I am fed up with politics. More specifically, I am fed up with the disturbing trend in politics towards picking on those perceived to be "different" in our society. When attacking someone for being different from you happens in a grade school playground, it is called bullying. When it happens in politics, it is apparently called "free speech".
First of all, for those of you reading this outside of Alberta: We are in the last week of a provincial election campaign. This campaign has been marred by extremist rhetoric and the ridiculous antics of a great many of the candidates and their supporters. The mud slinging that has always made politics a rather dirty sport has been raised to a fine art in this campaign, and the hypocrisy has been mind-boggling.
I've always had a low tolerance for politicians. And the promises that somehow never get kept. And the pandering to special interests. And the tax dollars being spent on big airplanes that never get delivered. And political partisanship that places greater emphasis on who is in "power" than on the needs of the people who vote. I think we all pretty much feel that way to some extent or another. But, in the end, the roads and parks get built and the cities/provinces/nation carries on.
But this election campaign has been very different. We have a new, untried political party entering the game, bringing us a new approach to politics in Alberta. Hate and fear as political policy. Terrible things, and I do mean hateful, cruel, sexist, racist, outright evil things, are being said. Accusations of bias are being made against members of the media and they are being denied access to the candidates on that basis. Individual citizens are being attacked for expressing their personal views on their blogs.
Still, I have sat back and watched. I have my own political views, and yes, they tend to lean a little toward the left-I believe you can judge a society (and it's government) by the way it treats its weakest members. I think that it is the government's job to provide a reasonable standard of living for every citizen, no matter their race, religion, gender, socio-economic class, sexual orientation, eye colour, or belly button alignment. This sometimes mean I have to compromise one strongly held belief to accommodate another. The reality is that we are all different and that we cannot all have everything our way every time. It is up to a fair and just government to find the most workable middle-ground.
So why am I addressing politics on a string blog? Because of Allan Hunsperger.
Mr. Hunsperger is a pastor at a church called The House in Tofield, AB. He is running as a candidate for the Wild Rose Alliance Party in Edmonton-South West. His official party bio seems innocuous enough, but over this past weekend, his true stripes were revealed. A blog post on Mr. Hunsperger's church's website The House Today (nope, not gonna link it!), revealed that Mr. Hunsperger has a rather dim view of our non-heterosexual citizens and that he feels that the Edmonton Public School district's policy protecting students from harassment based upon gender and sexual identification is "profane and wicked".
This Man of God then goes on to tell us that "accepting people the way they are is cruel and not loving". (The original post has been deleted from the blog, but you can read it here.)
Now, fine. Mr. Hunsperger is a minister of an Evangelical church, and he is entitled to preach whatever his belief leads him to preach. But when one uses a public forum--and yes, the internet is a very public forum---to attack duly-elected public officials for protecting marginalized children, well...the shit may just hit the fan. And hit the fan it did.
But this is still not the part that stirred me to action.
You see, freedom of speech is freedom of speech. A lot of people say things that I find annoying, or misinformed, or outright abhorrent all the time. And I probably do the same. And we choose to ignore or question the things that we disagree with, depending upon our inclination at that moment. Sometimes vile words fill us with indignation, and we respond. Other times, we shrug and walk away.
Well, a few fine bloggers and journalists chose to respond. They linked and reposted Mr. Hunsperger's blog post. And this is where I got wound up.
Those who commented upon the diatribe of a religious zealot were accused of religious intolerance. Yep. The supporters of the Wild Rose Alliance played the God card. You see, telling someone that they are going to "suffer the rest of eternity in a lake of fire" because they do not conform to the narrow norm set by Mr. Hunsperger's god is free speech and religious freedom. But disagreeing with that statement, or even repeating it within the context of open debate is persecution.
Telling someone that their statements are hurtful, that public attacks on a group of people based upon sexual orientation are inappropriate if you are running for political office, these things are not religious intolerance. Telling someone that they are spreading hate by telling children that they will "burn in a lake of fire" because they are attracted to someone of the same gender is not religious intolerance. Calling hurtful words hurtful is free speech. We accept your right to say them, but be prepared to accept our right to say we don't like it.
If the WRP had left well enough alone, or even stated that Mr. Hunsperger's views did not reflect those of the party, things probably would have died down a bit. Instead, party leader Danielle Smith spoke out in support of Mr. Hunsperger's right to mix a narrow religious interpretation with politics. And now, Mr. Hunsperger has removed the post that he had every right to write, and claims to "fully support equality for all people, and condemn any intolerance based on sexual orientation or any other personal characteristic," . If his religious conviction was so pure, and his freedom to state it so unshakable, why is he backing down?
This has added impetus to the attacks upon the bloggers and journalists who have spoken out against the WRP and their rather impressive roster of, er....fringe...candidates and their support of "conscience rights" for government employees. The culture of bullying, of media favouritism, of policy concealment, and of rhetorical slight-of-hand that pervades this party has given a voice to the angry and disenfranchised across our province, and those angry and disenfranchised individuals are using the airwaves and social media to yell louder and punch harder than ever before.
Free speech goes both ways, folks. If you do not agree with someone, you can walk away, as you would like those of us who disagree with you to do. But the WRP and their supporters are not letting us walk away. They are tweeting and blogging and phoning our homes. They are name-calling, spamming, and robo-dialling those who do not agree with them. They are bullying anyone who is not like them, and bullying is violence, whether physical, verbal, or virtual via cyber-bullying.
And I do not want a government of bullies running my province. It's time to stand up to bullies and to say that I have a right to my beliefs, too. And I believe that politicians who are willing to tell young people that they will burn in hell for being born are people I do not want speaking for me on other matters, not even the building of roads and parks
So I will make my voice heard. I will vote. And I will encourage all Albertans to vote. For whomever you wish. But vote.
'Cuz when the bullies start beating up your friends, you'll wish you had said something earlier.
Telling someone that their statements are hurtful, that public attacks on a group of people based upon sexual orientation are inappropriate if you are running for political office, these things are not religious intolerance. Telling someone that they are spreading hate by telling children that they will "burn in a lake of fire" because they are attracted to someone of the same gender is not religious intolerance. It is calling