As the partner of a woman whose fundamentalist minister father has not spoken to her in four years, I sympathize with Mr. Fowler's suffering. His decision to sue Zondervan, however, is stupid.
Perhaps Mr. Fowler missed the memo on the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Freedom of the press means that Zondervan can publish anything it wants to, regardless of whether it causes anyone emotional distress. This is an ill-thought-out, frivolous lawsuit.
An exception to freedom of the press is libel, which the Cornell University Law School defines as "False words, which damage another person's reputation or good character and are conveyed in a lasting manner, especially writing."
So far, Fowler hasn't sued Zondervan for libel, but if he were to try to do so, he wouldn't have a case. According to the Media Law Resource Center, libel must meet the following conditions:
In order for the person about whom a statement is made to recover for libel, the false statement must be defamatory, meaning that it actually harms the reputation of the other person, as opposed to being merely insulting or offensive.
The statement(s) alleged to be defamatory must also have been published to at least one other person (other than the subject of the statement) and must be "of and concerning" the plaintiff. That is, those hearing or reading the statement must identify it specifically with the plaintiff.
The statement(s) alleged to be defamatory must also be a false statement of fact. That which is name-calling, hyperbole, or, however characterized, cannot be proven true or false, cannot be the subject of a libel or slander claim.
[Public figures must also prove that the statements were made with malicious intent, but that does not apply to Fowler.]The statements in the Bible do not meet the "of and concerning" criterion. They refer to gay people as a class, not to Fowler in particular. Further, they fall into the category of claims that "cannot be proven true or false". Fowler takes issue with I Corinthians 6:9, which reads (in one translation) "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived, neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites." Who (if anyone) will "inherit the kingdom of God" is a matter of opinion, and therefore unfalsifiable.
Fowler is representing himself, which is one indication that he isn't to be taken seriously. Here are some others:
-There are several posts on his blog with the heading "Is Lucifer God?".
-He published a book entitled Reconciliation with the G.O.A.T. (God of All Truth).
-The "Author's Testimony" page on his website makes reference to aliens and wrestling with demons in his sleep (the context implies this isn't meant figuratively). It also states: "...I thank God for every challenge he has bestowed upon me to become the vessel of light this world desperately needs."
On a personal note, Fowler is a resident of my hometown, Canton, Michigan. Canton is known for having an IKEA store and a large South Asian (Indian and Pakistani) community, and for hosting an annual youth soccer tournament. Back in the 1990s it repeatedly elected a state Representative named Deborah Whyman, who was convicted of defaming the Triangle Foundation by claiming that they supported pedophilia. (This was in a campaign brochure. Her Democratic opponent had accepted a check from the foundation, which is actually an LGBT civil rights advocacy group.) The political climate hasn't changed much since. If not for term limits, she'd probably still be in office.
I would find the entire situation hilarious, if Fowler's ridiculous lawsuit wasn't playinginto the hands of the Religious Right. They have taken notice of Fowler's suit and are using it in propaganda about the supposed aims of the LGBT community.
In a press release entitled "Man Sues Bible Publishers over Verses on Homosexuality", Focus on the Family's Bruce Hausknecht commented, "As frivolous as this case may sound, it's an indicator of where the homosexual agenda is headed. Ten years from now, this type of case won't be humorous at all; we'll see organizations like the ACLU dedicating resources to them because such 'language' will no longer be considered protected speech. Sweden, Canada and the U.K. are already prosecuting religious speech as 'hate' speech, as it relates to the biblical view of homosexuality."
Unfortunately, Focus' readers are likely to take Hausknecht's statement at face value. Most are probably unaware that the ACLU actually defended the First Amendment rights of notorious anti-gay preacher Fred Phelps in 2006. While the Religious Right likes to paint the ACLU as an unwavering proponent of the so-called "liberal agenda", the fact is that they will defend anyone-- anyone-- whose First Amendment, equal protection, due process, or privacy rights are violated-- including far-right extremists.
WorldNetDaily's more in-depth article, "'Gay' Man Sues Bible Publishers", correctly treats the story more or less as a joke, but does make repeated reference to the fact that one of Mr. Fowler's blogs is on Barack Obama's website. (Anyone can get a blog on Barack Obama's website. All you have to do is fill out a form.) This is unsurprising. WorldNetDaily also recently published a story intended to cast doubt on the authenticity of Obama's birth certificate and has a featured link to a site devoted to perpetuating the myth that he is a Muslim.
The LGBT community, like any other group of people in the world, has its weirdos. We pretty much ignore them. The Religious Right cites theirs as pseudo-experts on everything from LGBT parenting to global warming.