08/23/2012 11:42 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

When Does the Free Exercise of Religion Become Hate?

In the wake of the horrific act of contemptible violence committed
last week at the Family Research Council, conservative Christian
leaders at the Council and others volleyed with left-leaning
organizations, notably the Southern Poverty Law Center, about the
SPLC's designation of the Family Research Council as a hate group.
The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin and Dana Milbank opined on the
hate group label, dancing very close to condemning it.

The back-and-forth between the groups is petty given the
circumstances. Injustice inflicted upon anyone is an injustice
sustained by all. LGBT rights groups did the right thing and stood
alongside the FRC in solidarity against violence. It should
have been left at that.

However, greater reflection on the ensuing debate raises
an important, fundamental question that we as a society must address:
When does the free exercise of religion become hate, and what do we do
about it when it does?

The problem with the Family Research Council is that the
organization's positions aren't simply informed by Biblical
principles. Nor does the FRC's main focus seek to ensure that with
the advancement of LGBT rights, the rights of religious objectors are
similarly protected. If the group's public policy work were limited
to Biblically driven public policy advocacy and self-liberty
interests, there would be little controversy about their place in our
plural society's marketplace of ideas.

Rather, the Family Research Council and some of its allies
present decades-old, discredited, and recanted junk science for
public, legislative, and judicial consumption. Their publications,
for example, cite to the Journal of Human Sexuality as if it were a
legitimate, peer-reviewed scientific journal. It is anything but.
That journal is a faux-academic arm of the group NARTH, the major
advocate for the nearly universally rebuked "reparative therapy."

The dire consequence of this unholy marriage of faux
science and religion is twofold. First, these groups are increasingly
taking up state marriage-equality lawsuits where the state refuses to
defend discriminatory marriage laws. As a consequence, this junk
science creeps it way into legal decisions, like the recent defeat for
marriage equality in a Hawaii federal court.

Secondly, the demeaning nature of these groups' work reinforces anti-LGBT
animus in our society. The FRC's agenda is damaging to LGBT people's
welfare and dignity. They take their human and constitutional right
to express sincerely held religious perspectives that condemn
homosexuality and same-sex marriage and infuse those positions with
inflammatory descriptions of gay people as dirty, promiscuous, and
self-destructive, rather than talking about homosexuality in terms of
Biblical doctrine, morality, and "tradition."

Their approach stands in stark contrast to a recent letter from the
Catholic Bishop of Spokane, Wash., who urged his flock to defeat
same-sex marriage there in November but also emphasized that the
Church "has no tolerance for the misuse of this moment to incite
hostility towards homosexual persons or promote an agenda that is
hateful and disrespectful of their human dignity."

At the end of the day, though, it is irrelevant whether the FRC and
others like it are actually a "hate group." Such labels are
unproductive. Those labels give us who oppose their policy positions
the ability to write them off as crazy folks, people who are not to be
taken seriously or engaged in spirited, civil dialogue. That is a

The answer to FRC and groups like it is to shed light on their
wrongheaded positions of public policy. Light is the greatest
cure for myopia. We must civilly go toe to toe with them in
courts, legislatures, and in the public eye to dismantle their
falsifiable mistruths without demeaning or attacking religion. We
must continue speaking truth to injustice. And when the fodder of
hyperbolic rhetoric starts again -- and it will -- we should rise above
the unproductive volleying, turn the other cheek, and keep the
movement to preserve human dignity for all people, even those who we
disagree with, going forward.