By Henry Meyerding
Dec 4, 2011 - 9:11:48 AM
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Human rights is a concept most Americans think we invented. We take pride in being the standard for the world in respecting and protecting the civil rights of our citizens. We realize that we haven’t always done a really good job of this, but generally we have shown a gradual improvement year by year. This is a good thing, but not to everybody.
The Family Research Institute (FRI) and its chairman and founder Paul Cameron are a case in point. This is an organization, originally founded in 1982 as the Institute for the Scientific Investigation of Sexuality (ISIS), that has consistently taken anti-gay positions and worked to support anti-gay initiatives in the United States at local, state and federal levels. Their opinions are their own, and in this country, they are protected by the First Amendment. However, there is a difference between having a prejudice, which is free speech, and acting on a prejudice, which is discriminatory and often illegal in these United States.
But wait, there is a way you can impose your beliefs on others without legal consequences in the United States: you can pay influential people in foreign countries, where the people have no legal right to liberty or civil rights, to popularize bigotry and hatred against the type of people you don’t like.
Prominent Christian Evangelicals did this in Uganda in the last few years, resulting in the enactment of a truly awful series of laws to codify anti-gay prejudice and oppression in that country. And now the FRI and Paul Cameron are having a go at the nation of Moldova.
The Republic of Moldova is a former district of Romania, which achieved independence at the end of 1991. It has a rich history and contains some of the best farmland in Europe. Following decades of political oppression after World War II, the Moldovan people have been enjoying the fruits of their new democracy. Unfortunately, one of the great strengths of a democracy is also one of its great weaknesses: a small number of dedicated people with a lot of money can get legislation passed. In this case, FRI and Paul Cameron have bankrolled a series of draconian measures aimed at criminalizing homosexuality and discriminating against LGBT people in employment, education, housing and access to medical care.
A sociologist by training, Paul Cameron routinely misrepresents himself as an expert in human sociology, psychiatry and sexuality. In fact, he has been disavowed by the main professional bodies in sociology, psychiatry and human sexuality because of his extreme homophobia and unprofessional conduct. This that conduct has gotten him censure in the U.S. is exactly the conduct he and his organization want to make the law in Moldova. He is a radical extremist, and his actions are being done in the name of Christianity and the United States, not because he is an authorized representative of you and me, or the United States, but because he claims to represent both to the people of Moldova.
It is unconscionable to support hate, bigotry and oppression against people because you don’t like some aspect of their lives such as their sexual orientation. It is just as bad as supporting prejudice against people of different races, religions or ethnic origins. Regardless of how you feel about people being LGBT, if you want the right to be the person you are, you must support their right to be who they are. If you do not want to have other people of a different religion than yours to impose their religious beliefs on you, you must support the notion that you do not have the right to impose your religious beliefs on others.
But that is about the activities of individuals. What would your reaction be if some cleric in, say, Iran, declared Holy War on the United States and declared that Sharia Law was from this moment forth the law of all Americans. I know I would not like it. I don’t know anyone who would. But what if we lived in a country where saying what you think had been dangerous for decades? It would be the natural tendency of people to go along with political changes they disagreed with until it became personally difficult or dangerous to remain silent. Anti-gay laws do not affect you until you have a child who is gay or a friend who is persecuted. The people of Moldova have a very low expectation of personal liberty based on centuries of despotism and foreign rule. Paul Cameron and FRI are exploiting the political naïveté and social ignorance of the Moldovans to impose their personal beliefs and political agenda on millions of people.
In the past 200 years, at least in the developed nations, our human civilization has seen many advances. Principal among these has been an increase in personal liberty and freedom for ordinary people who live their lives according to their own beliefs, desires and needs. We have championed tolerance and acceptance as the norm, and we should be commended for these ideals. But we also need to be vigilant and to guard against those who would roll back those freedoms and liberties and return us to the days of witch hunts and pandemic ideological bullying.The world we get to live in is the world we make.
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