“Tolerance Vigilantes”

Gil Bailie of the Cornerstone Forum blogspot has hit upon a catchy slur that he seems determined to forge into a viral meme through endless repetition. “Tolerance vigilantes” describes LGBT activists who fight discrimination, even when their tactics are completely non-violent and lawful. And because they are opposed to discrimination, they must be…intolerant! Aha!

On 1/29/10, Bailie posted a piece titled, “The Tolerance Vigilantes at it again…,” about LGBT activists in Oakland, CA, trying to oust a Proposition 8 supporter—Lorenzo Hoopes—from the board of the Paramount Theatre of the Arts, which is partly funded by the city. Because the City Council must approve the theatre’s board, the activists petitioned their elected council representatives not to reappoint Hoopes. Hoopes is not just any Proposition 8 supporter; he was Oakland’s largest donor to the campaign, and so his reappointment would understandably rile LGBT members of Oakland’s arts community.

These LGBT persons did not storm the City Council offices carrying pitchforks and torches. Nor did they threaten anyone or engage in drive-by shootings or lawn-burnings. Their position was that people who support discrimination should not be tasked with representing the community. They used their political clout to bring about a change that they believed would benefit their community, and they did so by peaceably petitioning their elected representatives on the Council. That was their right.

And yet Bailie writes, “The members of the board…dare not publicly support [Hoopes] for fear of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender thugs who might take revenge on them…”

Thugs? Revenge? Vigilantes? This is more than hyperbolic. It is slanderous and incendiary. Bailie’s insinuation that board members have reason to fear bodily harm from the activists is completely without basis in fact. If Bailie were trying to stir up his own mini-mob against the activists, he could not have chosen a more fitting rhetorical style.

On 2/8/10, Bailie posts “The Tolerance Vigilantes Again…,” where he quotes Kathryn Jean Lopez writing in the National Review:

Pres. Barack Obama’s nominee for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a Georgetown University professor named Chai Feldblum, wrote in 2006 that “just as we do not tolerate private racial beliefs that adversely affect African-Americans in the commercial arena, even if such beliefs are based on religious views, we should similarly not tolerate private beliefs about sexual orientation and gender identity that adversely affect LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] people.” Feldblum believes that there is a “zero-sum game” being played between religious freedom and the homosexual activists, in which “a gain for one side necessarily entails a corresponding loss for the other side.” Religious liberty, in Feldblum’s estimation, must give.

Bailie adds, “Feldblum is all-too-typical of the dogmatic leftists and intolerant homosexual activists that the current president has been so cavalierly appointing, people eager to use power to silence those who disagree with them.”

Bailie’s defense of religious liberty sounds grand until it is seen in the context of another theme that dominates his blog: multiculturalism and the Islamization of the West. In was in that context that I submitted the following three comments about his post:

(First comment:)

The word “tolerant” means different things to different people, but I think there is certainly a sense in which people who pass for civilized and well-educated in our day are “intolerant” of private beliefs that “adversely affect” (Feldblum’s term) Jews, women, and racial minorities. Aren’t we intolerant of Islamic beliefs about the inferiority of women or the status of infidels? If we were to become more tolerant of these beliefs and allow Sharia law to exist alongside U.S. constitutional law, wouldn’t this just be a concession to the multiculturalism that you deplore?

When I was growing up in the South, some white folks pointed to Bible verses to justify their personal belief in the inferiority of African Americans–a belief that was expressed in policies adversely affecting African Americans. Am I mistaken in thinking that civil rights activists were “intolerant” of these personal religious beliefs? Weren’t they saying that there is something that trumps religious liberty?

Obviously, when an American Muslim commits an honor killing, we are intolerant of the personal religious belief that prompted that act, because we all believe that something trumps religious liberty.

If Christian beliefs adversely affect LGBT people in our society, shouldn’t we be intolerant of those beliefs in the same way that we are intolerant of Muslim beliefs that adversely affect women?

(Second comment:)

Gil, the word “tolerant” with all its variants is almost as useless as that other word you were throwing around: “scapegoat.” We all flatter ourselves that we are more tolerant than others and that it’s only “those others” who engage in scapegoating. So charges of intolerance and scapegoating, whether made by homosexual activists or religious conservatives, can easily ring hollow.

“Intolerance” sounds like a very bad thing, but it’s actually value-neutral, isn’t it? We are all intolerant of certain beliefs and practices, as we should be. Intolerance of wife-beating or of child abuse is a good thing, whether it’s expressed through laws or through social pressure.

When the verb “tolerate” is understood in this value-neutral way, your quotation from Kathryn Jean Lopez’s article loses its bite. The question, “Who is being intolerant of whom?” has to cede to a more pertinent question: “Whose intolerance is tolerable?” And that question brings us right into the heart of the real issues, which are about human rights, equality, and justice.

Religious liberty is a very contingent category, in my view. Its scope is constrained by individual rights to life, liberty (including others’ religious liberty) and the pursuit of happiness. I don’t think any of us, least of all you, would claim that religious liberty is an absolute good or that it trumps all other human rights. You have expressed your concerns about the Islamization of Europe, and I would fully agree with you that Sharia law should not be tolerated in Western societies when it violates basic human rights. But similarly, religious beliefs in our own society, such as those of Christian Scientists who reject medical interventions for their sick children, should not be tolerated when they result in harm to any individual.

This is why I think your focus should be on the real issue of whether any harm is done to homosexuals by religious teachings about homosexuality. And I believe there is ample scientific evidence that such harm is actually being done. If this is the case, then I think we should all become less tolerant of such teachings.

(Third comment:)

News today from the UK: Just a week ago (2/1/10), Pope Benedict told visiting a group of British Catholic prelates that the Equality Bill now being debated in Parliament would “impose unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs.” The law, if enacted, would require equal treatment both in employment and in public and private services, regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, or disability. It would bring British civil rights laws in line with European Union Equal Treatment Directives. It would not require any church to employ gay ministers or priests, but it does protect the general workforce from discrimination.

Benedict has scheduled a trip to the UK for September, and the British government is asking taxpayers to foot the bill for it–to the tune of about 20 million Pounds. But his opposition to the Equality Bill has a lot of Brits smoldering, apparently. They are petitioning the government to require the Pope to pay for his own visit.

Are these Brits just being intolerant of religious beliefs? Or are they being intolerant of discrimination?

The Equality Bill will presumably impact not only churches but mosques, where discriminatory hiring practices are probably much more pronounced. It seems to me that the British have come to an important fork in the road. They can continue policies of multiculturalism that exempt mosques and Islamic schools from conformance with laws and societal norms, or they can pass the Equality Bill, which will require an end to discriminatory hiring and bring Muslims into the mainstream.

I would think Britain’s Catholics might want to set an example by making a small concession themselves. There could be a lot to gain, and the Church could demonstrate that it really believes in equality and justice.


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