Free speech vs. hate speech

Posted on 03 May 2010 at 5:04pm

I read a story today in the New York Daily News online about a street preacher in Cumbria, U.K., who was arrested — by a gay policeman, no less — for telling someone that homosexuality is a sin.

Dale McAlpine, who was charged with causing “harassment, alarm or distress,” said that he didn’t say anything about homosexuality being a sin during his sermon there on the street, but acknowledged that he made that statement to a passerby during a one-on-one conversation.

The London Telegraph reported that an officer talked to a woman who had just been talking to McAlpine, and then went up to the preacher and warned him that he faced arrest for using hate speech. McAlpine then started preaching again, and then the officer arrested him.

Oh, and just for the record, McAlpine was also denouncing blasphemy and drunkenness.

I know there are plenty of people out there who will say that McAlpine was using hate speech when he —allegedly — called homosexuality a sin. And I know there are plenty of other people who will say he was practicing his freedom of religion.

Personally, I have a problem with arresting someone for saying homosexuality is a sin or sinful or whatever. There are plenty of major religions that teach just that, and even though I disagree — most strongly — I don’t think the government (in this case, the police) should be able to arrest someone for saying that.

There is a fine, fine line, though. Saying homosexuality is a sin is not the same as suggesting that people should be executed for the sin of homosexuality. Making a statement like that is, I believe, on the order of yelling “fire” in a crowded theater — that old standby for determining where free speech rights end. (I feel like I’m talking in circles, here.)

I know that it makes a lot of people angry to hear people “preaching” about homosexuality and sin. It irritates the hell out of me, too. There are a lot of things that people say about homosexuality and LGBT people that irritate the hell out of me. But I still believe they have the right to say those things, just like I have the right to express my opinions about their religions. You have to remember, taking away — or even just taking away from — the free speech rights of someone else is just a very small step away from someone taking away your free speech rights.

There has to be a line drawn between free speech and speech inciting violence. But I, for one, hope it’s not drawn too close to where I am standing.

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