When someone recorded Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, making vile, homophobic comments, she thought no one would hear them but the hard-core faithful. Now it’s another national embarrassment for Oklahoma. Her defense is almost as ludicrous as her tactics are shameful: that she is entitled to her opinion and that any and all anti-gay rhetoric is automatically labeled hate speech.
It is frightening to consider that Kern is an elected public official, doing the people’s business, and has no idea of what the difference is between First Amendment freedoms of expression and hate speech. Or, maybe she does know, but doesn’t care.
First, as painful as it is for me to hear her assume that all Christians have the same view of homosexuality, she does indeed have the right to consider it a sin.
Second, in using the Bible to condemn and insult other human beings, especially for political advantage, she stands in a long and shameful fundamentalist tradition (since God for some is “fear” writ large). The Bible has been used to argue against every movement to improve the lives of women and minorities. Now it is used to label homosexuals as the new enemy ” but, then, this is nothing new. It worked well for Hitler.
Third, her claim that her words constitute just an opinion (and in her opinion, a valiantly dangerous one), and not hate speech, is patently false. If Kern does not understand what words do, and how language functions to signal violence against the “other,” then she needs to go back to school, but not back to teaching.
There are three obvious ” and chilling ” reasons that Kern’s anti-gay tirade constitutes hate speech.
She compares gays to terrorists, and says that they constitute an even greater threat to our nation than real terrorists. Never mind for a moment that gays serve in the military and are currently in harm’s way in the fight against terrorism. Just think what this sordid analogy really means. The president says, about terrorists, we are killing them over there so we don’t have to kill them over here. If the appropriate response to a terrorist is to kill him (or her), what is the obvious response to someone worse than a terrorist? Kern talks about a “homosexual agenda” that targets children as young as 2. We all get it: Homosexuals are pedophiles, and can’t be trusted around our children. The code of ethics in prison with regard to pedophiles is well-known. If another prisoner kills a child molester, that’s one less child molester in the world. What then should we do with gays? Kern compares homosexuals to a cancer in part of the body. It should not be ignored, she said, just because it is contained and located in your foot. We get it: Cancer spreads, and if you don’t do something about it soon, it kills you. What do we do when we find cancer in part of our body? We cut it out; we eradicate it; we even sometimes amputate a limb ” anything to protect the rest of the body. What then should we do with homosexuals?
Kern is doing politics in a way that sickens many of us, but has been all too common of late, from the White House to the state House. When you exploit an irrational fear of the “enemy” to garner votes, and raise funds, you are doing something that is both cowardly and profoundly unchristian. But when you signal violence against any group of human beings, as did the Nazis when they called the Jews “vermin,” then you are doing something reprehensible.
If anyone said these things about white Christian heterosexual Republican women, you can bet that Kern would call it hate speech.
Meyers is minister of Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City and professor of rhetoric in the philosophy department at Oklahoma City University. His sermons can be heard at 9:30 a.m. Sundays on KOKC-AM 1520.