September 29th, 2011
11:09 AM ET
By Jim Daly, Special to CNN
(CNN)– We all know the old saying about falsely yelling "fire" in a crowded theater. It's a metaphor designed to explain that while free speech is protected in our country, speaking with reckless disregard for the truth and inciting panic is, at best, irresponsibly dangerous, and, at worst, beyond the covering of the First Amendment.
The phrase has its roots in a 1919 opinion by Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, but there's a version of it growing increasingly common today: Falsely yelling "hate" in a crowded public square.
A New York Times story over the weekend chronicled how some individuals and organizations eager to see same-sex marriage legalized have stopped trying to win others to their point of view through reasoned argument and have turned, instead, to emotional epithets as their main rhetorical tool.
The most recent campaign is against the Charity Give Back Group (CGBG), an online shopping service that allows consumers to donate a portion of their purchase from a variety of retailers to the nonprofit group of their choice. Gay activists, primarily through online petitions, have pressured several retailers to pull out of CGBG, alleging that the stores are helping fund "hate."
Similar efforts have been launched in recent months against Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS shoes, for speaking at a Focus on the Family event; and Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, for agreeing to appear at a leadership conference sponsored by another Christian group, the Willow Creek Association.
These events are a chilling snapshot of what's become of civil discourse in our culture.
The simple truth is, "hate" is far too big a word to be thrown around with such little discretion. It imputes a sinister motive to what, in this case, is a widely and deeply held belief that God's design for human sexuality lies within the lifelong context of one-man, one-woman marriage.
Does Focus on the Family advocate for that definition of marriage to be upheld as the law of the land? Unapologetically. But do we, as Webster's defines "hate," feel "intense hostility and aversion" to gays and lesbians? Do we regard them with "extreme dislike or antipathy"? Unequivocally not.
That is not to say, of course, that there aren't people and groups who do "hate" gays and lesbians.
There are also people and groups who "hate" Christians. But they do not represent the wide swath of either side of the discussion about same-sex marriage.
For the overwhelming majority of those who see the issue as we do, it is a public-policy matter we approach informed by our faith and motivated by what we feel is best for society.
Study after study has indicated the best environment for children to be raised and nurtured is the home of their married, biological parents. Same-sex marriage, by definition, creates homes that deprive a child of either a mother or a father.
Those of us who hold these views on homosexuality and same-sex marriage are certainly accustomed to having our beliefs challenged, even vehemently, and often in our own families.
We pray we speak on these subjects in a way that upholds God's truth while demonstrating Christ's heart and love for all people. However, if this effort to intimidate those who hold our views - and even those who may not hold our views but associate with us - continues, it's possible we won't be able to speak about it at all.
In many ways the environment we find ourselves in is not unlike that surrounding Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. Certainly at that point in our history, the threat of communism to our nation was real.
It was right and proper, as most on the left and right agree, that those who did seek to subvert the laws and security of the United States be exposed and brought to justice. But the way McCarthy pursued his anti-communism campaign was, as the Times said in a 1998 editorial, "a menace to the body politic."
He leveled very loud charges very publicly, often with no evidence to support his accusations. Still, the smears stuck even to those he targeted unfairly, who for the rest of their lives bore a stain not caused by their actions, but by his words.
We were a better country than that then, and we're a better country than that now. Ours is a long tradition of turning disagreements into debates, not denigration. Let's keep that tradition going by putting out a real fire – the one caused by overheated, overreaching rhetoric.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.