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The Meaning of Tolerance

By Elizabeth Creely

April 4, 2006

On March 24, 2006, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to pass a resolution opposing the message that a group called "Battlecry for a Generation" was set to deliver the following Friday on the front steps of City Hall.

The appearance of Ron Luce's teen program on the steps of City Hall had nothing to do with their apparent reason for being in the city, which was to acclaim Christianity amidst smoke machines and rock bands at SBC Park.

They decided to rally on the steps of City Hall specifically because gay marriages had been performed there two years earlier.

The intent to somehow purify the steps of City Hall with prayerful teens, the quick response by citizens of San Francisco and the meaning of that entire encounter was lost completely as local journalists and former politicians rushed to smear the Board of Supervisors with labels like "clueless" and "intolerant".

In doing so, John Diaz of the San Francisco Chronicle, and Jordanna Thigpen of the San Francisco Sentinel both missed an opportunity to summarize for their readers the meaning behind the meeting of the groups. Instead, both city leaders and organizers of the counter protest were admonished for their lack of tolerance.

In reality, both journalists failed their readers by making a facile equation between a lack of response and that much vaunted virtue, tolerance.

For those in need of a working definition of 'tolerance', the American Heritage College Dictionary offers the following: "The capacity for, or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of others."

The key word within that sentence is 'recognize', which is hard to do if all you do when the Christian Right comes to town is stay home and fume. 'Engagement' (another version of recognition) is also a value, one that walks hand in hand with tolerance as the citizens of this fair city go forward in search of bigger and better expressions of human and civil rights.

Showing up and shouting back doesn't indicate intolerance. Likewise, staying away doesn't display tolerance, just benumbed passivity.

Curiously, the charge was made that by issuing resolutions and press statements, both Tom Ammiano and Mark Leno were attempting to stifle "Battlecry's" right to free speech. This line of thought derives from the above prescription of shutting up to show support for "tolerance".

Supervisor Ammiano's office, which was the primary sponsor of the resolution, was contacted by neither the Chronicle nor the Sentinel. This explains the confusion concerning the resolution, which could have been avoided had the Chronicle/Sentinel editorial staff contacted Tom Ammiano's office or Bay Area Coalition for Our Reproductive Rights, which encouraged Supervisor Ammiano to write it. Or…they could simply have read the resolution itself. Had they done so, they would have seen that, no one in city government made any attempt to silence anyone.

The resolution was simply the progressive community's proverbial two-cents thrown into a debate Battlecry started when they assembled on the steps of City Hall to save us. No public official ever came close to opposing "Battlecry's" right to frankly indict both queers and women who have chosen or support abortion whenever Battlecry, or any other fundamentalist outfit desires to do so (which according to Battlecry, will be something they do in San Francisco on a yearly basis.)

In short, authoring a resolution that clarifies that "Battlecry's" appearance on City Hall steps carried no official endorsement is by no means tantamount to an attempt to silence them.

When the media does not get the culture-war story they want, they have no reservations about inventing one.

Thigpen's article in the Sentinel labeled the Supervisor's an intolerant lot, though she was alone, to my knowledge, in drawing a lengthy comparison between "Battlecry" and Hitler Youth, a comparison which by any reasonable standard is a stretch. What's more, her apparent confusion over what precisely constituted the fascist agenda and what the goals of the neo-conservative and Christian evangelical movements (which she quite mistakenly seems to equate), give me cause to believe that Ms. Thigpen is generally unqualified to pontificate on twentieth century socio-political movements, and helps to explain why she missed the point of the resolution and the rally entirely.

It's worth noting that the resolution passed unanimously, clearly finding acceptance both in its wording and general thrust with the Christians who sit on the Board of Supervisors. Is the Chronicle then informing the practicing Christians on the Board that they are intolerant of their own faith community?

Tom Ammiano and Mark Leno have the both guts and the integrity to respond with resolutions and statements that pull no punches and leave no doubt that, should organizations like Battlecry wish to come to City Hall to somehow redeem us, they'll find a community capable of doing that for themselves, on their own terms. Civic engagement like the sort displayed by Mr's Ammiano and Leno, are what make this city a haven for those who could not get tolerance for themselves, on their own terms elsewhere.

Far from impeding the right of Battlecry to spread a message of hate disguised as love, we are forwarding the rights of speech to those whose voices are being still suppressed by fear and hate disguised as Christian love and tolerance.

Elizabeth Creely is a member of the Bay Area Coalition for Our Reproductive Rights (BACORR).


Editor's Note: Views expressed by columnists published on FogCityJournal.com are not necessarily the views or beliefs of Fog City Journal. Fog City Journal supports free speech in all its varied forms and provides a forum for a complete spectrum of viewpoints.



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