The U.S. Court of Appeals recently ruled that the city of Nashville violated the First Amendment rights of two anti-gay preachers by not allowing them to protest outside a city park where an LGBT Pride festival was being held in 2015.
John McGlone and Jeremy Peters had been using “amplification equipment” — aka bullhorns — to spread their anti-LGBT hatefulness outside the Pride festival that day when they were forced — I am assuming by Nashville police officers — to leave. The two men filed a lawsuit in April 2016 claiming the city had violated their right to free speech by making them leave. The city argued in court that the protesters’ message was interfering with the message of the Pride festival.
The trial court had sided with the city, but the appellate court reversed that ruling, issuing a decision that said, according to a report from the Associated Press, “explanation makes it clear that they wouldn’t have been excluded if they weren’t spreading an anti-homosexuality message.”
One judge on the appellate court dissented from the majority ruling, saying that the preachers’ use of bullhorns was “sufficiently disruptive.”
Believe it or not, I kind of agree with the appellate court ruling: Let the homophobes protest.
Don’t get me wrong. I consider these so-called preachers to be assholes of the highest order. I think their fire-and-brimstone theologies and their warped ideas of God and sin are hateful and completely unchristian.
But I also believe they have a right to hold — and to publicly espouse — their religious beliefs, regardless of how hateful and ridiculous they are. They have as much right to free speech as we do when we gather in the park for Pride festivals or march down the street in a Pride parade. They have as much right to protest outside a Pride festival as we have to protest Robert Jeffress’ anti-gay sermons at First Baptist Church here in Dallas.
Is there a limit? Yes, of course. We all know the rule about yelling fire in a crowded theater. Some of these “preachers” certainly go too far; some are downright dangerous. Anyone who exhorts others to violence — whether in God’s name or not — crosses the line.
Let me back up a little: I can’t really say that I think the appellate court made the right decision in this specific case, because I don’t know all the facts of this specific case. I mean, the “preachers” were using bullhorns, and I would imagine they had no permits from the city. Maybe the city of Nashville has an ordinance against protesting without a permit. Or maybe there’s a noise ordinance that prohibits bullhorns on city sidewalks.
So I’m setting aside the particulars of this case. I’m just talking here about speech — free speech vs. hate speech vs. dangerous speech.
Freedom of speech is one of the bedrocks of this country. It is integral to every other freedom we are guaranteed. We all have the right to think what we want, and to say what we think — even if what we have to say is flat-out wrong.Even if it’s crazy B.S. Even if it’s rude or distasteful to civilized people.
Even if what we have to say is hateful.
I looked up these two particular so-called preachers. John McGlone has a website that outlines his history and his beliefs. In detail. And I can tell you that as far as I am concerned, the things he has to say are wrong.
And crazy B.S. And rude. And distasteful. And, yes, vile and hateful.
But I still believe he has the right to say those things, even standing on the sidewalk outside the Pride festival. And I believe that because I believe we have the right to have our Pride festivals, out in the fresh air, in a public park.
And I believe they can spew their hate because I believe I have the right to sit here and type this column and say those two so-called preachers are flaming, ignorant assholes. That’s called freedom of speech.
Tammye Nash is managing editor of Dallas Voice. The opinions expressed in this column are hers and do not represent official company policy.