Monday, November 07, 2005

Preaching Bible in church a crime?

Could the Bible, a document held by Christians as the inerrant and infallible word of God, someday be treated as hate speech? As unlikely a scenario as this may seem considering our nation's history, this is within the realm of possibility if two trends are allowed to converge into a perfect storm of political correctness.

America has always placed a premium on the free exchange of ideas. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech." Although most speech is protected by the Constitution, the Supreme Court has identified certain types as less deserving of such protection.

These include incitement to immediate lawless action, fighting words, obscenity, defamation and false advertising. Religious speech has always received full constitutional protection, unless it falls within one of these five categories.

The first significant trend has developed in Europe. Over the past decade, many Western democratic nations such as Germany, Sweden, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Britain, Canada and Australia have passed laws criminalizing religious speech that is based on the Bible. Specifically, these laws target speech that could be deemed an aggression against the dignity of its citizens, particularly those who engage in homosexual behavior.

This development, in and of itself, would not be cause for grave concern. After all, repression of religious speech is nothing new in countries such as China and Iran. Many people around the globe live under the persistent threat of criminal penalties for espousing and sharing religious views inconsistent with those of that particular nation's official religion. But the recent development in those Western democracies is nevertheless unsettling considering that a minister who preaches directly from the Bible on the issue of homosexuality is likely to be prosecuted.

A second trend, however, makes this foreign hostility to religious speech significant within our borders. Over the past decade, the U.S. Supreme Court has turned with increasing frequency to foreign law when ruling on hot-button issues such as capital punishment, racial discrimination and gay rights.

Taken together, these two trends mean that legal developments overseas must be monitored and their impact on American jurisprudence scrutinized. It is conceivable, in the near future, that when reviewing the conviction of a minister for labeling homosexuality as sinful during a sermon, the Supreme Court could draw upon foreign law to uphold such a sentence.

Even more troubling, just last month, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 2662). This bill would extend hate crimes law, which currently covers classifications of race, religion and national origin, to now include sexual orientation. This would pave the way for banning speech directed at a lifestyle that millions of Americans believe is contrary to the Bible. Such legislation would actually obviate the need for the Supreme Court to draw upon foreign law to take this leap.

What does this mean for the American clergy and Christians? The net effect would be that a minister preaching against homosexuality as a sin would do so under the threat of criminal prosecution. Simply pointing out that a certain lifestyle is against the Bible's teachings, without the suggestion of animus or violence against those who practice it (which would certainly go against the teachings of the Bible), could subject the speaker to possible incarceration.

This goes well beyond the issue of homosexuality. One can foresee a time when singling out other types of lifestyles, based on the Bible, would constitute a hate crime. This would no doubt result in stifling religious speech inside houses of worship across America.

Fifty years ago, the Supreme Court recognized that it is not "in the competence of courts under our constitutional scheme to approve, disapprove, classify, regulate or in any manner control sermons delivered at religious meetings. ... To call the words which one minister speaks to his congregation a sermon, immune from regulation, and the words of another minister an address, subject to regulation, is merely an indirect way of preferring one religion over another."

If the Supreme Court holds true to its precedents, America will weather the incoming storm of political correctness and preserve our most cherished rights, that of free speech and free exercise of religion, without the threat of criminal retribution. Should the court continue down this foreign law slope, however, there is no telling the impact upon religious speech in America.


Read the whole article here.

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Scary article. This is just more proof of America's downward slide. Now that Alito may become part of the Supreme Court, he will be another conservative voice in the Court. This could keep any such "hate speech" laws from being passed, at least in the near future.

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