Watering Down “Hate Speech”

We have recently started a small advertising campaign for BetterThanFaith.com, and since our site deals with a controversial subject, I was neither surprised when we got positive responses, nor when a few people rejected our ads.

What did surprise and bother me was this message I received about an ad for our site being rejected.

Subject: Your bid is cancelled

I am sorry but [Site Name Withheld] does not support any form of hate speech regarding individuals of any religious affiliation, race, gender, or sexual orientation. Your website will no longer be permitted to advertise on this domain.

At first this may not seem to be a particularly harsh rejection, and I can understand that our ads are not something everyone wants on their site, but “hate speech”? To me this seems like severely diluting the meaning of the term, and this is particularly dangerous in a time when many countries and states have enacted or are attempting to pass laws against “hate speech”.

I do challenge Christian ideas, and I do have contempt for the god of the Bible, but I don’t hate Christians. I do my best not to malign the people themselves except in cases where the individuals have earned it, such as in the cases of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church in general.

Being an atheist does not make me hate Christians any more than being a Christian makes people hate Hindus or Jews. In fact, given the intolerance built into many religions, I would say that atheists are less likely to hate people based on their religious beliefs.

Most of my family and some of my friends are still Christians, and while it may change some of our interactions, it does not make me dislike or disparage them as people. When I meet someone new I don’t hate them just because of their religion. As long as people are civil to me, I try to be the same.

If we are going to use terms like “hate speech” then we must distinguish between the bigotry that causes us to hate certain groups of people on sight, and the healthy expression of our disagreement with their ideas.

Without disagreement and discussion, our ideas get stuck and entrenched, and this can easily lead to true bigotry and hate.

Subjective Judgments

I have never been a big fan of the term “hate speech”. It is too much like “obscenity” and other very subjective terms which can be either completely ignored or used to abuse people with impunity because the accuser has staked out the “moral high ground” by claiming offense, usually using terms which few people would want applied to them.

Let’s look at a few situations and see what my view would be compared to what I believe an Evangelical Christian might say on the subject. We’ll call him Bob.

Situation I say Bob says
A naked person appears on my TV. Not obscene Obscene
A preacher appears on my TV ranting about how we are all horrible people deserving of eternal torture in Hell. Obscene Not obscene
Two women kiss each other in public. Not obscene Obscene
A baby’s foreskin is cut off for religious reasons. Obscene Not obscene
George W Bush gives a lap dance to an executed criminal.* Obscene Obscene
I criticize religion and call the Judeo-Christian god a monster. Not “hate speech” Hate speech
A religious group kindly lays out all of the reasons that God says homosexuality is an abomination and that not they but God Himself condemns gay people. “Hate speech”* Not hate speech
*I don’t think he ever did this, but he did make cruel comments about and mocked a woman who was executed while he was governor of Texas.

** I don’t like the term “hate speech”, but this is hateful garbage.

I may be accused of setting up a straw man here, but Bob the Evangelical’s column only contains things which I have heard from one or more Evangelicals.

The point of this though is not to say that all Evangelical Christians share exactly these views, and actually the fact that they probably could not get agreement on all of these issues even among themselves is just further proof of my point: These terms are very subjective.

Already we have laws against “obscenity” in the US, and many places around the world have outlawed “hate speech” as well. Despite my attempts to deal with issues and not present or incite hatred against religious people, I’m afraid that this site could still be condemned as “hate speech” depending on who was judging it.

Is it possible that one day even in the United States, long time defender of the 1st Amendment’s protection of free speech, the contents of this site may one day be deemed illegal?

Not if we stand up for our rights and the rights of even those who we disagree with. If such vague “anti-hate speech” laws ever come up in your state or country, please do what you can to stop them.