S.J. Schwaidelson is a Minnesota writer who blogs at The Wifely Person Speaks.
This is what I get for watching television in the afternoon.
During the recent primary campaign, a local TV station ran an ad for a guy who was running against Rep. Keith Ellison. His name is Gary Boisclair, he calls himself a Democrat/Tea Party candidate, and the ad he ran that day bordered on hate speech.
No. It was hate speech.
In the ad, Boisclair said, "Congressman Ellison swore an oath to uphold the Constitution on a Quran. The Quran says Christians and Jews are infidels ... ."
He went on to say that the Quran says Christians and Jews should be killed, maimed and crucified, while gruesome black-and-white photographs appeared in the background with text from the Quran and what purported to be English translation. Except that the English quotes didn't seem to match up with the Quran, and weren't even really partial quotes, and were completely out of context.
But that's not the point. Boisclair went on to say, "Do you really want someone representing you who swears his oath on a Quran, a book that undermines our Constitution and says you should be killed? I'm Gary Boisclair and I approved this message."
What Boisclair was spewing was right up there with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion: libelous, hideous and patently inflammatory. He was using the guise of running for Congress to spread hatred and fear. His ad was basically an incitement to riot.
I'm a Jew. I lost family members in the World Trade Center and a friend on one of the planes. I have family and friends in Israel who live with the daily danger of homicide bombers and missiles from the Gaza Strip. But does one condemn an entire faith system and its adherents because people do things in the name of Allah? How about the Spanish Inquisition? Or The Troubles in Northern Ireland?
Can you imagine the outcry if Gary Boisclair had said, "Jews use the blood of Christian babies to make Passover matzo," or "Catholic priests seek out young boys for demonic rituals?" Would a television station run such an ad?
Well, apparently it would have to. My call to the TV station's news desk confirmed what I suspected to be true: No matter how disgusting the ad was, the station was required by law to run it. I asked the nice guy who answered the phone, "When does it constitute hate speech?" He didn't know.
There actually is an answer. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration defines hate speech as:
Speech that advocates or encourages violent acts or crimes of hate.
Speech that creates a climate of hate or prejudice, which may in turn foster the commission of hate crimes.
Based on the second definition, I think we have a winner in Mr. Boisclair. The FCC, though, does not permit television stations to edit the content of ads for candidates running for office.
I would defend to the death the right of free speech. I believe that we need a diversity of opinion. I may not share your belief, but it is your right to have it. To assemble. To parade. To have a website. To do just about anything ... except yell fire in a crowded theater.
For better or worse, Boisclair's ad falls under the category of protected speech. He received only a minuscule percentage of the vote on Tuesday. But we will have to wait to see if his message takes root, and what it spawns.