Dear Rev. Rizzo,
Thank you for your note. I gather Jerry forwarded to you the letter I sent to several publications calling for the elected officials and party leaders in Sussex County to denounce racial and religious hate speech. I read in the Herald that the Sussex County GOP appointed you to the task of reviewing the 20,000 or so communiques forwarded by Jerry. God bless you for undertaking that task.
The question posed in your opening sentence, however, is not the question at issue here. The question at issue is whether we want to live in a county – or country for that matter – where people are threatened, excoriated or persecuted for their race or religious beliefs. This is not a question of what “offends” you or me, it is a plea to the leaders of this fine county to come forward and declare that we will not tolerate what is hatefully expressed about anyone’s race or religion.
When a home and business in Sussex County were scrawled with swastikas and anti-Semitic messages last Fall, no one questioned whether those messages were hateful or offensive. The people in Sussex County recognized that this was unacceptable. Many of our elected leaders made clear and unequivocal statements that hate speech was intolerable in our county. The rally at SCCC was filled to standing room only and the anti-hate message was so strong that a $10,000 reward was raised for information leading to the prosecution of the perpetrators of those messages.
The only real difference here is that the hate-filled messages and images were directed at people outside the county. But there is no difference between the anti-Semitic messages of last Fall and the hate-filled racial and religious messages repeated over the past months. They are all threatening, excoriating and persecuting people on the basis of their race and religion – not on the basis of different political opinions. This is not a political issue. It is not a question of whether the Ds or Rs are right or wrong. It is a moral issue. Both parties are responsible for their communications.
When I see messages and images such as those reported in the Herald, I cannot help but think: What would Jesus say or do in response to them? What comes to my mind is the often-quoted passage: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” John 8:7. As a man of faith, I suspect the same question has occurred to you. This is not a partisan issue – neither party should be engaged in hate-speech. The political parties should discuss and debate the issues: healthcare, immigration, monetary and trade policy, the national debt and climate change. But, let’s do it without raising the specter of racial and religious hatred.
As to the question of how to identify hate-speech, I defer to Justice Potter Stewart, who in determining whether a film was pornographic, stated: “perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly [describing pornography]. But I know it when I see it.” Jacobellis v. Ohio. Perhaps Justice Potter’s guidance may be helpful in your task of reviewing the messages and images in question.
Lorraine Parker, Sparta
PS: I have copied the Chairs of both parties on this letter, so that my position is clear – this is not a partisan political issue.