Bullied bullies, part 3
Pastor Manning, who has used the sign to proclaim anti-gay messages many times over the years before the “homo white devils” proclamation that got him headlines, has said he isn’t surprised, since homosexuals are “outright bullies” and he has been expecting “some violence.” He also claimed this was a violation of his right to free speech.
I don’t approve of vandalism. If there is anything that will make me have a violent reaction, it’s seeing some crap you can barely read spray painted across someone else’s private property. Admittedly, one of the reasons I have such a violent reaction is because of having the word “Fag” spray painted on my car when I was 17 years old. So any time I see spray paint like the words on that church sign, I have an immediate flashback to that morning when I came out of the house to drive to school and saw what some cowardly person had done to my car.
So, the first time I saw a news story with that picture of the hateful sign vandalized with the spray paint, my first thought was, “damn it, why did someone have to do that?”
That said, I pretty much everything that Pastor Manning said in interviews about this crime have been wrong. Not just quibblingly not quite accurate, but unequivocally, factually incorrect.
First, this is vandalism is not bullying. Bullying has very specific definitions according to the experts. In order to qualify as bullying the behavior has to satisfy three criteria:
- It has to be verbal or physical aggression
- It has to be repeated over time.
- It must involve a power differential.
All the experts further agree that the final criteria is the most essential. If that imbalance of social and/or physical power doesn’t exist, the behavior doesn’t induce the some long-term stress related trauma that typifies bullying. Bullying is socially coercive. The intent of bullying is not just to terrorize the victim, but to remind the victim that they are not in charge, that they don’t have a say in what happens to them. Bullying leverages all of the ways that we, as humans, are hardwired to conform or try to get along with “our people.” It is not merely being mean.
Spray painted words certainly can constitute verbal assault, but it is a bit muddled when those words aren’t implicitly or explicitly a threat. “God is Gay” isn’t a threat. Further, it is in direct reaction to (and covers up) words that absolutely did constitute a threat. A single act of self-defense, even one like this one which I think steps over the line, does not constitute an act of bullying.
It’s a single action, not repeated. So, under the second criteria it fails. Not bullying.
One man with a paint can does not have more social or physical power than the guy who has a church full of people, the pulpit from which to preach, the church sign that spreads his message to the whole neighborhood, a weekly podcast that spreads his message to whoever wants to hear it, a youtube channel to spread it further, and the ear of the entire rightwing-o-sphere to rush to his aid because of those mean, mean gays!
I mean really, how dare a homo object to your public declaration that gays should be stoned to death? Clearly the solitary homo with a spray paint can who objects is being the bully there, not the man using the power of the pulpit, podcasts, youtube, conservative radio, in addition to the sign to call for the violent execution of all the gays. [End sarcasm mode]
So, this incident doesn’t meet any of the three criteria to qualify as bullying.
Now, to the accusation that gays are violent. As I pointed out in part 1 of this series, contrary to what many on the right have been claiming, there are ten times as many hate crimes against gay, lesbian, trans, or bisexual people than crimes motivated by hate toward Christians. When you take into account what a large proportion of the population Christians are, and what a small proportion gay people make up, that makes the likelihood that a trans/gay/lesbian/bi person is going to be the victim of a hate crime monumentally more likely than a Christian is going to be targeted for such a crime.
Finally, the free speech argument. Do I really need to explain that the right to freedom of speech is not the same as the right to speech with no consequences?
Obviously, the pastor doesn’t understand this. Legally, freedom of speech means that the government cannot preemptively censor your expression, nor is it allowed to legally punish you merely for the content of your speech (with certain narrowly defined exceptions, such as making a credible threat to commit harm to another person, or communication in aid of a conspiracy to commit a crime, or the famous ‘yelling fire in a crowded theatre’). It does not mean that the government has to punish people who react badly to your speech. It does not mean that other people aren’t allowed to say bad things about the things you said. It does not mean that other people aren’t allowed to think you’re a horrible person because you have said hateful things.
And even though Pastor Manning doesn’t believe what he said was hateful, he knew he was proclaiming a message that would anger some of his neighbors. As Justice Scalia, of all people, said a few years ago when some rightwing Christians from my state were trying to prevent the release of the names of the people who had signed the petition to put an anti-gay measure on the ballot here in my state, “Politics takes a certain amount of civic courage. The First Amendment does not protect you from civic discourse — or even from nasty phone calls.”
Spray painting the words “God is Gay” doesn’t even constitute a nonspecific threat, so you can’t even make the argument that the vandal is trying to intimidate Pastor Manning into silence.
His sign has been vandalized. I wish it hadn’t happened. I think we should be able to call out the Pastor’s hate speech for what it is without resorting to damaging property. Such as the woman who showed up and said she was there for her stoning.
But freedom of speech means that other people have the right to disagree with what you say, and to tell you they disagree, and even to be less than nice about it. It means we have the right to laugh at you, to call you a bigot, to tell other people the awful things you have said, and so on.
That isn’t bullying. That is simply consequences.