Oct 29, 2010

This weekend, I’ll be joining the large crowds taking over Washington for Jon Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity.”

I don’t really know what to expect of the event, or if it will actually “restore sanity.” But I do know Stewart’s title choice couldn’t be more perfect, especially when I consider the many people in this country who have taken to saying and doing really idiotic things lately.

A good example of this is Clint McCance, a school board member in an Arkansas community who used his Facebook page last week to encourage gay people to kill themselves.

Responding to a call to wear purple Oct. 20 in support of five LGBT youth who had killed themselves, reportedly because of bullying, McCance, vice president of the Midland School District in Pleasant Plains, Ark., wrote the following:

"Seriously they want me to wear purple because five queers killed themselves. The only way im wearin it for them is if they all commit suicide. I cant believe the people of this world have gotten this stupid. We are honoring the fact that they sinned and killed thereselves because of their sin. REALLY PEOPLE."

McCance, responding to comments on his post, cited religious reasons in part for his hatred of gay kids.

“I would disown my kids [if] they were gay,” he wrote. “They will not be welcome at my home or in my vicinity. I will absolutely run them off. Of course my kids will know better. My kids will have solid christian beliefs. See it infects everyone."

Soon after McCance posted his comments, several education, religious and gay rights organizations spoke out forcefully.

“Clint McCance has put a face on the hate that devastates our young people,” says Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "McCance shouldn't be allowed near children, let alone managing their education. We call for his immediate resignation from the school board."

In response to the wave of protests, McCance appeared on CNN’s “AC360” with Anderson Cooper and announced his resignation. He also issued an apology.

"The only thing I can do is extend my apologies for my poor speech," he said. "I don't wish death on anyone."

McCance did the right thing in resigning. We can only hope he has truly come to his senses.

Unfortunately, we can’t say the same for many Religious Right zealots who don’t seem to believe statements like McCance’s are a problem – after all, this school official is just asserting his free speech rights, right?

That’s what the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), the Family Research Council (FRC) and other Religious Right groups seem to believe.

Religious Right groups oppose most anti-bullying policies, claiming that such protections might hinder their freedom to speak out against “sin” in keeping with the commands of their faith. In other words, they want students to have the right to use hateful language if they want, especially if it’s religion-based.

The ADF’s David J. Hacker has criticized the Obama administration for pushing for anti-bullying measures, saying it infringes on free speech and will lead to more litigation.

Tony Perkins, FRC’s president, said anti-bullying policies are unnecessary because bullying of gay students is not the cause for harm.

"These young people who identify as gay or lesbian, we know from the social science that they have a higher propensity to depression or suicide because of that internal conflict," said Perkins.

According to Perkins, homosexuality is "abnormal,” and kids know it, which leads them to despair – not the bullying.

Talk about senseless. Hacker and Perkins want to continue their gay-bashing rants so much that they are okay if it harms students in the process.

That’s not okay. We’re all for freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but there’s a difference between free expression and intimidation -- religiously grounded or not. A public school is not the place to spew hateful rhetoric. All students need to feel safe and welcome, not subjected to vitriol and harassment. It’s plain and simple.

P.S.: We are proud to see Americans United Arkansas Chapter President Bob Klein, pastor of the Unitarian-Universalist Church of Little Rock, stand up this morning with the Arkansas Interfaith Alliance in support of bullied gay and lesbian teens. He was joined by several other religious leaders who believe using religion to expand hate is “unconscionable.”