Thursday, May 25, 2006

Time for some blasphemy laws
At first glance this seems to be a run-of-the-mill Bill O'Reilly shooting off his mouth without checking first to see if it's loaded story. Bill heard a rumor that someone somewhere had made the Baby Jesus cry and, as the Baby Jesus' only friend and defender in America (unless you count the other 255 million Christians), it was Bill's duty to leap into action and demand harsh action--firings preferably, but a boycott of France is never out of the question. As usual, he has most of his facts wrong, but will probably never admit it.
In recent days, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly has baselessly claimed that the University of Oregon has allowed its students to "attack Christianity" because a student-run newspaper recently published controversial cartoon images of Jesus. During the May 17 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly claimed that the university "wouldn't allow this if it was an attack on a minority group" and called for Oregon President Dave Frohnmayer to be "fired" for allowing the images to be published. But O'Reilly has ignored two key facts in his coverage of controvesry. First, the student paper, The Insurgent, is not the official University of Oregon student paper, and, according to Frohnmayer, the school has no editorial control over what it publishes. Moreover, in publishing the Jesus cartoons, The Insurgent was apparently responding to a rival paper's decision to publish controversial cartoons of the Islamic prophet Mohammed, which have sparked Muslim outrage and rioting in Europe. Despite hosting the editor of the rival paper to discuss the Insurgent controversy, O'Reilly has never mentioned nor expressed similar outrage for the Oregon Commentator's decision to publish the Mohammed cartoons.

If this was just another case of O'Reilly saying something intolerant and stupid, I wouldn't even mention it. We expect it of him; it's why he has a job on Fox News. It's not the mere fact of his hypocrisy and double standards that makes this mentionable. Again, we expect it of him. What makes this particular case mentionable is the fact that it is an especially dangerous and un-American hypocrisy and double standard.

There are two newspapers in this story: a conservative/libertarian one, The Oregon Commentator, and an anarchist/marxist one The Insurgent. The Oregon Commentator published the Danish Mohammed cartoons. In response, The Insurgent published some equivalent Jesus cartoons. In the four segments on the story, O'Reilly has not mentioned the Commentator's publishing of the Mohammed cartoons. He even had their editor, Tyler Graf, on to discuss it (to his credit, Graf defended the first amendment rights of The Insurgent). O'Reilly doesn't think slandering Islam is even worth of mention. However, he thinks allowing Christianity to be slandered should be a firing offense for public employees.

O'Reilly makes no bones about his belief that Christianity, as the religion of the majority in the US, deserves special privileges in the public arena. Now he seems to be advocating that those special privileges be codified into law. He is openly arguing for a state religion. In saying that U of O president Frohnmayer be fired for not punishing The Insurgent, O'Reilly is saying that public employees should not be allowed the same rights of free speech as the rest of us; they must defend the state religion or lose their jobs. The next step, of course, is to limit government employment only to members of the state church.

At Fox News the theocratic impulse is not limited to Bill O'Reilly. Last December, his scary-haired colleague John Gibson said non-Christians will only be tolerated in America "as long as they're civil and behave." These two would be laughable if it wasn't for their millions of listeners nodding their heads in agreement.

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