Stephen Crampton
August 18, 2006
Okwedy's odyssey: The Bible as hate speech
By Stephen Crampton

"True law is fixed and unchangeable; it cannot be modified by human machinations."

It has been rightly said that the first word of the gospel is "repent." That is, before one can come to Christ he must first recognize his need for a Savior, which in turn requires that his sin be exposed. Life springs from death; the pleasure of freedom in Christ comes only after the pain of realizing and dealing with our enslavement to sin.

Truth Hurts

It is not pleasant to be confronted with the truth of our own depravity (talk about hurting our self-esteem!). Yet it is essential if we are to overcome it. One does not fix what he does not know is broken. Francis Schaeffer noted that truth demands confrontation; loving confrontation, to be sure, but confrontation nonetheless.

Law, rightly understood, is a reminder of right and wrong. It divides the two, and serves as our schoolmaster, as the Apostle Paul wrote. It should come as no surprise, then, that lawless men are not enamored of the law. Dark deeds detest the light.

When those who delight in wrongful behavior seize control of a city, they promptly seek to remove laws that condemn their actions. Thus, adulterers and fornicators seek to tear down laws restricting sex to marriage, and homosexuals detest laws against sodomy. They want to remake the law in a form more to their liking, or, better yet, do away with the law altogether.

As one former homosexual put it, "if you support what is now described in euphemistic terms as 'the blessing of same-sex unions,' in practice you are supporting the abolition of the entire Christian sexual ethic, and its substitution with an unrestricted, laissez faire, free sexual market." [1]

But true law is fixed and unchangeable; it cannot be modified by antinomian human machinations. Slavery is wrong now, it was wrong 200 years ago, and it will be wrong 100 years from now, regardless what the legislature and the courts say about it. Deep down, we know this is true. Nevertheless, suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, we try to convince ourselves that if only we change the city code, our wrongdoing will not be so, well, wrong.

Okwedy's Odyssey

In New York City, the Human Rights Law declares that "there is no greater danger to the health, safety, and welfare" of its citizens than "the existence of groups prejudiced against each other . . . [on the basis of] creed, . . . or sexual orientation." Using this extraordinary policy, the City has in effect declared war on religion and those who dare to publicly state that homosexual behavior is sinful. Pay no mind to the prohibition against religious bigotry; "homophobia" has become Public Enemy Number One.

In March, 2000, Pastor Kristopher Okwedy, a Nigerian immigrant who came to the land of the free to practice his new-found religion, rented two billboards on Staten Island. The message he sought to convey was a simple one, containing a single verse of scripture (Lev. 18:22) in four different translations: "Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is abomination." (KJV) It was signed, "I AM YOUR CREATOR."


The billboards were immediately met with a barrage of complaints. Homosexual activists and others asserted they were offensive, unacceptable and improper. They cried for their removal and demanded to know who the bigot was who was behind them.

Soon, the City became involved, taking up the banner of tolerance and echoing the condemnation of the homosexuals. It proclaimed the billboards "intolerant," "bigoted" and "unwelcome," and called for their removal. It also demanded that the sponsor of the message be disclosed, and hinted that the owner of the billboards might suffer economically if something was not done.

Shooting the Messenger

The more things change, the more they stay the same, as the saying goes. And as unrighteous Cain slew his righteous brother Abel, so the pro-homosexuals sought to slay Pastor Okwedy's message.

Almost immediately after the City announced its disapproval of the billboards, the billboard owner covered over Okwedy's scripture with Smokey the Bear public service messages, thereby breaching the contract with Okwedy. Pastor Okwedy's name and phone number were also released to the frenzied media.

The City was not through yet, however. Two days after the billboards were removed, homosexual activists and their supporters held a "prayer vigil" against Okwedy and the billboards, dutifully attended by several pastors who had succumbed to the relentless pressure to "affirm" and "celebrate" homosexuality. The City also sent an emissary, whose message victoriously proclaimed a win for tolerance and inclusion.

At the same time the City was celebrating its tolerance and inclusiveness, the "intolerant" Pastor Okwedy was receiving death threats and a bomb scare. When he phoned the police about the suspicious package, he was unable even to persuade them to come investigate it. They told him to just open it and see what it was. Apparently the tolerance of the City extended only so far.

Although the City refused even to open a file for Pastor Okwedy to protect him against the blatant bias crimes by which he was victimized, they did send two detectives from the Bias Crimes Unit to his church to investigate a charge of bias against him based on the scriptural message on the billboards. The detectives asked nosy questions about his doctrine, insulted his beliefs and intimated that future billboards could result in formal action against him.

These official actions of the City expressed acute hostility against Pastor Okwedy solely on the basis of the public proclamation of his religious beliefs. Indeed, they condemned his Holy Writ itself.

Protection from the Courts?

The Supreme Court has often observed that the Establishment Clause prohibits both government favoritism toward religion and government hostility against religion. For when government weighs in on matters of religion, it makes those who agree with the government insiders, and conversely makes those who don't "outsiders, not full members of the political community." [2]

But while many cases have paid lip service to the proposition that the Establishment Clause prevents hostility against religion, the High Court has never squarely held an act of government hostility in violation of the First Amendment.

Our lawsuit on behalf of Pastor Okwedy has thus far resulted in two federal district court opinions denying him relief, one appellate court decision affirming dismissal of all claims but one, and a second appeal that was just argued. To date, the courts have found nothing wrong with the City's actions.

The reaction of the homosexual community to Pastor Okwedy's scripture is perhaps understandable, if not acceptable. They immediately understood that despite their rewrite of the City code, God's law stood against them, unchanged and immutable. They hate it and any who dare remind them of it.

But the blindness of the courts to the blatant hypocrisy of the City officials, who on one hand congratulate themselves for their tolerance, and on the other refuse to tolerate Pastor Okwedy's pure religious speech or even protect him from clear discrimination, is disturbing.

The more the courts refuse to equally apply the law, the less the people will respect the law. Anarchy reigns when injustice abounds. As St. Augustine wrote, "Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies?" [3]

What is at stake in this case is not merely the rights of one man in New York City, but in many respects the future of religious freedom in our once-great nation. May the one true Lawgiver have mercy on us all.

NOTES:

[1]  THE BOOKS WERE A FRONT FOR THE PORN, The Truth About the Homosexual Rights Movement, by Ronald G. Lee (New Oxford Review, Feb. 2006).

[2]  Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668, 688 (1984) (O'Connor, J., concurring).

[3]  Augustine, City of God, Book IV, chapter 4.

© Stephen Crampton

 

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Stephen Crampton

Stephen Crampton is Chief Counsel of the American Family Association Center for Law & Policy (CLP)... (more)

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