MY WORD: Calling a lie a lie is not suppressing speech or religious freedom

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By Mark Potok

Columnist Chuck Souder makes some wildly inaccurate claims (“The coming criminalization of Christianity: The Censorship of Hate,” Jan. 21) about the Southern Poverty Law Center’s recent designation of the Family Research Council and several other religious-right organizations as anti-gay hate groups. I would like to set the record straight.
Contrary to Mr. Souder’s claims, these groups were not listed by the SPLC as hate groups because of their opposition to same-sex marriage or for their religious beliefs. In fact, we state quite clearly in our report that simply viewing homosexuality as unbiblical does not qualify an organization for listing as a hate group. Nowhere have we equated taking a position against same-sex marriage or calling homosexuality a sin with hate speech.
As we explained in our report, our listing of these groups is based on their propagation of known falsehoods – claims about gay men and lesbians that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities – and their repeated, groundless name-calling.
Nevertheless, Mr. Souder asserts that we are being “overly prejudicial” in our assessment of these organizations. Let’s consider some the dehumanizing propaganda disseminated by these groups:
•    The American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer wrote last year that “[h]omosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and 6 million dead Jews.”
•    The Family Research Council, in a booklet entitled Homosexual Activists Work to Normalize Sex With Boys, has claimed that “one of the primary goals of the homosexual rights movement is to abolish all age of consent laws and to eventually recognize pedophiles as the ‘prophets’ of a new sexual order.”
•    On the Nov. 29 broadcast of MSNBC’s Hardball, the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins claimed that “the research is overwhelming that homosexuality poses a danger to children.”
This last point is one that has been repeated by almost all the groups named by the SPLC. To prove his point, Perkins cited an outfit called the American College of Pediatricians, which certainly sounds authoritative. But he was being less than honest, to say the least.
The American College of Pediatricians is actually a tiny group that broke away from the real professional association – the similarly named American Academy of Pediatrics – specifically because that 60,000-member organization had endorsed gay and lesbian parenting. Perkins’ sleight-of-hand was enough to cause Hardball host Chris Matthews to run a special segment two days later to explain the difference between the academy and the so-called college.
The reality is that virtually all credible researchers in the field have concluded, as did the American Psychological Association in an official statement, that “homosexual men are not more likely to sexually abuse children than heterosexual men are.” Perkins, of course, is familiar with the evidence but chooses to ignore it.
Thoughtful Christian commentators have understood our point. Warren Throckmorton, a respected professor and past president of the American Mental Health Counselors Association, had this to say about our listing of these groups:

“For the most part, the reaction of defenders of the newly labeled hate groups is to avoid addressing the issues the SPLC raised, instead preferring to attack the credibility of the SPLC.” He added, “The SPLC has identified some issues which are legitimate and have damaged the credibility of the groups on the list. Going forward, I hope Christians don’t rally around these groups but rather call them to accountability.”
Souder’s claims that the rights of Christians are under attack and that “publicly espousing Christianity will be outlawed as ‘hate speech’” are ludicrous. No one can seriously believe that Christians in this country will lose any of their religious freedom.
The SPLC’s listings are not in any way intended to suppress these groups’ free speech. We’re in no way opposed to the invigorating clash of ideas in the public forum. And we’re not asking that these groups be silenced or punished in any way. What we are doing is calling them out for their lies.
If a neo-Nazi group said all Jews are “vermin,” no one would argue with our characterizing it as a hate group. The same should be true for groups that knowingly spread demonizing falsehoods about gay men and lesbians.

Mark Potok is director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project. For more information, visit www.splcenter.org.