michael j. morris

Responding to the Family Research Council
25 October, 2009, 10:33 pm
Filed under: culture | Tags: , , , , , , ,

In response to Congress passing legislation this week that would make it a federal crime to assault an individual based on that individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, the Family Research Council issued this press release:

Washington D.C. – Family Research Council President Tony Perkins released the following statement reacting to today’s passage of “Hate Crimes” legislation as attached to the Defense Authorization Bill.

“In a slap to the face of our servicemen and women, they attached ‘hate crimes’ legislation to the final defense bill, forcing Congress to choose between expanding hate crimes or making our military go without. This hate crimes provision is part of a radical social agenda that could ultimately silence Christians and use the force of government to marginalize anyone whose faith is at odds with homosexuality. Expanding hate crimes puts America in lock step with the stated agenda of homosexual activists who will turn next to the so-called Employment Non-discrimination Act, followed by the repeal of the ban on homosexuality in the military and then the Defense of Marriage Act. We call on President Obama to veto this legislation which violates the principle of equal justice under the law and also infringes on the free speech rights of the American people.”

Beyond the personal and political outrage that this sort of statement provokes, I am constantly offended by the fallacious rational of this organization, one of the most vocal opponents of equality in this country. Perkins posits that this legislation could be used to eventually “silence Christians.” This assumes that the voices of Christians are motivated by bodily violence against homosexuals and gender diversity, which is simply not the case. This legislation extends federal protection to American citizens based on sexual orientation and gender expression. Perkins continually speaks of the effects to which legislation for equality may someday lead rather than commenting on the legislation itself. In this statement, Perkins demonizes this legislation by initially characterizing it as a “slap in the face of our servicemen and women,” following that characterization with foreboding commentary about the silencing of Christians and the marginalization of anyone whose faith is at odds with homosexuality (the assumption seems to be that it is just fine is homosexuals in this country remain marginalized). Perhaps Perkins resorts to this sort of faulty logic because it is not only absurd  but seems fundamentally anti-Christian to oppose legislation that exists for the explicit purpose of protecting individuals from violent crimes. To oppose that explicit purpose is to support an allowance for continued violence. Being unable to make that statement, FRC’s press release redirects attention to a fictional future in which equality and free speech are threatened (once again, ignoring the fact that the law as it stands supports inequality).

This press release is fallacious on several counts.

Firstly, freedom of speech is not threatened by this legislation. It is legislation against crimes of “bodily injury.” And it makes a provision specifically addressing these concerns surrounding freedom of speech:

“FREE EXPRESSION- Nothing in this Act shall be construed to allow prosecution based solely upon an individual’s expression of racial, religious, political, or other beliefs or solely upon an individual’s membership in a group advocating or espousing such beliefs.”

Secondly, this legislation does not create inequality of justice, it equalizes the treatment of justice. As the law currently stands, under Chapter 13 of title 18, United States Code, hate crimes committed against individuals based on actual or perceived race, color, religion, or nation of origin are currently considered federal crimes. This legislation amends that existing code by adding to it crimes committed based on actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. It is not providing special allowances for a single population of citizens; it is expanding protection that ALREADY EXISTS based on race, color, religion and national origin to include issues of sexual orientation and gender identity.

What it comes down to is this: This legislation is increasing equal protection under the law, not creating inequality justice under the law. It does not threaten free expression. What it does do is prohibit violent bodily crimes committed based on perceived or actual sexual orientation and gender expression. These are categories that apply to ALL AMERICAN CITIZENS, not just homosexuals. All individuals possess “actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.” This legislation protects all citizens based on these qualities. It is Perkins and the FRC who conflate “sexual orientation and gender identity” with a homosexual population and agenda. While I would not assume that this organization supports bodily violence against homosexuals, by distorting the general population addressed by the legislation into the specific population of homosexual Americans, and then opposing the legislation, it feels as if Perkins and the FRC are issuing a statement that implies that physical violence against homosexuals is somehow not worth the notice or concern of the nation. Although other sub-populations (those constituted by race, religion, and nationality) are issued federal protection under the law, homosexuals, it seems, should not be. While such a perspective does not necessarily constitute one of violence, it certainly maintains a conceptual space in which violence is more free to occur. This is offensive.

As our nation continues to move towards equality for all citizens, in marriage, in military service, and in protection from violent crimes, it is my hope that statements such as this as well as the discriminatory attitudes and fallacious perspectives that produce such statements will fade quietly into a (shameful) history. That most likely being a fantasy that will remain unfulfilled for quite some time, it is my secondary hope that such public figures and organizations will at the very least address the issues at hand (not imagined future collapses of Western civilization) with accurate data and informed perspectives. It probably will not make their perspective any less offensive, but it might serve to generate a more functional cultural dialogue.