How to Constructively Protest Hate Speech

Michigan, unfortunately, has become a home to many neo-nazi types recently. So I’ve had to deal with not only noose incidents, but an actual, bona fide, student hate group. Ugh.

The student hate group invited Ryan Sorba, author of a (unpublished) book called “The Born Gay Hoax”, to Michigan State University. (The talk was advertised with flyers proclaiming “Gays Spread AIDS“, by the way.)

Sorba repeatedly makes a connection between homosexuality and child molestation, and uses some very distorted readings of some very specious papers to try to prove that homosexuality is an unnatural choice. He’d also like to recriminalize sodomy.

He’s obviously full of BS, so I won’t go into debunking that here. Short version: He’s nasty and hateful.

Sorba was also invited recently to visit Smith College, and the two visits couldn’t be more different.

At Smith College: (Via Pam’s House Blend)

“After about twenty minutes he was forced to abandon his speech after protesters forced their way into the room and drowned him out.”

From MSU: (Via HateWatch)

“About 100 MSU students made it to the talk. At least two-thirds were anti-YAF demonstrators who silently protested Sorba’s message by wearing brightly colored “I Have a Story” T-shirts and holding signs aloft throughout Sorba’s 90-minute presentation.”

There also was a “Seven Nights for Equal Rights” series of programs that focused on bringing positive speakers, and a showing of the film “For the Bible Tells me So.” And a fundraiser where people pledged a penny for each Word of Hate uttered by Sorba to the Michigan Equality Campaign.

Same hate speech; two very different treatments. Which is better?

Discuss :)


Bug_girl has a PhD in Entomology, and is a pointy-headed former academic living in Ohio. She is obsessed with insects, but otherwise perfectly normal. Really! If you want a daily stream of cool info about bugs, follow her Facebook page or find her on Twitter.

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  1. I wonder which is more effective. What is the goal? Shutting the guy up? Getting a lot more people to realize what an ass he is? Sadly this is a byproduct of free speech, and I feel it is necessary to protect idiots’ rights to speak.

    I like the idea of the fundraiser, though. I’m not sure I’d be able to sit quietly through something like that just holding up a sign. I would have to boo and make noise to drown him out or I’d have to leave the room. I can’t even keep my mouth shut watching morons on TV.

  2. I think both are useful and important ways of handling that sort of thing. Both are forms of societal punishment, if that’s the right phrase to use, that are important to demonstrate that while, yes, you’re entitled to say whatever you damn well please, there are consequences when you’re an idiot or an asshole.

    I think it depends on what you’re going for..the first method gets immediate results and is very satisfying to the participants. I’d like to think the second method is more effective in the long run, although that may be a passive aggressive part of me responding to it. Maybe I just think the silent treatment would do a better job of inspiring guilt in the less ardent supporters that might have been there. If the only goal is to punish Sorba or someone like him, though, then I’d say yell away…you’re not going to convince him that he might be wrong.

  3. Although I personally want to throw rocks at people for even the disagreeing with, or acting against, my world-view, in principle I think free speech should reign.

    To a hypothetical, unbiased spectator, booing someone makes the booer look bad. Now we might see the booee as a super extremist and inherently evil, but evidently some people don’t, or there would be no need for booing. And to those who are, to our amazement, on the fence, us booing doesn’t make the booee look bad…. as I already said. Apparently my eloquence has run out, but I think I’ve made my point.

  4. I agree with writerdd on this one – free speech all the way. It’s when we start shouting people down and refusing to let them have their say (and thereby get picked apart by rational discussion) that they gain some sort of “martyr’s legitimacy” and the hate movements become less visible and more dangerous.

    That said, I wouldn’t be sat at the back wearing a t-shirt and waving a sign to show my discontent; I’d want to put questions to him which would expose his idiocy for all to see. The golden middle way between heckling and silence.

  5. I do not think speakers should be shouted down.
    What would you say if creationists constantly shouted down people trying give a lecture about evolution. Individuals should be able to use reasonable discourse to respond to speach rather than throw childlike tantrums with those they disagree. If someone is spewing vile ideas, then organize talks where you counter their claims and point out the faults with their reasoning.

  6. I don’t think the shouting down scenario is preventing free speech; a form of criticism, yes. The more I think about it, though, the more I think it’s problematic, mostly because I think scenarios like that will be more likely to escalate into something nastier.

    I would argue that folks like Sorba manufacture ways to gain ‘martyr’s legitimacy’ without any help from their opponents, but, yes, it is probably best not to make it any easier.

    The trouble with rational discourse in these situations is that a) there’s nothing rational about your opponent’s position, so there will be no real discussion, and b) attempts at rational discussion legitimizes their position far more than is warranted. I think this is especially true in this least with the creationists, there’s a potential of just a misunderstanding or lack of understanding of a complex idea. I don’t think people like Sorba think at all, beyond rationalizing their own hatred of something.

  7. writerdd asks the right question: what’s your outcome?

    Personally, the silent version feels like the “right thing to do” to me, but I have to admit, I smiled when I read about Smith. (I’m from Northampton, so perhaps I’m biased.) They certainly did a good job of saying “your comments are not welcome here”. Not sure if that’s what they wanted, though. On the other hand, I can hardly blame them for being angry, and if all they were doing was heckling… hey, that’s free speech too, isn’t it?

    The t-shirt wearing observers did a good job of saying “you have your rights, but I disagree.”

  8. Honestly I think the more publicity these groups get the better. In my opinion the Rev. Fred Phelps, for example, has done more to shine the light on hypocrisies in the Bible than 10 Richard Dawkins could do.

    Phelps interprets the Bible to its logical conclusion. So IMO you have to either accept Phelps and the Bible or discard them both.

    Along the same lines, I was at the Rochester NY Gay Pride Parade last year and was really disappointed that about half the floats and marchers were from local gay friendly churches.

    I’m I crazy here, but having church groups at a Gay Pride Parade would be like having the Klan at a Martian Luther King day parade.

  9. I see a “slippery slope” problem with the rational of shouting people down because there is nothing rational about the other persons argument. It would be much easier to call someone racist ,sexist, class warfare monger ,atheist fool ,or whatever to also shut down legimate debate issues.Too often in political discussions now there is a tendecy to demonize the other party and avoid true discussion of the issues.
    I think it is better to allow the true hate mongers to be heard out in the open and actively speak against them then to allow the tactic to multiply and shut down legimate discussion of controversial issues. How would people feel if large numbers of religous zealots went to TAM or every lecture on atheism and continuously shouted until the speaker gave up. I am sure there are those that would say that atheism has no logic and discussion with atheists only legitimizes the position.

  10. I also am a strong believer in free speech but have no time for haters. Best they get ignored. I’ve seen “shouting down” used to many times in a very hateful, angry and aggressive manner by those who say they are the ones fighting hate; all the while demonstrating much more overt (self-righteous?) hate and aggression than those they disagree with. I think silent protest or civil counter protest can be effective, and rational should always be reasonable. I agree with JOHNEA13 that the haters are often their own worst enemies.

  11. JOHNEA13: “I see a “slippery slope” problem with the rational of shouting people down because there is nothing rational about the other persons argument.”


    “I am sure there are those that would say that atheism has no logic and discussion with atheists only legitimizes the position.”

    Ah, but that’s the kicker isn’t it? If you already believe that the other side is irrational, is there any amount of what you perceive as a rational argument that’s going to make a difference in either side’s position? At best, you’re going to have a lot of discussions that seem to be tangential to whatever point you’re trying to make. You can see this pretty often in atheist/theist discussions, where one or both sides seem to miss the other side’s point completely.

    Again, we’re talking about hate speech, not someone being ignorant of a concept. Do I really need to point out to the average person that Phelps, for instance, is a vile example of humanity? And we’re not talking about legitimate issues in this case. Shunning and calling a bigot a bigot is a far cry from responding to a policy choice of a politician by calling them names. Just because some intellectually dishonest people misappropriate a concept doesn’t make the concept wrong, and we need to call out those who do use the concept wrong, as promptly as possible.

    I think we’re agreed that the shouting down idea is impractical and usually a bad idea. With this and any of these ideas, the important point is to make sure you’re not being the bigger asshole when you do it.

    I think the biggest concern is that you need to be really aware of how others respond to the person/idea that you’re fighting. I would, honestly, like to believe that I don’t need to point out how vile Phelps or Sorba is to most people, and that it wouldn’t do any good to point it out to the rest. But then I would also like to believe that I don’t have to point out how dumb astrology is, and I’ve found myself proven wrong on that more times than I’d like.

  12. Hey all,

    Denying freedom of speech on campus is rampant and really sad. Campus should be the one place, perhaps above all others, that ideas, even stupid hateful ideas, can be expressed (and debated).

    Being hateful and stupid is not a crime. They should be allowed to say their piece. We are here on skepchick… so you counter their stupidity and hate with the light of science, reason, and logic. You hold your own talks on how to counter their stupidity and claims. Be a skeptic or skepchick. Use your natural talents for reason to convince those around you why they are wrong. Dig into the subject of sexual perference, the science and research done. The REAL science. Hold your own rally and talks rebutting the hate mongers and psuedo sciencists. Critical thinking trumps emotional rants every time. Or I should say it will if we practice it more often. Don’t ignore them, show the world why they are wrong.

    I agree with the person who basically said, being shrill does nothing to further your argument and makes the idiots look like ‘victims’. Using censorship as a weapon is dangerous. It can and will come back to cut you as well.

  13. When does it move from being hate speech to hate action? That’s the real problem. People can think and say whatever they want, but they certainly can’t do whatever they want. But if enough people who say hateful things get in power, then their hate turns into action. That cannot be tolerated. I am not sure how or where to draw the line.

  14. It’s not a simple issue by any means. Preserving freedom of speech is a noble goal, but like all freedoms, it carries inherent risk – like the risk that idiotic ideas will become popular and influence policy (see creationism). So long as people are flawed (which is going to be as long as there are people, I would guess), there will be problems like this to deal with. The best solution I can think of is education. Sure, it’s being resisted every step by people in power in with stupid ideas, but I never said it wouldn’t be an uphill struggle every step of the way.

  15. It’s hard to say both sides have a right to free speech. Does shouting someone down violate theirs? It’s sad that we live in a world where there are people that are receptive to that kind of crap.

    There’s only one answer Rick Astley, Rickroll them all.

  16. It’s not hard to to say “both sides have a right to free speech.” They do. They must. If they do not, you and I do not. Because then someone has to make a call as to what is ‘right’. And to leave that to one person or persons is more scary than these dopes speech. They have a right to speak. If they don’t, someone will claim the same right to censor your freedom of speech. Where will stop?

    writerdd: There are limits on freedom of speech when inciting to act. That is well establish.

    History is littered with people I admire that whose right to speak was suppressed because of the ‘PC-like’ climate of their age. Don’t make snap emotional decisions. Put on your critical thinking caps and kill the hate mongers and pseudo-woowoo people with facts.

    Hate speech and misinformation should be challenged and refuted, but not ever censored. Again, they have the _right_ to speak. And so to you and I. Ok. nuff’ I have to get back to working. :)

  17. “And a fundraiser where people pledged a penny for each Word of Hate uttered by Sorba to the Michigan Equality Campaign.”

    This one is way better. Money raised, people did something actually practical without giving the whiners an actual, almost-legitimate excuse to complain that their rights were “violated.”

    It’s filled with pure win.

    I like these easy questions!

  18. “Preserving freedom of speech is a noble goal, but like all freedoms, it carries inherent risk – like the risk that idiotic ideas will become popular and influence policy (see creationism).”

    And the best cure for speech is…

    … more speech.

  19. QFT: Quoted for truth.

    I just like Beagle’s barnacles as a profanity, since I don’t really think there’s a god to damn things and all.

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