Putting the Bible on Trial

Bradley Lashawn Fowler, a gay man, claims that Christian publishing powerhouses Zondervan Publishing and Thomas Nelson Publishing infringed his constitutional rights.  Fowler alleges the companies’ Bibles’ references to homosexuality as a sin made him an outcast from his family and contributed to physical discomfort and periods of “demoralization, chaos and bewilderment.”  According to a local TV station, “his family’s pastor used that Zondervan Bible, and because of it his family considered him a sinner and he suffered.  Now he is asking for an apology and $60 million, ‘to compensate for the past 20 years of emotional duress and mental instability.’”

When I first saw this case, I thought it was an example of gay activist overreach.  But on closer examination, it looks more like a disturbed guy looking for some combination of attention and lawsuit winnings.  The news stories make him sound more coherent than he sounds on his website.

The analysis on his website is riddled with misspellings and illogicalities.  Here is a verbatim, cut and paste, quotation from his website, with no changes to his spelling or grammar:

After being raised with a religious background and being taught that being gay or a homosexual was a sin, I learned to keep my sexual identity hidden. And like so many other’s, who too, feel the same, this state of mind derived from religious up-bringing. That’s why I was completely distraught after discovering the term-homosexual-was added to the bible, in 1982, and then removed, in 1994 without any consideration to the many victims who committed suicide or were murdered because of their sexual preference of homosexuality.

One wag in the blogosphere discovered that Fowler has a criminal record going back to the 1980′s.  But the fact that he is neither the sharpest knife in the drawer nor the world’s most respectable plaintiff doesn’t make me feel any better.  The court seems prepared to take him seriously.  The judge wrote, “The court has some very genuine concerns about the nature and efficacy of these claims.”  Established, respected publishing houses are being held up for blackmail by the emotional distress of one troubled individual.

It is easy to believe that Bradley Almighty, as he calls himself, was unhappy that people around him regarded homosexual acts as sinful.  What is not so easy to understand is why people in general and homosexuals in particular should be protected from every instance of bad feelings.  What, if anything, makes the Zondervan and Nelson publishing companies culpable for Bradley’s feelings?  What, if anything, makes Bradley’s feelings especially worthy of protection?  

Fowler’s claim is that the teachings of the Bible, and the particular translations that Zondervan published, led to violence against homosexuals.  Obviously he cannot prove a direct causal connection between the Bible’s disapproval of homosexual behavior and physical violence against homosexuals.  But if indirect evidence were acceptable, the pornography industry would be out of business.  It is far more compelling to believe that men are motivated to acts of violence against women by the pornography than that Christians are motivated to acts of violence against homosexuals by a few verses in the Bible.  The pornography industry will not be pleased with Mr. Fowler if he succeeds in setting a precedent establishing culpability for such an indirect harm.

And speaking of pornography, the famous Hustler magazine case against Jerry Falwell also argues against Fowler’s claims.  Jerry Falwell sued Hustler for the emotional distress he endured as a result of a completely fabricated and patently offensive parody suggesting he was guilty of incest and alcoholism.  The Supreme Court held that the First Amendment’s freedom of speech protection extended to Hustler magazine, and Falwell could not collect damages for emotional distress.

While this particular case may end up just being a spurious project of one unbalanced man, we have every reason to be concerned about the trend it signals.  The Canadian Human Rights Commission investigated a priest for teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman.  The priest quoted the Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Papal Encyclicals.  A Canadian Evangelical pastor has been ordered to remove material from his website and to never again express moral opposition to homosexuality. 

As Fowler’s Michigan case goes forward, we will see whether the First Amendment’s right to the free exercise of religion will get the same deference as the right to free speech.  Or, we will find out whether sexual orientation creates such a strongly protected class that even the First Amendment’s right to religious expression and free speech can be trumped by the most thin-skinned and unstable homosexual who happens to present himself to the courts.

Whatever becomes of Bradley Fowler’s particular suit, we can’t brush off the underlying pattern.  In the name of tolerance and human rights, the State is being enlisted to squeeze religious speech and to harass people of faith.

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  • Cooky642

    Unfortunately, we live in a society that “values” victimhood, and does not value personal responsibility. There are places Mr. Fowler could go for help, but he obviously does not want help. He wants to be coddled and petted and called a “poor baby” who’s being “picked on”. Considering the legislative and judicial climate in Michigan, he may very well get what he wants.

  • noelfitz

    I read:

    “it looks more like a disturbed guy looking for some combination of attention”.

    I am disappointed to read this article, as it is only giving an unfortunate person publicity.

    I would prefer to read about the many Catholics who are working hard to spread the kingdom and make life better for those who come in contact with them.

  • mkochan

    Noel, this was ouir intial reaction to a number of things: to the first gays who wanted to “marry,” to the first guy who said hate should be illegal, to the first parent who threatened to sue a school because his kid was being subjected to the pledge of allegience or to prayer, to the first “transgendered” guy who wanted to use the ladies room.

    But we have learned that all these poor deluded people have very powerful puppeteers who are pouring tons of money into using their disorders to impose all kinds of heinous things upon the rest of us. We ignore them at our own peril.

  • asdwanamaker

    Good thing for Zondervan that all this isn’t happening in Canada. At least in the USA, there’s a decent chance that the courts will rule against Fowler. In Canada, Zondervan wouldn’t even get their day in court; they would simply be hauled in front of a hate speech tribunal and summarily pronounced guilty.

    It’s amazing that lawyers who press such cases aren’t disbarred for frivolity.

  • Warren Jewell

    Dear Madame Kochan,

    And, Dr. Morse, for all that.

    Perhaps we, noelfitz and myself, et al, need to have the names, etc., of these puppeteers from out of investigation of such increasingly serious threats to free speech as well as freedom of worship. The bogus notion of ‘separation of church and state’ has become the means to turn the First Amendment freedom of worship on iys head, as if it is the national scene that is to be protected from religion rather than religion protected from the national hegemons. Well, except as dictated by ‘political correctness’.

    And, so surreal has become the likes of Canada that some prosecutor in some other outrage against freedom went on record as noting that freedom of speech is, if you will, supposedly an idiosyncracy of the Constitution of the U.S.A., and not among the common outcomes of and rights afforded by natural law. I fear that only in American ‘public squares’ can God’s people have the chance to freedoms of our First Amendment in our Bill of Rights.

  • Bruce Roeder

    My first thought, forgive me Lord, was that he was going to sue his parents for naming him Bradley Lashawn.

    Regards your observation, Warren, I remember as a little kid and learning about the martyrs during the persecutions and thinking, they are lucky because it was such a clear and obvious situation to choose God and go to heaven.

    The similarities today are stunningly similar. No one is getting fed to the lions, but it is clear the culture is becoming more and more outraged by the claims of Jesus Christ and His Bride.

    Time to the Church (and that’d be us, too) to be salt, light and the shining city on a hill.

    Martyr means witness. Our Lord didn’t say it would be easy, just worth it.

  • mkochan

    Start with the ACLU. Then there is People for the American Way. If you want a personal name, check out George Soros.

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