Alex Blaze

High School Column Calls for Death Penalty for Gays

Filed By Alex Blaze | February 25, 2011 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Media
Tags: Bible, Christian beliefs, homophobic behavior, islam, Kansas, LGBT, paper, school, Wichita

A high school column in Kansas that seems to call for the death penalty for gay people has a school under fire and has started a debate on the limits of free speech in high school publications. Here are the paragraphs that people are worried by:

rainbowcross.gifSome teens see it as abnormal, as well as the intimacy that comes with it. Some people believe that since the Bible verse Leviticus 18:22 said "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination," they do not think it is proper for same sex relations.

Also, less commonly cited, is the death penalty called for in another Bible verse, Leviticus 20:13, "If a man also lie with man, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them." These are the most common arguments against homosexual marriage and/or dating.

Same sex dating in high school is not accepted by many, despite the efforts of a few. It is a social disruption in many cases, and should be kept out of school to ensure our educational mission with as little of a distraction as possible.

I'm very reticent to favor censorship of speech, especially when it comes to student publications where it's too easy for people to write off the agency of those expressing an opinion at a time when we should be fostering writers' learning, including learning to be responsible for the consequences of their speech. At the same time, the paper is being distributed to other students who have little choice in whether they go to a school and whether or not they're presented with the paper.

But the paper's response is just silly:

We acknowledge that many people have been offended by the content of the editorial and the reference to the Bible. It was not the intention of Colin to promote violence in any way. Our readers are not being given enough credit if the public sincerely believes students will begin engaging in violence against LGBT students based on the opinions of one individual.

How is advocating people be "put to death" not a promoting violence?

The problem here seems much less about students' free speech than it is about how much tolerance we have for Christianity's, um, eccentricities in the West. If a Muslim student had written a column advocating spousal abuse and quoted Surah 4:34, the school wouldn't have published the column and, had they, rightwingers' heads would have exploded about how Islam is a backwards, medeival, violent religion that should be shunned in the US and definitely not used to justify violence in a school paper. And liberals wouldn't have come to the student's defense.

But the Christian Bible? Well, no one really thinks that people should be killed every time the Bible mentions the death penalty. It's a term of art, or it's a way of expressing condemnation, or part of the law that Jesus said to interpret less literally, or, or, or.... But it's definitely not a sign that there's violence in the Christian religion. Christianity is a great religion, and Good Christians simply can't do bad things.

The hemming and hawing about what Colin meant seems more like jingoism than anything else, where we see our tribe as inherently good and even when they do terrible things we find ways to justify it.

Which is why this is just a false equivalence:

That being said, Colin Johnson has rights protected by the Kansas Student Publications Act, which states that "Material shall not be suppressed solely because it involves political or controversial subject matter." Although his editorial was interpreted by many as distasteful, he has a legal right to publish his beliefs. An unwillingness to enforce those rights would be destructive to the freedom of press in its entirety and make it hypocritical for the "Messenger" to allow students to publish material in favor of LGBT relationships in the future.

Unless the "material in favor of LGBT relationships" is actually calling for the death of homophobes, then, no, there is no hypocrisy.

With that in mind, it becomes easier to countenance homophobia so long as someone blames it on their religion. Kansas was considering a law this week (which was tabled in committee) that advocated codifying that mentality:

As you all know, Manhattan, Kansas recently passed an amended human rights ordinance that will add sexual orientation and gender identity language to the existing anti-discrimination ordinance.

In response to this ordinance, House Bill No. 2260 was presented to the House Judiciary Committee in Topeka the next day.

This Bill would allow individuals to discriminate against members of protected classes not included in the state statute, so long as the individual can claim that such discrimination is a protected religious belief.

It also reminds me of the proliferation of columns in the UK in mainstream publications that defended a hotel owner's right to turn away gay people so long as they blamed their prejudice on Christianity.

People really don't get that Good Christians can do bad things, but if they expect all of us to read the Bible literally, then we should start reading the violence of the Bible literally as well. It's simply inconsistent to take one passage out of context from Leviticus and say that it means that homosexuality is wrong, but then to look at the same passage and say that it is not advocating violence because "it's not the intention" of that passage to promote violence.

There are strong protections for free speech in school publications, but advocating illegal activity and creating a disruption are two of the exceptions. If Colin Johnson wanted the Bible passages he cited to be read literally, then the column is definitely advocating illegal activity. It's also a distraction for the gay students at that school to be told in between math and history classes that they should be put to death.

At least the school paper's editors are learning a few rules about mainstream media, though: claim that journalism is central to democracy, living, etc., while simultaneously scoffing at the idea that anyone could be influenced by what they publish; let the home team off the hook even when they advocate violence (like wars in Iraq, the death penalty for anyone, or torture) because they seem like good people; and present both sides to an issue even when there aren't two sides or the two sides aren't really discussing the same thing.

Heck, these kids could be writing at The Washington Post in a few years, if it's still around.

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"This Bill would allow individuals to discriminate against members of protected classes not included in the state statute, so long as the individual can claim that such discrimination is a protected religious belief."

I'm pretty sure there were lots of biblical justifications for slavery, Jim Crow, and anti-miscegenation laws. And I bet there are people in Kansas more than willing to bring them up if this law passes.

lester Malizia | February 25, 2011 12:38 PM

Once again we must ask the infamous question: Has Colin read all of Leviticus? If he has then he is probably ripe for the death penalty according to that stupid Old Testiment tract. Also, I have a very strong feeling that in a couple of years we will read about Colin's coming out and how sorry he is that he ever wrote such a thing

Christina Johnson | February 25, 2011 3:12 PM

Two words: Cheeseburger. Bacon.

That is all he needs to be worthy of stoning.

Everyone wants to be scandalized these days. Much ado about nothing. Good material for a teaching moment about the separation of church and state. Their English department ought to be embarrassed about the inability of these kids to write a good opinion piece.

Hm. I've been editing for a while and I'd say that he's at the low end of average in terms of writing skill. Maybe in a few years he'll get better.

I think it's going too far to suggest that the column actually advocates the death penalty for homosexuality. He is simply noting that there is (perhaps, if you buy the interpretation of the specific verse) such a presription in the Bible.

However, the kid is seriously deluded if he thinks that biblical citation is the basis for civil law. And his main point, which is that gay high school kids shouldn't date because that makes HIM feel uncomfortable, is utterly ludicrous.

Reading the absurd use of biblical texts to promote the continued segregation of gay people from the mainstream institutions, traditions and civil rights of society reminded me of this quote:

“As long as society is anti-gay, then it will seem like being gay is anti-social.” ~Joseph Francis

All this high school writer did was point out something that many people already know, that certain passages do appear in the Old Testament. I consider factual information such as this uncensorable, unless the context it is wrapped in is totally incendiary. That is not the case here.

A discussion of Bible exegesis, of "literal" interpretation versus historical-critical interpretation, is hardly a level of intellectual sophistication that we can expect from a writer in high school. However, that is exactly the discussion needed to treat such passages in proper modern context. Therein lies the rub.

I agree that it's hard to pin down exactly why he cited that verse and called it the "death penalty." That's why I said "seems" in the first sentence. If anything, that should have called for someone to ask for a revision.

I don't think, though, that if the author wasn't advocating the death penalty that he fully realized what he was saying.

I agree, Alex -- a more gifted, mature, or thoughtful writer would have included disclaimers that are missing here. Moreover, such disclaimers could have avoided a community bruhaha such as this.

Agreed, AJ. I think this has more to do with an immature writer not expressing himself as well as he could. It is a student paper - and not even a college one.

It's a free speech matter. He can write badly under the law. :)

It is perfectly OK to kill captive male children and non virgin women. That's what Moses ordered done in Numbers 31. Approximately 100,000 were slaughtered. The captive virgin females were allowed to live and become slaves. Maybe we should explain the sanctity of this approach to our military in Afghanistan.

I gotta say, while I think Colin's column could use some editing, it doesn't appear to actually call for gay genocide. The title to this article appears a bit disingenuous in that light.

While it's a cold comfort, I respect at least that the column goes to the source material rather than just say "Bible says gays are bad!" But, as (presumably) a Christian, shouldn't this kid have been quoting Romans, rather than passages from Leviticus? Please, any religious scholars correct me, but that's part of the Old Covenant and thus not applicable to Christians, correct?

No, TGYG, having been raised in a fundamentalist Protestant environment, I can assure you that many fundamentalist Christians do not draw a big distinction between the relevancy of the Old and New Testaments. Christians do eat pork and don't pay attention to kosher rules generally -- but as for the erudite theological point that Jesus and the New Testament authors re-write many of the Mosaic laws and our attitude toward them, most Christians either didn't get that memo at all, or they are too lazy to read it.

Secondly, we must return again to the obvious point that religious people love to embrace the passages that re-inforce their pet notions and prejudices, and selectively ignore the passages that would cause them to have to re-think things. As we all know, Church is not a good place to be either encouraged or instructed on the art of thinking coherently and for oneself. For the most part, dogmatic brainwashing is the name of the game.

School shooting of a gay student in 5-4-3-2...

Given that the Bible is filled with hate speech, do we really need to be putting a spotlight on this "book" when there are some disturbed folks out there who don't need any more encouragement to ACT on their fears and hatred?

If we are to put a proper spotlight on this "book" it must be to spotlight that the core message includes an unmistakable exhortation to practice loving behavior and compassion toward your fellow human beings -- ALL of them, even your enemies, even followers of alternate faiths that you might consider to be diabolical, even homosexuals, even people that feel like they really belong to the opposite sex ... etc, etc, etc ...

But that is too powerful, and too difficult, a message for most of organized Christianity to embrace.

Other religions occasionally do a better job at it, especially Buddhism. When is the last time you heard a Buddhist monk ranting and raving about the evils of homosexuality?

Aubrey Haltom | February 26, 2011 1:47 AM

@A.J. Re: Buddhists and homosexuality. The Dalai Lama has stated that homosexuality would be defined as "sexual misconduct" for Buddhists (per the DL, only penile-vaginal sex is permitted, and for procreation purposes only). While not the raging condemnation engaged in by some fundamentalists, it still is not an acceptance.
A personal anecdote. When we lived in St. Louis my husband was on the board of the Missouri Zen Center. The local Pride Pages asked to list the MZC as a spiritual resource (at no cost) - the Abbott refused. Abbott Rosan Yoshida described homosexuality as akin to bestiality, declared it unnatural, and berated us for having 'pride'. My husband left the MZC, as did several other practitioners.
Finally, if you read the high school paper's editorial response, please continue and read the Comments section. It was heartening to read how people responded to the original article.

I'd like a reference about the Dali Llama saying as you claim above, if you have one. I have also heard him quoted indirectly as saying that sex that is caring and free of harm is acceptable.

In any event, I did not say the Buddhists were universally and outspokenly supportive of gay love and gay sex. What I said was that, generally speaking, the notion of universal compassion and lovingkindness toward your fellow humans -- and all life, in fact -- is more central and stressed more successfully in Buddhism than it is in many Christian environments. Despite the example offered by Jesus himself, Christians seem much too eager to carve out "this exception" and "that exception".

Sorry, correct spelling is: Dalii Lama.

Why do people feel the need to defend religion. Frankly, as long as it does not adversely affect my life (though many times it does), people can believe in what they want. But in my mind, religious dogma is "magical thinking" in the most primitive part of the brain. I would go as far as to define it in delusional terms. That said, societies allow delusional people to walk around all the time--UNTIL they disrupt of harm the lives of others. Why do we defend these delusional and disruptive people?