I don’t know the ins & outs of hate speech legislation (and, no, I’m not an advocate for general curtailment of speech), but consider this snippet from a letter regarding religious protestors at Mardi Gras to today’s paper:
This year they really managed to go overboard with their banner proclaiming “Catholicism Is A False Religion” and by verbally attacking a young girl on a neighbor’s balcony, telling her she and her parents were going to hell. She was having a wonderful time throwing beads to other children.
The writer’s point was to ban bullhorns, but it got me to thinking about the potential of considering these guys as threatening. Can telling people that they’re going to hell be considered hateful speech? I realize that such signs are not on par with the threat posed by burning crosses, nooses, etc, but just the same, does it constitute any sort of physical threat? They’re not saying that they are going to bring you to hell, but most racists don’t say they are going to cause you harm either; just that, you’d better watch your back.
As ridiculous as most people I know think these guys are (and, in a way, they add to the spectacle; I got a kick out of it a few years ago when they were on a particularly anti-gay bent near Good Friends. After the barkeeps turned hoses on them, the protesters quickly and proudly got rain jackets and hoods; their look of pride said, “Onward Christian Soldier,” as though they had just been martyred or something), do they have a right to condemn people to hell? I know that most of us who are out on Fat Tuesday aren’t doing anyone any harm, so these guys aren’t going to be too persuasive, but where is the line between witnessing and harming?
FWIW, as a psychologist and a person with some pretty noncommittal religious views, they would indeed be more effective if they had signs that said something like, “If you’re feeling a little guilty about what you’ve done today, talk to me.” Might increase their total converts to about 2.