The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

August 12, 2012

Carol Stark: Protect the right without being the messenger

— I made a big mistake early in my life the day I screamed at my sister “I hate you.”

My parents both bounded out of their chairs, and I got a lecture that still rings in my ears today.

“You do not use that word — ever. You do not hate anyone — ever.”

This past week’s news that a Joplin mosque had been burned to the ground brought back my parents’ strong words. I wonder what level of hatred it takes to cause someone to destroy a place of worship.

But I wonder even more about the words that may have fueled that fire.

Since Monday, we have removed a number of comments from our website and our Facebook page. While the Constitution protects an individual from having the government censor speech, it doesn’t mean that privately held businesses — even newspapers — have any obligation to provide a platform for opinions that threaten or malign any person or group of people.

We hold our nose and defend a hatemonger’s right to stand on a public street corner and proclaim his or her poison. The Constitution does not, however, say that we, the free press, have to be their messenger.

Monday’s fire made national headlines, as we all knew it would. Photos taken by Globe staff photographer T. Rob Brown went out on The Associated Press wire, and by midafternoon were on the websites of every major news outlet in the country. The national media quickly linked our courageous tornado town with the cowardly act of burning a mosque.

Fortunately, the story did not end there, and hate did not prevail. The Joplin community rallied around the Islamic Society of Joplin. An online fundraiser had surpassed its $250,000 goal and was on its way Friday to reaching $300,000. The individual who designed the Restore Joplin T-shirts also designed a shirt that provides a way for wearers to show their support for local Muslims. Students at Ozark Christian College are also planning a rally on Aug. 25 to show support for members of the mosque.

As we all know, hate has been with us forever. It has touched every race, religion and gender.

Forty-five of the 50 states and the District of Columbia now either have separate hate crime legislation or allow bias motivation in ordinary criminal offenses to be taken into account as aggravating circumstances in sentencing. In Missouri, if certain criminal activity is “knowingly motivated because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation (including gender identity), or disability of the victim or victims,” the crime is considered more serious, and the criminal penalties may be increased.

Missouri adopted its hate law in 1988, and in 1989, I reported on an incident that was the first to be prosecuted using the new statute. A Carthage man was charged with firing a gun into the press building of the Congregation of the Mother Co-Redemptrix on July 24, 1989. He also, stupidly, called the Carthage police and made threats against the Vietnamese priests and brethren in connection with their annual Marian Days celebration. The charges were filed under an ethnic intimidation law. Ultimately, the man was placed on supervised probation for five years and was sentenced to perform 50 hours of community service.

As for Marian Days, the Vietnamese-Catholic religious pilgrimage has continued, growing to nearly 60,000 participants. The celebration concluded last weekend in Carthage, and I’m sure there are few who recall that Missouri’s first hate crime was committed on the beautiful campus there.

Law, or no law, hate will not win when it’s not tolerated.

Carol Stark is editor of The Joplin Globe. Address correspondence to her, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802 or email cstark@joplinglobe.com. Follow Carol Stark on Twitter @carolstark30.

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