Sprigg: Government Should ‘Stay Neutral’ by Taking My Side

Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council is an extreme bigot, even by Christian right standards. He’s called for the deportation of gay people in the past and said many other truly vile things. On his boss Tony Perkins’ radio show, he made this monumentally stupid argument:

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins invited his colleague Peter Sprigg on to “Washington Watch” yesterday to discuss an Idaho state legislative committee’s decision not to include protections for LGBT people in a proposed nondiscrimination law.

Sprigg — who travelled to Idaho earlier this week to testify against the measure — celebrated the decision, saying that banning employment and housing discrimination against LGBT people “would increase the power of government to interfere with the operation of private businesses and private organizations” and would place the government in the position of “taking sides” on a “controversial issue.” (We weren’t aware that the FRC opposed the government taking sides on controversial issues!)

Sprigg said that what the Idaho legislature should really do is remain “morally neutral” in order for “the marketplace of ideas” to sort out whether or not it’s okay to discriminate against LGBT people, rather than making “a legal statement that it is morally wrong to disapprove of homosexual conduct and morally wrong to disapprove of people presenting themselves as the opposite of their biological sex.”

This is what we would have called, in the old days when I was coaching debate, a generic argument. It can be used against any change at all without actually addressing the specific arguments being made. But it can’t really be made without hypocrisy on multiple levels. The first level, obviously, is that Sprigg has called for the government to take action many times over on “controversial issues.” If you made that generic argument against his specific proposal, he’d find that laughable — right up until he does the same thing to you.

The second level is that this argument would have worked just as well against anti-discrimination law in general. Should we prevent businesses from refusing to hire black people? Or women? Or Christians? Of course not. After all, that would be making “a legal statement that it is morally wrong to disapprove” of women working outside the home. It would be “taking sides” on a “controversial issue” to force businesses to hire blacks or Jews. But Sprigg would never make that argument because he knows it would instantly discredit him. So he uses this generic argument, applies it inconsistently and hypocritically, and engages in special pleading.

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  • John Pieret

    a legal statement that it is morally wrong to disapprove of homosexual conduct and morally wrong to disapprove of people presenting themselves as the opposite of their biological sex

    Who was talking about disapproval? The legislature was talking about discrimination in housing, employment and access to businesses of public accommodation. When did disapproval become the same as discrimination against people?

  • http://Reallyawakeguy.blogspot.com somnus

    Yeah, it would in no way make it illegal to disapprove. It would just make it illegal to deny essential goods and services on the basis of that disapproval.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    He’s called for the deportation of gay people in the past…

    Like Oscar Wilde?

  • Pierce R. Butler

    Who cares if they disapprove, so long as they fear?


  • abb3w

    He’s also technically incorrect. This doesn’t increase the power of government to interfere; it rather would increase the degree to which government intends to use that power to interfere — just as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did. Which is a subtle nuance.

    Regardless, this would be interference of a sort he doesn’t like; so, he’s pitching the argument to appeal to misarchists.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    abb3w, Harry Potter & the Subtle Nuance was the best of the series.

  • http://twitter.com/#!/TabbyLavalamp Tabby Lavalamp

    I remember when JC Penney hired Ellen DeGeneres as a spokesperson, Christian organization One Million Moms was wailing that the company should stay neutral in the Culture Wars by not hiring her. They lost their shit again later when Ellen showed up in a commercial that had nothing to do with lesbianism.

    Because apparently refusing employment to LGBT persons and keeping them from showing their faces is “neutral”.

  • Michael Heath

    Peter Sprigg’s argument is fallacious given that controversies regarding rights is almost always, and in this case, about advocacy for how the government should act. Here Mr. Sprigg is advocating the government use its powers to protect bigots when they discriminate against individuals perceived to be part of a particular group hated by the bigots. That rather than the government protecting individuals from bigots who infringe on their rights in way the larger population doesn’t suffer.

    Sprigg’s also advocating for an unequal protection of rights, a second fallacious argument given he also hypocritically argues the status quo rather than a constitutional amendment that would allow unequal protection that harms the groups Sprigg and his ilk hate.

    Both arguments resonate since most Americans don’t understand the nature of rights as framed in the DofI, the U.S. Constitution, and the federal courts considering matters regarding rights. Because Americans are predominately ignorant on rights, both arguments are compelling far beyond credibility.

  • justsomeguy

    What does it mean to want the government to stay out of *controversial* issues? The *only* issues are controversial ones; if everybody agrees on something then it’s *not an issue*.

  • abb3w

    @6, Modusoperandi 

    abb3w, Harry Potter & the Subtle Nuance was the best of the series.

    That actually might be a good title for a sequel to Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, but I’m not sure Yudkowsky actually plans a full series of seven.