Robert Knight

Another artful dodger was Mark Potok, senior fellow of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which characterizes pro-family groups including Family Research Council, as “hate groups” because they oppose the homosexual political agenda. After FRC President Tony Perkins told the media that SPLC has been “reckless in labeling organizations ‘hate groups’ because they disagree with them on public policy,” Potok called Perkins’ remarks “outrageous.” The best defense is a good offense, and if the SPLC knows how to do anything, it’s to be offensive.

Mr. Potok also rejected the suggestion that the SPLC’s hate list had anything to do with making “the objects of criticism” into “the targets of criminal violence.”

The press has not been shy about making such instant connections, as long as the victim is part of a favored group.

In 1998, the Family Research Council and other Christian public policy groups and ministries ran full-page “Truth in Love” ads in major newspapers featuring men and women who overcame homosexuality and in many cases went on to marry and have children. The “ex-gays” credited Jesus Christ, who, they said, loves homosexuals as much as He does anyone else.

On October 11 of that same year, two men abducted college student Matthew Shepard outside a bar in Laramie, Wyoming, beat him and tied him to a fence. He died early the next morning at a hospital.

Sensing an historic opportunity, public relations teams of homosexual activists went into overdrive in Laramie, pushing the narrative that Mr. Shepard had been murdered simply for “being gay,” and that the “hate-filled” pro-family “Truth in Love” ads were complicit.

Major network figures such as NBC’s David Gregory suggested that Mr. Shepard was the victim of “a new cultural war against gays and lesbians” by “religious right groups.” Katie Couric of NBC’s Today Show asked a homosexual activist, “Do you believe this ad campaign launch by some conservative groups really contributed somehow to Matthew Shepard's death?” The activist, Elizabeth Birch, quickly replied “I do, Katie,” and said “they happen because people's minds have been twisted with cruel stereotypes about gay and lesbian people.”

Apart from the slander, the truth is far more complicated, as an ABC News 20/20 investigative report revealed:

“Former Laramie Police Detective Ben Fritzen, one of the lead investigators in the case … believed robbery was the primary motive. ‘Matthew Shepard's sexual preference or sexual orientation certainly wasn't the motive in the homicide,’ he said. ‘If it wasn't Shepard, they would have found another easy target. What it came down to really is drugs and money.’”

There’s more, but the point is that the media did not let facts get in the way: Pro-family Christians and their hateful message killed this poor young man.

Using Mr. Shepard’s tragic death as a rallying point, liberals rammed through the federal hate crimes law, which Barack Obama signed in October 2009. The law adds penalties on top of a criminal conviction if the criminal has actionable thoughts when assaulting the victim. That makes some victims more valued under the law than others. The mass killings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado on July 20, for example, don’t meet the standard for a “hate crime.”

Hate crime laws are wrong because they violate the concept of equal protection and because they allow the government to criminalize thoughts and, thereby, speech.

It’s also wrong to hang the “hate” tag on opponents with whom you disagree.

We can thank God that Mr. Johnson was only wounded in the attack on FRC and is recovering well, and that the 50 rounds in Mr. Corkins’ backpack did not get used.

And we can hope and pray that the leftwing campaign to demonize Christians with the “hate” label will lose power now that it’s been exposed.

Robert Knight

Robert Knight is an author, senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a frequent contributor to Townhall.