Continuing the right-wing effort to depict equality for gay and lesbian couples as a threat to liberty, Glenn Beck's conservative website TheBlaze.com promoted the claim that marriage equality will lead to a spate of “hate speech” laws targeted at anti-gay speakers.
In a July 23 post, The Blaze warned that “pastors and Christians, alike” could find their First Amendment freedoms imperiled in an America with marriage equality, a claim advanced by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX):
Some pro-gay marriage advocates in the U.S., the senator believes, want the nation to end up with the same ramifications on the books -- and in a paradigm in which individuals can be punished or denigrated for refusing to substantiate or for speaking out against same-sex unions.
Some might scoff at these insinuations, dismissing them as over-the-top, but Cruz is not necessarily manufacturing a paradigm. Consider the widely publicized case in Sweden back in 2005 surrounding Aake Green, a Pentecostal pastor.
Green's plight corroborates the worries that Cruz has surrounding America's current trajectory. In 2003, the preacher likened homosexuality to cancer during one of his sermons. As a result, he was brought up on charges over these claims -- statements that, in America, would currently be protected by the First Amendment.
Other incidents have unfolded, too, as the delicate balance between free speech and cutting down on hate speech has been sought.
Now, some might argue that Green's words were too harsh, but one wonders if even simpler, kinder words that stand opposed to homosexuality would be met with similar sentiment in his country.
While it's certainly permissible to disagree with Cruz's assessment, the basis on which he argues is not entirely unfounded.
That The Blaze seized on a single example in Sweden to bolster its case speaks volumes about the groundlessness of its free speech fears. As The Blaze itself acknowledges, the First Amendment guards against laws like the Sweden one used to prosecute Green.
There has been no push on the part of marriage equality advocates to ban anti-gay speech, and such efforts would fail anyway, given that laws prohibiting such speech wouldn't pass constitutional muster. In 1992, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down St. Paul, Minnesota's Bias-Motivated Crime Ordinance, ruling in R. A. V. v. St. Paul that it was a violation of First Amendment rights to ban some forms of hateful speech but not others.
More recently, the Court upheld, by 8 to 1, the free speech rights of the vehemently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church. In Snyder v. Phelps (2011), Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote that the Church's protests at military funerals, vile as they may be, are nonetheless constitutionally-protected free speech: “We cannot react to [Snyder's] pain by punishing the speaker. As a nation we have chosen a different course - to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.”