Sen. Jason Rapert not only wants to prevail in imposing his religion in civil law. He also wants to silence critics. So he went on quite a tear this week — and delighted his anti-abortion followers — with news of an interchange I had during my appearance at Boys State Tuesday with a fervent abortion foe.
Wesley Hogan of Rison rose — as one or more delegate has done every year since I began speaking at Boys State in 1992 — to challenge me on opposition to the death penalty while supporting a woman’s right to abortion. Hogan zeroed in on — among my numerous criticisms of the death penalty — the recent study that suggested 4 of 100 people executed were innocent. “100 out of 100 aborted babies are innocent,” he said. He drew a thunderous and prolonged ovation.
I’d prefaced my remarks, as I always do, by saying there’d undoubtedly be issues in which faith would determine feelings in the audience. I said my point wasn’t to attack, only to point out the importance of being able to defend one’s own beliefs. It helps, too, to understand that others might differ on hot topics such as the death penalty, abortion, guns, drugs, same-sex marriage.
Hogan sent his remarks around on Facebook before I got back to the office (I’d link the Facebook page but he’s declined to open his page to me) and conservatives in the legislature and the anti-abortion movement have sent it around with happy attaboys on Twitter. Today, Rapert made an appearance at Boys State and presented Hogan with an “honorary senator” certificate for standing up to that “liberal bully” in Little Rock — me. Yes, free speech is bullying in Rapert World. His acolytes’ praise has included several who’ve said I shouldn’t be allowed to speak to Boys State or on the UCA campus. That is not bullying, see. That’s just common sense.
This more or less underscores one of my favorite points in the annual visit — ideas and speech are far more powerful than guns. Why else would people like Rapert be so fearful of opposing beliefs and so unhappy that they are aired? Why would they cheer so lustily a tired and inapplicable cliche?
Hogan’s account of our interchange was more or less accurate. If I got “red in the face,” as he wrote, I’ll take his word for it. I don’t recall “frustration” during the roar he drew from a majority of the crowd. Impatience maybe. And I think he lost in the noise what I had to say in response
I said that under the prevailing law in the United States a pre-viability fetus is not a person, like that innocent human on Death Row. I don’t view a zygote as an “innocent baby.” By law, a woman has an absolute right to end pregnancy during the pre-viability period, whether at the microscopic or more advanced stage. This is not murder — a charge of law. It is nonetheless a word Rapert and his allies toss around easily.
I understand that religion moves Hogan and Rapert to disagree. I noted Tuesday that many of the world’s religions view abortion from a different perspective, however.
AsI said in preface to Tuesday’s remarks, issues of faith are essentially non-debatable, but I expected the challenge just the same. Variations of Hogan’s question arise each year, typically with the same triumphal flourish. It’s akin to the liberal flourish of the obverse — “you say you are pro-life, yet you support capital punishment.” The issues, I try to illustrate, are far more nuanced from either perspective — a blend of spiritual, legal, personal, state and practical considerations that don’t easily reduce to one-liners.
Again I’m happy to say: Nobody quoted Leviticus to me this year on homosexuality. I was deprived of my chance to ask whether the questioners shirt was a blend of cotton and nylon and thus a Biblical no-no, too. I did warn the audience about the evils of pork barbecue.
Good for young Hogan for standing up to the Little Rock bully. Good for Rapert, that he had a chance to grandstand during the election season. (I do advise him to sample that same audience on legal marijuana and beer sales, a couple of other things he’s hot and bothered about.)
It does bother me a bit that Rapert and Co. view the voicing of a different point of view as indoctrination. (Remember last year, when a nephew of then-Lt. Gov. Mark Darr was in the audience and said I should be slapped for what I said?) The point of my talk — and the reason that the conservative leaders of Boys State countenance it, I think — is that robust debate is a hallmark of the American political experience. Facing challenges to your beliefs should make them stronger if they are soundly rooted.
Come to think of it, I think I deserve one of those honorary senator certificates. Alas, there’s no honor in challenging the Word according to Bro. Jason.
PS — Two Central High students — Malik Marshall and Dean Patterson — are nominees for governor this year. I spoke with Malik at some length Tuesday. A friendly conversation.