Sunday, June 27, 2010

Free Speech and the Bible Humpers

This weekend saw hundreds of thousands of people coming out in support of GLBT rights by attending Twin Cities Pride in Minneapolis. Non-heterosexual lifestyles are seen as offensive to certain people. There are different reasons for this. Some express that non-heterosexual lifestyles are "against Nature," others will cite religious scripture for justification of the opinion that any other form of sexuality other than heterosexuality is immoral and will result in those individuals facing an eternity in torment in the afterlife.

Twin Cities Pride rents out a large public park in downtown Minneapolis for two days at some considerable cost. To absorb this cost, they solicit donations, sell sponsorships, and sell tent space to vendors and organizations. Because Twin Cities Pride rents the whole park, they establish certain rules within the park which vendors must follow. Vendors are allowed to hand out materials, but only at the location they have rented and the organization is allowed to choose who is allowed to pay for a table and who can not.

Why is this an issue? Brian Johnson, a Christian known for protesting Pride festivals was allowed by the Minneapolis Park Board to preach and hand out Bibles at the festival in Loring Park. Twin Cities Pride attempted to prevent him from doing so by issuing an injunction against the decision by the Park Board, which was rejected. The judge's reason? What Brian Johnson was attempting to do is exercise his right to free speech, so long as he isn't disruptive. I agree with the decision. If a protester can be refused free speech at this event, what about a gay rights supporter at a Christian festival?

Brian Johnson wasn't the only protester we saw this year. John Chisham was there as well. We have seen him over the past few years at the Duluth GLBTQAI Festival. He carries a large sign with Bible quotes and preaches at will about sin. He has assistants who will stand and read from the Bible and always includes someone who video tapes his interactions with attendees at the festivals. What would you see from one of these videos? Gay rights supporters shouting, telling him HE is going to Hell, yelling other vile things and even spitting on him. This kind of video encourages Christians to give to his cause. The people who support gay rights are clearly a violent group who are anti-Christian and need to be preached to.

I should mention that I held up a "Hug an Atheist" sign next to his sign at GLBTQAI Duluth last year. What was interesting, is how upset people were getting over him just being there. Some people responded to my sign with great enthusiasm, simply because of his presence. Still others in the audience ignored both of us. Ultimately, both of us should have been ignored and eventually, we were. This is the lesson that the people at GLBTQAI Duluth have learned. Don't give him an audience. Don't yell at him and get upset.

Minneapolis wasn't used to seeing John. A crowd formed around him, of about 50 to 60 people in the afternoon on Saturday. People stood in front of him and listened to him preach while shouting back. Others held up a sign which read "Bible Humper." He had an assistant with a video camera and the audience was providing all the footage he would need. Someone shoved him, was detained and released without a ticket. If he had been ignored, he wouldn't have received the press he was seeking.
EDIT: I forgot to mention that I also saw someone holding up a copy of Christoper Hitchens' "God is Not Great" while he shouted at John, as if "God is Not Great," is some sort of anti-Bible scripture.

This brings up the point of having so many religious groups at Twin Cities Pride. "Standing on the Side of Love" is a campaign from the Unitarian Universalists to "harness love's power to stop oppression." Since the annual meeting of the Unitarian Universalists was only blocks away, their shirts and signs flooded the event. At some of the stages, religious benedictions were offered from religious leaders and spiritual hymns were sung. These people support gay rights and equality, but I don't think it is because of their religion. I don't support equality because I'm an atheist. I don't think someone should have to justify equality with a religious or non religious belief. I think it's great that other organizations support equality, but I do wish that we could do it together.

I had the feeling last year that the religious and political groups were trying to gain converts at gays were their market. I wouldn't wear a "Would Jesus Discriminate?" sticker because I was wearing an atheist shirt and I was irritated at the notion of using Jesus as a modern day pawn to sway people to support equality. I was less irritated this year, because I'm pleased that there are more people supporting equality and it bothers me less that people are able to find support from a familiar religious framework. I rationalized this by assuming that it would be easier for someone who is already experiencing a difficult time with a life choice to find support which is familiar than trying to tear down religious beliefs. I would rather that more Christians supported equality than inequality and discrimination. Equality as an ethic is more important to me than views on theology.