorium.

In the last question from the audience, a student spoke of having worked in Washington, D.C. that summer. And now that “conservatives” were out of power politically, following the November 6 elections, he asked the panel how such “conservative power could be broken” once and for all.

In my answer I asked the young man if he would like “conservatives” to speak of “breaking his power” in a similar vein. Is not his speech intolerant? I recommended instead that he try to persuade those with whom he disagrees. But he did not understand what I was saying, and most of the audience also did not understand. In their view, hate speech and hate crimes are a one-way street – only committed against homosexuals and other approved groups of people, but not something that can be committed against those who say no to homosexuality.

The answer, from my perspective? Those who call for tolerance while being intolerant will only devolve into greater human pain in the process. Thus, I have the freedom to love and respect them as equal image-bearers of God, in the prayer that eventually they will grasp the beauty and truth of the Gospel. The unalienable rights of life, liberty and property, given by the Creator, are rooted nowhere else.

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