The Catholic League, the media-savvy conservative group that combats anti-Catholicism real and imagined, recently took after the Los Angeles Times for an editorial supporting Georgetown University’s speaking invitation to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. The league’s Bill Donohue sicced his followers on Editorial Page Editor Nick Goldberg, filling his inbox with complaints of varying lucidity, including one that advised him to “go back to your Jewish roots and have some manners.”
But The Times isn’t the league’s only current target. On its website and in newspaper ads, Donohue is slamming Jon Stewart for a joke about women protecting themselves from unwanted medical intrusion with a strategically deployed Nativity scene. Donohue said the joke was offensive to Christians, which is fair enough, but he also called it “hate speech.” In doing so, Donohue is appropriating a term from the left-wing lexicon. Usually hate speech refers to malicious verbal attacks on women, minorities or gays, not jokes about Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
But is making a tasteless joke involving a Nativity scene moral proof that you hate Catholics? According to my handy online dictionary, “hate” means “to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; detest.” I doubt Stewart feels that way about Catholics any more than the authors of the hilarious Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon” detest Mitt Romney’s brethren.
The word “hate” has been, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan might have said, defined down. We say “I hate when that happens” to refer to a minor annoyance. In the heyday of campus political correctness, reports abounded of students and professors being accused of engaging in hate speech because they disparaged the relative historical contribution of a particular nation or ethnic group. Thanks to the Internet, the word “hater” is now used to describe someone who shows insufficient adoration for Barack Obama -- or Justin Bieber or puggles.
We need to resist the dilution of the “H-word.” I’ll start by declining to describe as “hate mail” those missives from the Catholic League.