Liberty Counsel, a Religious Right legal group founded by attorney Mat Staver, isn’t exactly friendly to LGBTQ rights.
Two years before the Supreme Court upheld marriage equality, Staver asserted during a radio interview, “If you ultimately promoted same-sex marriage and everyone started to go towards same-sex marriage, what would happen to society? It would just simply cease to exist. Moreover, you’d have rampant increase in diseases. Already, you have rampant increase in diseases among same-sex activities, specifically men having sex with men. Same-sex marriage, same-sex relationships is destructive to individuals and it’s destructive to our very social fabric.”
During the 2011 Values Voter Summit, an annual gathering of the Religious Right, Staver told the crowd, “We are facing the survival of Western values, Western civilization. ... One of the most significant threats to our freedom is in the area of sexual anarchy with the agenda of the homosexual movement, the so-called LGBT movement. It does several things, first of all it undermines family and the very first building block of our society, but secondly, it’s a zero sum game as well and it’s a direct assault on our religious freedom and freedom of speech.”
Statements like that (and there are plenty of others like them) led many people to conclude that Staver and Liberty Counsel were homophobes. Accordingly, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) designed Liberty Counsel a hate group.
Like many on the far right these days, Staver confuses spirited opposition to his agenda with an attack on his free speech.
Last summer, the site GuideStar, which provides financial and other information about charities and tax-exempt groups, began noting on its website that SPLC had designated Liberty Counsel and other far-right organizations as hate groups. GuideStar figured potential donors might find this information useful.
Liberty Counsel didn’t take this well. In fact, it sued GuideStar, asserting that the charity rating firm had engaged in slander and damaged Liberty Counsel’s reputation. It was a heavy-handed attempt at intimidation, but it didn’t work. Last week, a federal court in Virginia dismissed the lawsuit.
U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson ruled that GuideStar’s decision to designate some organizations as hate groups was protected by the First Amendment. The court cited GuideStar’s “expressive right to comment on social issues.” (I would also argue that you can’t slander someone with the truth.)
GuideStar no longer uses the hate group designation, in part because staff members at the organization received threats. Nevertheless, Staver is vowing to appeal Jackson’s ruling.
Staver’s actions are especially ironic in light of the comments he made recently about the Masterpiece Cakeshop case currently pending before the Supreme Court. Staver insists that the bakery in this case has broad “free-speech” rights to refuse to serve LGBTQ people. Yet he seems reluctant to extend free speech to his critics.
Like many on the far right these days, Staver confuses spirited opposition to his agenda with an attack on his free speech. The fact is, Staver has over the years put forth views that alarmed many people. Not surprisingly, the people he attacked – members of the LGBTQ community, non-believers, advocates of church-state separation and others – pushed back. In some cases, Staver’s opponents have used his own words to expose his agenda. This is hardly an attack on his free speech. Rather, it’s to be expected. If you choose, as Staver did, to venture forth into the marketplace of ideas with a highly contentious agenda, an agenda that denigrates others and seeks to take away their rights, you’d better be prepared for a lot of resistance.
I can understand why Staver was angry over the hate group designation. No one likes to be thought of that way. In Staver’s case, he has the power to shake off that unpleasant label: He and his group could stop spreading hate.
Just a thought.