The blurb on RightScoop.com described a video clip from the O’Reilly show and declared: “BillO has completely lost it. He said if someone gets into the face of a gay person and tells them they are going to hell, that should be illegal.”
Did O’Reilly really blow it here? Did he put gay sensitivities above First Amendment freedoms?
Although he should have chosen his words more carefully, I believe his comments are being blown out of proportion.
To be sure, I agree with those who feel that aggressive gay activism is the principle threat to freedom of speech, conscience, and religion in America, and there are more than enough cases to demonstrate this concern.
In fact, the backdrop to the O’Reilly show in question was the arrest last week of an American street preacher in England (named Tony Miano), who was arrested and interrogated for preaching against sexual sin, including homosexual practice.
Of course, arrests like this in England are not that uncommon, which is all the more glaring when you consider how much latitude has been given to genuine hate speech, namely, from radical Muslim Mullahs. Miano’s arrest even drew a word of protest from PinkNews.com, not exactly a bastion of right-wing conservatism.
But in the case of O’Reilly, who was discussing First Amendment issues with John Stossel, I don’t believe he was siding with those who want to restrict our freedoms of speech and religion. His primary error was using the subject of preaching against homosexual practice as an example of “hate speech.”
O’Reilly noted that his guest, John Stossel, objected to any “hate speech limitations. In contrast, O’Reilly said,
I don't think a person should be allowed to go up to another person.
Say, this preacher Miano, went up to a homosexual and got in his face and said, "You're going to hell, you're going to hell, you're going to hell."
I think that should be against the law because he's invading the person's space. He's bringing intentional, personal anguish to the person. I think that person should be protected.
According to Stossel, this would be “wrong,” but legal restrictions should only be put on “fighting words, inciting violence because . . . ,” which O’Reilly interrupted with, “No, ‘going to hell’ is pretty violent. There's a lot of fire down there. It does not feel good.”
Of course, it is absurd to say that telling a person he or she is going to hell – for whatever reason – is “pretty violent,” and such inanities hardly help O’Reilly’s cause.
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.