This morning, 22 members of Congress and a large number of other conservatives signed on to a public statement attacking the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for listing several anti-gay religious right organizations as hate groups. Published in two Washington, D.C., newspapers as a full-page ad, the statement was organized by the powerful Family Research Council (FRC) and other "pro-family organizations that are working to protect and promote natural marriage and the family."
The statement, whose signatories included House Speaker-Designate John Boehner and the governors of Louisiana, Minnesota and Virginia, ran under the headline, "Start Debating/Stop Hating." It accused "elements of the radical Left" of trying to "shut down informed discussion of policy issues" and decried those who attempt to suppress debate "through personal assaults that aim only to malign an opponent's character." The SPLC, it said, was engaging in "character assassination."
It was a remarkable performance, given that it was precisely the maligning of entire groups of people -- gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people -- that caused the SPLC to list groups like the FRC. Remarkable, too, was the accusation that the SPLC was avoiding debate -- in fact, the very first public discussion of the issues raised by the SPLC came in a Nov. 29 debate between the FRC's Tony Perkins and myself on MSNBC's "Hardball With Chris Matthews."
Consider a few of the comments about gays and lesbians that have come from some of the groups now denouncing character assassination. The FRC, in a booklet entitled Homosexual Activists Work to Normalize Sex With Boys, has claimed that "one of the primary goals of the homosexual rights movement is to abolish all age of consent laws and to eventually recognize pedophiles as the 'prophets' of a new sexual order." The American Family Association's Bryan Fischer wrote this year that "[h]omosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and 6 million dead Jews." Matt Barber of Liberty Counsel, which was not listed by the SPLC but helped organize today's newspaper ad, describes relationships between gay men as "one man violently cramming his penis into another man's lower intestine and calling it 'love.'" Officials of several, including the FRC, have called for criminalizing gay sex.
Almost all the religious-right groups named by the SPLC also have engaged in a particularly toxic and widespread defamation of gay men: The claim that they are essentially pedophiles who molest children at far higher rates than heterosexuals.
In fact, this became the crux of my "debate" with the FRC's Perkins -- the claim, as he put it in the very last moments of the show, that "the research is overwhelming that homosexuality poses a danger to children." To prove this, Perkins cited an outfit called the American College of Pediatricians, which certainly sounded authoritative. But he was being less than honest, to say the least. In fact, the American College of Pediatricians is a tiny group that broke away from the real professional association -- the similarly named American Academy of Pediatrics -- specifically because that 60,000-member organization had endorsed gay and lesbian parenting. Perkins' move was enough to cause Chris Matthews to run a special segment two days later that explained the difference between the academy and the so-called college.
The reality is that virtually all real researchers in the field have concluded, as did the American Psychological Association in an official statement, that "homosexual men are not more likely to sexually abuse children than heterosexual men are."
Despite the claims made in today's statement, the SPLC's listings are not in any way intended to suppress these groups' free speech. We're not asking that these groups be silenced or punished in any way. What we are doing is calling them out for their lies. There is nothing wrong with labeling an organization a hate group based on what they say. A simple example illustrates the point: If a neo-Nazi group said all Jews are "vermin," no one would argue with our characterizing it as a hate group.
Neither are we mounting an attack on individuals or "groups that uphold Judeo-Christian moral views," as today's statement suggests. In fact, as we say in our article dissecting the views of these groups, "Viewing homosexuality as unbiblical does not qualify organizations for listing as hate groups." Instead, as we explained there, "the SPLC's listings of these groups is based on their propagation of known falsehoods -- claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities -- and repeated, groundless name-calling."
Several thoughtful Christian commentators understood that clearly. Warren Throckmorton, a respected professor and past president of the American Mental Health Counselors Association, put it like this the day after my debate with Perkins: "For the most part, the reaction of defenders of the newly labeled hate groups is to avoid addressing the issues the SPLC raised, instead preferring to attack the credibility of the SPLC. Reviewing the charges leveled against the Christian groups, I think their responses are mostly unfortunate and unhelpful. The SPLC has identified some issues which are legitimate and have damaged the credibility of the groups on the list. Going forward, I hope Christians don't rally around these groups but rather call them to accountability." After reviewing the SPLC's list of "10 Myths" about gays and lesbians, he wrote that "much of what is said by Christians about homosexuality is provably false and rooted in ignorance and fear."
Another Christian website, Canyonwalker Connections, wrote: "Lies are evil. Lies breed fear. ... If we repeat the myth enough, maybe it will gain muddy traction and stick. This is what FRC and other Hate Groups do so well. They demonize the gay community. ... If the church cannot police our own, perhaps God is using secular organizations to slap His children upside the head? Would not be the first time. I will stand with, beside and in front of my GLBT fellow humans to ensure that they gain equality with me. Family Research Council, you should be more concerned about where you are on God's list of naughty or nice, sheep or goats. And Southern Poverty Law Center, I applaud you, thank you, really ... thank you."
At the end of the day, it's hard to know if the politicians and other leaders who signed today's anti-SPLC statement really know some of things the groups they are throwing in with support. What's a fact is that, despite their claims, the groups have so far, without exception, failed to confront the facts of SPLC's report.
Follow Mark Potok on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hatewatch