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    November 22, 2007

    GNW 5: Kissing cops and 'gay Jesus'

    Posted by: Chris

    Gnw_lighthouse_logosmall_3 Here are the Top Five most popular stories over the last 24 hours on Gay News Watch, along with an Editor's Pick from me at the end:

    1. Walmart HRC raises red flag on Walmart's gay health benefits: QUICK LOOK: The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights group, is giving Wal-Mart a red "do not buy" rating in its new consumer guide, bestowing a lump of coal on... (MORE)
    2. Bakerbeach Oil clean-up nears completion on San Fran gay beach: QUICK LOOK: The oil spill fouling Bay Area beaches has not impeded progress on improvements to the city's gay beach. Crews continue to remove toxic landfill from the slopes above... (MORE)
    3. Kiss Russian official sued for attacking kissing cops photo: QUICK LOOK: The director of Russia's Tretyakov Gallery said today he is suing the culture minister over his remarks attacking an exhibit that featured a photo of two policemen... (MORE)
    4. Cloutierpress Gay man wins Calif. mayor's race, sorry for arrest: QUICK LOOK: A gay Vallejo city councilman won the mayor's race by four votes yesterday, just hours after apologizing for his weekend arrest for public intoxication after drinking... (MORE)
    5. Georgebush4 Activists claim Bush double-cross on HIV travel ban: QUICK LOOK: The Bush administration is trying to pull a fast one rushing through draconian proposed new regulations that will restrict even further the entry of HIV-positive people... (MORE)


    • BBC sued for blasphemy over 'gay Jesus' in musical: QUICK LOOK: A Christian activist sought yesterday to use blasphemy laws to prosecute a top BBC executive over the broadcaster's decision to screen "Jerry Springer-The Opera", a musical... (MORE)

    Jerryspringermusical The lawsuit by a group called Christian Voice against the BBC for broadcasting the bawdy "Jerry Springer" musical is a perfect example of why Britain should scrap its antiquated blasphemy law. The last time the law was successfully prosecuted, according to a Reuters report, was against a publication called Gay News, which published a poem about a Roman soldier's love for Christ.

    The poem and the musical are, of course, purposefully provocative, and the conservative Christians are reacting exactly as the artists hoped they would. That's all well and good, but the law has no place in deciding whether offensive speech is also illegal.

    We've seen a flipside of the same debate here in the U.S., with the recent $11 million verdict against the infamous Phelps clan from Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. Fred Phelps and his progeny first made a name for themselves by protesting Matthew Shepard's funeral with signs proclaiming "Fag Matt in Hell."

    When directly picketing the gays stopped being sufficiently provocative, they moved on to greener pastures, most recently protesting outside the funerals of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq. The Phelps' twisted thinking is that the soldiers' deaths are somehow God's punishment for tolerance toward gays in the United States.

    Ap_funeral_protest_071102_ms The Phelps were sued by one Maryland family whose son's funeral they picketed, and a jury returned an $11 million verdict. The Phelps have appealed and civil libertarians have come to their defense, proclaiming that the First Amendment was designed to protect outrageous and offensive speech. One recent editorial in the Los Angeles Times is typical:

    It's hard to imagine a more despicable message than the notion that U.S. combat deaths in Iraq are God's just punishment for America's tolerance of gays and lesbians. But that is precisely why a Kansas church preaching that demented doctrine must receive the protection of the 1st Amendment. Those on society's margins -- and sometimes its weirdos -- are those whose speech needs protecting.

    I agree that the Phelps' protests are, in principle, protected by the First Amendment, although like all speech it can be subject to reasonable and content-neutral regulations as to time, place and manner. But the LA Times and other free speech advocates do the First Amendment no favors by portraying its purpose as protecting "weirdos" and incredibly offensive speech like the Phelps' pablum.

    The First Amendment is there to protect a robust debate over important public issues, not to protect weirdos and those at the margins. The reason it does protect the offensive speech of weirdos is because it's not possible as a practical matter to legislate the line between offensive speech that doesn't serve the public debate and its inoffensive counterpart.

    Perhaps the "Jerry Springer" case will provide the British courts an opportunity to finally absorb that lesson, and scrap "blasphemy" laws that protect organized religion from criticism in ways that other institutions are not. I saw the "Jerry Springer" musical on a trip to London a few years ago, and it's downright silly to take its views of Christian theology so seriously as to take deep offense, much less sue.

    And if those like the Christian Voice who do take offense would be much better served by having their own say -- answering speech with more speech -- rather than trying to silence the opposition.



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