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Religious news

What convinced us to start reporting on
religious misinformation on the Internet

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About misinformation:

Since the startup of this website in 1995, we had been continually amazed at the level of bias, misinformation, confusing reporting, and disinformation being spread by religious news sources on a variety of topics.

During late 2009-OCT, the federal hate crimes bill was signed into law. This became the first federal civil rights law affecting sexual minorities  -- lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender persons, and transsexuals (LGBTs). It took over a decade of struggle by LGBTs, civil rights groups, and their supporters to achieve passage of the bill. Ultimately, its approval required waiting until there was a Democratically controlled House, Senate and executive.

We decided to create this new section in our website because the amount of biased reporting by religious news sources seems to have reached a new high level during debate over this bill. We suspect that this level will be maintained into the future as other bills affecting sexual minorities are in the Congressional pipeline:

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The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) which bans employment discrimination against heterosexuals, bisexuals and homosexuals.
 

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A bill to terminate the "Don't ask, don't tell" code in the military, and allow GLBT persons to freely serve in the Armed Forces.
 

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A bill to repeal the federal "Defense of Marriage Act" (DOMA) that prohibits loving, committed same-sex marriedcouples from receiving the approximately 1,040 federal benefits granted to opposite-sex married couples.

Unfortunately, religious and social liberals tend to tap into liberal news sources while religious and social conservatives tend to use conservative news sources. In order for a person to understand what is really going on in a country where the religious news sources are so biased, it is often necessary to monitor both information streams. Few people do this.

Kinds of misinformation:

We noted that most of the biased reporting on the hate crimes bill took one of two forms:

  1. Saying that a hate crime law is not needed. People promoting this view typically treat violent hate crimes as equivalent to simple assaults. They conclude that no special deterrents need to be applied to hate crimes, because laws are already in place to handle assaults. In fact they argue that equal treatment under the law requires all physical attack crimes to be treated equally, whether the crime was a simple mugging or a hate crime. That is, a perpetrator beating a person with a baseball bat during a mugging should be treated in the same way as a perpetrator beating a gay person with a baseball bat during a gay bashing.

    They overlook the fact that, most or all hate crimes have two components:

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    The actual assault -- typically victimizing someone selected at random who belongs to a hated group, -- and
     

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    A terrorist act: Sending a message to the community of which the victim is a member, with the intent of terrorizing and destabilizing an entire group of people.

    For example, gay bashing involves assaulting a person perceived as lesbian, gay or bisexual and doing this to strike fear into the hearts of the entire LGBT community. The beating, pistol whipping, torture, and crucifixion of Matthew Shepard stunned LGBT communities throughout North America and beyond -- not just in Laramie Wyoming where he died. A major goal of the law was to reduce the number of terrorist crimes that destabilize entire communities.
     

  2. Treating the hate crimes bill as if it were a hate speech bill. That is, that a person expressing verbal hatred against a GLBT person, or perhaps even reading one of the clobber passages in the Bible might be charged under the hate crimes bill.
     
    Overlooked were a few facts, that:

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    Almost complete freedom of speech is protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In case where a law conflicts with the Constitution the law is, by definition, unconstitutional. Thus, even if this bill had criminalized hate speech, it could not be enforced.
     

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    The bill specifically limited its range to include only physical assaults.
     

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    An amendment was added to the bill to specifically protect hate speech.
     

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    The bill was an extension of an earlier hate crimes bill that had protected every American from physical attack in four ways: crimes motivated by hatred of the victim's color, race, nationality or religion. To our knowledge, of all the charges made under that bill over more than four decades, none were against a person who merely engaged in non-violent hate speech.

Analysis of Internet reporting:

OneNewsNow™ (ONN) is a division of the American Family News Network. They are a main news source for fundamentalist and other evangelical Christians. On 2009-APR-20, ONN published an article by two of their reporters -- Jim and Jody Brown -- on the federal hate crimes bill. 1 They interviewed Andrea Lafferty, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC), and explain her beliefs about the bill.

Some biases contained in the article are:

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They wrote that the law would prevent Christians from talking freely about homosexuality.  They did not mention that:

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The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of speech to everyone about every subject.
 

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That the law is simply an extension of a law passed in 1969 -- four decades ago -- that criminalized hate crimes motivated by hatred of race, skin color, religion and/or nationality.
 

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That, to our knowledge:

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No person has ever been prosecuted under that federal law for hate speech.

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That no person had ever been prosecuted under state hate crimes laws of which many are similar to the federal bill.
 

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There have been many ample opportunities to lay such a charge. For example:

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We have studied two separate cases where Christian pastors independently advocated the genocide of another religious group. One suggested stoning them to death, to the enthusiastic applause of the congregation. The other proposed having the Armed Forces dropping napalm on them. No charges were ever laid against either of the pastors. In fact, no charges could be laid under the previous or current hate-crimes law. Advocating genocide may be a despicable act. It might drive decent, caring members from the church. However, such speech is quite legal in the U.S.
 

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Numerous members of The Creativity Movement (TCM) -- formerly called the "World Church of the Creator"? -- were convicted of committing in racially and religiously-inspired acts of violence -- allegedly inspired by the leader's speeches. He was eventually convicted on a charge of soliciting an undercover informant to murder a judge, but was never charged with hate speech.
 

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They wrote that the hate crimes law would legitimate deviant forms of "sexual orientation." They did not mention that:

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Many professional associations like the American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, World Health Organization, etc. consider heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual orientations to be a normal, natural, and non-deviant.
 

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The bill merely states that a violent physical assault of a person is a crime, no matter what their sexual orientation.
 

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They enclosed the phrase "sexual orientation" in quotation marks. This appears to be a reference to the beliefs of the Traditional Values Coalition that there are on the order of 30 sexual orientations, including pedophilia, necrophilia, prostitution, etc. Lesbians, gays, bisexuals, human sexuality researchers, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, education professionals, etc long ago reached a consensus that there are only three sexual orientations: heterosexual, bisexual and homosexual.

This ends our analysis of the Brown's first paragraph.

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They wrote about a hypothetical event in which a pastor might give a sermon containing information on sexual orientation, and that a member of his/her congregation might be so incensed by the sermon that he then left and engaged in gay bashing. They quote TVC as saying that the pastor could be charged with "conspiracy to commit a hate crime." Neither TVC nor OneNewsNow appears to have fact checked that statement. In the U.S., for the pastor and gay basher to engage in a conspiracy to commit a crime, they would be required to have at least one conversation during which they planned that a physical attack would take place. That is the meaning of the term "conspiracy."
 

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They report that TVC has concluded that there is no epidemic of gay bashing or attacks on transgender persons. This is partly correct. There is indeed no epidemic of reported hate crimes victimizing the LGBT community. But that is because a very low percentage of LGBT bashing incidents are reported to the police. Gay bashing is alive and every well in America; on the order of 40% of gays report having been physically assaulted because of their perceived sexual orientation.

Analysis of the OneNewsNow poll:

Discussion of this bill by conservative news sources was so effective that a poll conducted by One News Nowshowed that their visitors believed that the primary motive of those who push for "hate crimes" laws were:

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62.1%: To squelch all religious opposition to homosexuality and other sexual orientations.

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14.7%: To give special protected status to lesbian, gay, transgender (LGBT) individuals.

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1.7%: To deal with an alleged epidemic of crimes perpetrated upon LGBT individuals.

In fact, the main intents of those promoting the hate-crime bill was:

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Unrelated to religious opposition to minority sexual orientations.
 

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To give equal protection to heterosexuals, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals, transgender persons, cisgendered persons, women, men, the disabled, blacks, whites, persons of other races and skin colors, persons of all religions, and persons of all nationalities.
 

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To deal with high levels of hate crimes against individuals on the basis of their skin color, race, religion, nationality, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and disability
 

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To reduce the disrupting effects that such crimes were having on the victims' communities.

References:

  1. Jim and Jody Brown, " 'Hate crimes' bill -- bad news for believers," One News Now, 2009-APR-20, at: http://www.onenewsnow.com/

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    Copyright © 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
    Originally written: 2009-NOV-02
    Latest update: 2009-NOV-08
    Author: B.A. Robinson

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