Monday, August 04, 2008

Oh hell, another one

Is the Greene Litigiousness Virus making the rounds lately? Here's another dimwit only too eager to don Patrick's crazy hat and leap into the fray.

A Canton man is suing Zondervan Publishing and a Tennessee-based publisher, claiming their versions of the Bible that refer to homosexuality as a sin violate his constitutional rights and have caused him emotional pain and mental instability.

Well, I'll certainly buy the mental instability bit, but I hardly think the courts are likely to agree that Zondervan's Bibles have caused it. Bradley LaShawn Fowler has apparently failed to notice that every translation of the Bible in existence vilifies gays, even the many millions of editions not published by Zondervan. There are sound condemnations to be made of the Bible regarding the suffering its teachings have caused many groups of people down the centuries — gays, Jews, atheists, women. But frivolous litigation addresses these issues not at all, and only invites more derision. I suspect Mr. Fowler (who's representing himself, which I'm sure will come as a knockout surprise) is destined to endure yet more "demoralization, chaos and bewilderment," especially when he finds out just how quickly this one gets thrown out.


  1. Wow, it's weird because I was just writing up a blog post on this kind of topic (though it's unfinished).

    In Canada, we don't have the absolute freedom of speech like in the United States, so there is some limitation in insulting speech that may not actually be libelous (resultant primarily due to the Reasonable Limits clause of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which in general I actually like having in place).

    Because of this, public protests of homosexuality in Canada was ruled illegal a few year back. Because this also applies to published works to a degree, I've been wondering how that applies to the Bible, Qur'an and Torah. Seems almost impossible to apply any such restrictions on a published work without those books getting grouped in.

    Obviously, though, I'd never sue over it, or worse yet, in a country where it's flagrantly frivilous.

  2. I support this. Although, the judge would probably rule "frivolous lawsuit" and award the defendants cash.

  3. My original reaction to this lawsuit was that it is indeed frivolous. And Zurahn, wow, I did not know that. It is actually illegal to protest homosexuality in Canada? Well, I disagree with that law merely on the grounds of freedom of speech. Countries should be striving for more freedom of speech, not less.

    But that being said, freedom of speech is not all encompassing, even in the US. So I started thinking about the kind of speech that is NOT protected. One cannot directly threaten another person with bodily harm. Such an act is illegal, as well as it should be. Also, I cannot use words to intentionally incite others to commit crimes. A fundamentalist Christian can say all day that he thinks homosexuals should be stoned to death but it is not illegal until he actually calls on others to do just that. If he says “listen to me everyone, today you need to do something. Each of you needs to go out and find someone that you know is a homosexual and kill him where he stands.” THAT would not be protected speech, nor should it be, even if it is religiously motivated. At least that is how I see the law; please correct me if I’m wrong.

    So now let’s take the following text:

    "If a man lies with a man as with a woman, both of them shall be put to death for their abominable deed; they have forfeited their lives." (Leviticus 20:13 NAB)

    If it said they were DESERVING of death or even that they SHOULD be put to death it might be able to skirt the laws but this is actually calling for an action, an action that is illegal in the US. Anyone that has read the bible knows there are numerous such passages that call for an illegal action on the part of the reader.

    I’m not saying that I think we should ban the bible or force them to edit it. But I do think it is an interesting point of discussion. Why can “Book A” not call for the murder of certain groups but “Book B” can? Is it merely because of how old the book is?

  4. Mudskipper: You support what, Mr. Fowler's Suit? Why?

    Bob: The Leviticus passages are ancient texts detailing Mosaic laws of the day. True, modern believers consider this to be the word of God and all, but you'd have a hard time making a case that this text could only be accurately interpreted as a specific call to action for a crime to be committed today. But it isn't just how old the book is: it's whether or not the speech in question can properly be considered to advocate "imminent lawless action." (See below.)

    Hate speech laws are so difficult to define. And they can often cut both ways. A few days ago Ed Brayton posted an article about a group of Catholics in Spain suing the organizers of a gay rights group, for promoting "hate speech" against them.

    Under American laws, the line between free speech and direct, illegal incitement is a tricky one. The "incitement test" has been fought over in a number of cases, and it's likely that the example you give ("Each of you needs to go out and find someone that you know is a homosexual and kill him where he stands.") may very well fall under unprotected speech in that it could be argued to represent (to quote the linked page) "subversive advocacy calculated to produce 'imminent lawless action' and which is likely to produce such action." Under this ruling, Brandenburg v. Ohio, the Leviticus passage would most likely not qualify.

  5. Bill C-250 passed in 2003 in Canada which added sexual orientation to the list of protected groups, equivocating protesting homosexuality to protesting blacks or women. While I understand how this could be perceived as getting out of hand to restrict, I generally agree with it. It rather objectively serves no purpose other than harm and by that token fall outside reasonable limits. But that's due to the structure of Canadian rights, under different structure, such restrictions could be considered more insidious.

    I'm actually surprised, though, about the US laws. I was unaware that saying for example, "You should kill _____ for _____" ('you' as in specific people, not merely suggesting a policy) would be illegal.

    As for the Leviticus texts, the dismissal of the passages as "oh that was then" I find in no way a legitimate defense. When there is a passage that is not part of a moral story, but rather a direct edict from God of, for example, if your child suggests worshipping another god, you must kill him. If the argument that it can be interpreted in any other way applies to that, then that applies to everything and the restriction of texts deemed meaningless. Whether that's positive or negative is another discussion altogether.

  6. Bob: what Martin said, mostly. In a published work, only the author is liable for asserted claims and threats, unless the court decides that the act of publishing causes a direct, present danger. Since the authors of works like the Bible are long dead, however, they are set aside in a category of literature very close to that of fiction novels. This is why things like Mein Kampf cannot be banned outright. Only works that cab proven to have been written recently with the express purpose of inciting violence can be banned, otherwise some of the recent atheist works (for instance) might be stopped because of "hate speech".

  7. Also, just to add that there are many ancient texts that talk about ancient beliefs. Some are even legal codes. But I wouldn't ban publishing them anymore than I would ban publishing information about how medieval instruments of torture were built.

    The issue with the Bible is that some people believe it's intended for them today--as present-day instructional material. However, that's not the Bible's fault. The author wasn't writing to them. And the publisher is just publishing some antiquated legal codes from the ancient Hebrews.

    If someone acts on this weirdness, or seriously advocates for acting on it in a way that seriously incites others to do so, it's really less that the book "told them" to do this, and more a matter of their warped perceptions. I read the Bible, and yes it says gays should be killed. But I don't see any cause to interpret it as a present-day mandate to action for me. If someone else does--is that the fault of the book or the delusional mind of the individual?

  8. Hey, Zurahn...
    I just read an interview over at Friendly Atheist with a Christian reverend who emphatically rejects the bible as literal, claiming that adherence to literalism amounts to belief in a dead god, and that in order for her faith in a living god to remain relevant (and tolerant of her own homosexuality) the stories are to be embraced as stories containing some modicum of wisdom, but not as rules in which to live your life by.

    This is how she rejects Leviticus and even admits to cherry picking.

    It's weird- but that's one theists reasoning.

  9. That's a very interesting point, Tracie, but I think I can still muster an argument. Would it be considered reasonable to think that any time The Bible was written as a legal codification, or anything other than divine instruction? If it was always written as "God's will" then it was intended for all people of all times.

    spajadigit, I've heard different responses to varying quality, but personally I don't really care what a person believes in The Bible (they could write their own and I'd consider it as valid). In terms of application of the law, though, I meant to state that I don't think the interpretation defense would be valid without undermining the law trying to be enforced.

    I'm just trying to put both sides out there. Obviously The Bible isn't going anywhere, nor would I seriously insist it does.

  10. Heck, you can even get people like Dennis Prager who insist that the Levitical laws weren't even enforced at the time.

    He thinks all these death penalty admonitions for various and sundry offenses were only there to highlight the seriousness and importance of God's commands, even though - despite their apparent "seriousness" - enforcing them wasn't considered all that important. Yeah, right.

    He claims to be an expert in Hebrew and seriously argues this. He claims there's "no evidence" anyone was ever put to death based on these laws, but I'm wondering what we should expect to find to convince him? A skeleton with a sign around its neck saying "killed for breaking the Sabbath"?

    Just goes to show you can convince yourself of anything if you really want to.


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