256px Levy H L Herod s Wife Watching the Watchmen of Civil DiscourseThe Christian Post asked me to respond to the question, “Should There Be Rules on Labeling Hate Groups?” My brief response appeared yesterday. Here’s an excerpt:

If we understand rules to be moral norms and customs for civil discourse then there certainly ought to be rules for labeling hate groups. We do not, however, need special legal rules to determine the status of various institutions akin to what has been done to classify “hate crimes.” This does not mean that we do not need some element of consensus for what passes as legitimate and illegitimate activism and speech.

The occasion for the question was the controversy surrounding the decision of the Southern Poverty Law Center to include the Family Research Council on its list of “hate groups,” a decision which received renewed attention in the wake of a shooting at FRC headquarters this past August. For further reading on the SPLC and the FRC, I recommend Joe Carter’s post on the question, “Is the Christian Church a ‘Hate Group’?” “It’s important to note the caveat that the SPLC explicitly provides: “Viewing homosexuality as unbiblical does not qualify organizations for listing as hate groups.”

A corollary question remains, however, and this has to do with the clash of worldviews in the public square. Could it be that it is acceptable for a person or group of persons simply to consider monogamous heterosexual marriage as normative, for instance, but that it is not acceptable (according to the self-appointed watchmen of civil discourse) to institutionalize and publicly espouse that view? Is there a kind of secularism inherent in this admission, such that it is socially acceptable to have an opinion (religiously founded or otherwise), but not to proselytize on behalf of that view? Is this an instance of multicultural relativism, a “that’s fine for you to think, maybe, but don’t push your views on me or voice them in the public square” mentality?

As I write in the CP piece, “Any time authority is exercised over something it is worth asking the ancient question, ‘Who watches the watchmen?’ In this case, we might ask who evaluates the evaluators of hate groups. The answer, in the end, must rest with each one of us.”

Jim Kushiner raises a related point, that John the Baptist’s “especially his bold witness for moral integrity,” as in his public advocacy in protection of marriage and his denunciation of adultery, resulted in the highest penalty: his execution. “Nowadays,” writes Kushiner, “John would be accused of hate speech.” It would have certainly been safer for John to simply mentally disapprove of Herod’s relations with his sister-in-law rather than speak up.