It began with shouts—foul and violent verbal attacks. Then the assaults became physical. Rioters threw hot coffee on people and began shoving them. One thug yanked a cross out of a woman’s arms and stomped on it. Another grabbed a woman’s Bible, struck her on the head with it, knocked her to the ground, and kicked her. Others engaged in sexual exhibitionism.
This was the vicious aftermath of the passage of California’s Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex “marriage.” The attacks were perpetrated by homosexuals angry that voters had passed the measure. They directed the worst of their venom at Mormons, who played an active role in passing the law. It was thug politics at its worst—and believe me, I’ve seen the worst.
When I watched the violence on television, memories came back of earlier generations of thugs: Bull Conner, who, with the help of brutal cops, used violence and intimidation to chase African Americans out of the public square. Or roving gangs of Nazi brownshirts who ruled the streets of Germany during Hitler’s rise to power. Do opponents of Proposition 8 who attacked Mormons and their churches think they’re any better than Bull Conner, or nicer than Nazi thugs? I don’t.
Decent Americans, no matter how they feel about Proposition 8, should be outraged over attempts to frighten and punish those who have every right to speak out—and every right to vote!
When it became clear that Mormons were being singled out for punishment, religious leaders of every stripe, including me, signed our names to a full-page ad in the New York Times sponsored by the esteemed Becket Fund. It was titled “No Mob Veto.” The signatories included Nathan Diament, Alveda King, William Donahue, and Roger Scruton.
And we pointed out that while we disagree on many issues—including Proposition 8—“nevertheless, we’re united,” we wrote, “in this: The violence and intimidation being directed against the . . . ‘Mormon’ church and other religious organizations—and even against individual believers—simply because they supported Proposition 8, is an outrage that must stop.”
When people of faith enter the public square, they should not consider themselves immune from criticism. But “there’s a world of difference,” we wrote, “between legitimate political give-and-take and violent attempts to cow your opponents into submission.”
Most despicable of all are those who excused the threats and violence as merely “demonstrations” that “got out of hand.” Hogwash! In many cases, the so-called “demonstrations” were nothing more than mobs who sought “not to persuade but to intimidate.” When hooligans mail white powder to terrorize a place of worship, responsible voices need to speak out loudly and clearly.
And that is why, we concluded, “Despite our fundamental disagreements with one another . . . we will stand shoulder to shoulder to defend any house of worship—Jewish, Christian, Hindu, whatever—from violence, regardless of the cause that violence seeks to serve.” We also are committed to “exposing and publicly shaming anyone who resorts to the rhetoric of anti-religious bigotry against any faith, on any side of any cause, for any reason.”
I hope others will join us—especially those who claim to support civil rights. Will they condemn the attacks, will they remain silent, or—ugliest of all—will they excuse the violence?