The Bible Says What Now? I’m Suing

You know how the Bible says a lot of crazy things and can be interpreted to mean whatever you want it to mean?

Bradley LaShawn Fowler, a 39-year-old from Michigan, said he was reading a Bible or two and found that — wait for it — they called homosexuality sinful!

I know. I know… Shocking. I’ll let you soak that one in…

Not only that, the claim caused him (a gay man) to “suffer discrimination, emotional pain and mental instability.”

Now, he’s fighting back.

Fowler says the publishers of those Bibles — Zondervan and Thomas Nelson — “deliberately caused homosexuals to suffer by misinterpretation of the Bible.”

So he’s suing the Bible publishers for a total of $70,000,000.

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In Zondervan’s case, for example, Fowler states that the 1982 and 1987 editions used the term “homosexual” while the 1989 and 1994 editions took the term out without informing consumers.

If only everyone had been told homosexuality is ok, he wouldn’t have suffered, you see?

The best part about the story?

The Bible publishers are likely to prevail in this case, and they have pornographer Larry Flynt to thank for it. In the 1988 case of Hustler v. Falwell, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the First Amendment protects speech against claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress, unless that speech fails to meet the very permissive standards of U.S. libel law.

Beautiful.


[tags]Christian, fundamentalist[/tags]

  • Daniel Hoffman

    Out of curiosity, what are you finding “beautiful” about this? I’m asking seriously, because to me the whole thing is mind-numbing. Are you seeing it as Christian hypocrisy? Or as a good point about parts of the Bible you see as archaic? Or what?

    (And as a side note, your opening comment about interpreting the Bible however you want – is about as true as saying “I can interpret Hemant’s blog posts however I want”. That is a total straw-man. It’s words on a page – the vast majority of it is straightforward enough. Straightforward at least (and ironically) to the extent that it obviously condemns homosexuality.)

  • Ron in Houston

    Is he sure that the Bible caused him to suffer “mental instability?”

    I think wasting your time, effort, and money on filing a case like this means you were a little messed up before you filed the lawsuit.

  • http://bugsoup.blogspot.com bugsoup

    Hustler v Falwell also happens to save PZ from being fired from Wafergate. His blog post, whether meant to intentionally inflict emotional distress or not, is protected speech.

  • http://feveredintellect.blogspot.com Viggo the Carpathian

    I am offended and emotionally distressed by people who are easily offended and emotionally distressed.

    Am I therefore entitled to 500,000 dollars (70,000,000 – 60,000,000 in lawyer fees – 500,000 in taxes)?

  • Wes

    Not only that, the claim caused him (a gay man) to “suffer discrimination, emotional pain and mental instability.”

    Now, he’s fighting back.

    Fowler says the publishers of those Bibles — Zondervan and Thomas Nelson — “deliberately caused homosexuals to suffer by misinterpretation of the Bible.”

    So he’s suing the Bible publishers for a total of $70,000,000.

    Ugh. Why do people always think that “individual rights” translates to “rights over the actions of others”? It seems that in many people’s minds “I have the right to free speech and free religion” equates to “I have the right to censor other people’s speech when it offends me.”

    Everybody has free speech, which means nobody has any right not to be offended or insulted. As much as I despise the anti-homosexual bigotry in the Bible, bigots still have the right to print their bigoted books and speak their bigoted minds, and the fact that this causes “emotional harm” to gays does not justify censorship.

    Of course, there’s a very deep hypocrisy in all this. The very same people who bitch and moan about atheists “spreading hatred” merely by criticizing their beliefs are probably the same ones who will suddenly becoming supporters of free speech when it’s the genuine hatred in the Bible that’s being attacked.

    We shouldn’t encourage this thin-skinned “They shouldn’t be allowed to offend or insult me” attitude. It undermines free speech, and since atheists are a small minority in America and among the most likely to be censored if we start making it illegal to insult someone, we are the ones most likely to suffer if this kind of crap actually becomes accepted.

    As I’ve always said, I respect you and I respect your rights as a human and a citizen, but I don’t respect your beliefs, and I don’t have to respect them, any more than you have to respect mine. That’s how free speech works. Sometimes people criticize your beliefs, and you just have to deal with it.

  • llewelly

    For the sake of free speech, I hope he loses (as seems very likely) his suit. However, there needs be more awareness of the fact that the Bible contains a great deal of hate speech. Unfortunately news like this seems more likely to create the impression that the issue is silly.

  • llewelly

    Daniel Hoffman:

    Out of curiosity, what are you finding “beautiful” about this? I’m asking seriously, because to me the whole thing is mind-numbing. Are you seeing it as Christian hypocrisy? Or as a good point about parts of the Bible you see as archaic? Or what?

    Okay. You were wise to hide your irony meter under the bed, in order to protect it from undergoing a runaway fission reaction – a problem often associated with articles about religion. But this time you need to get it out from under your bed and take a reading.

    Christianity is strongly associated with efforts to prevent the distribution of pornography. So it’s ironic that a judgement that said a pornographer didn’t have to pay money to a preacher who was offended by the dirty joke about the preacher, which the pornographer published, should serve as precedent for a judgement that will probably protect the bible publisher from having to pay for offending a gay man.

  • mikespeir

    What are the publishers supposed to do? Change the Bible? Not publish it anymore? Gee, I’m not too keen on the Bible myself . But I’m as opposed to book banning as I am to book burning. Even if the Bible is a book of fairy tales, it’s still a valuable record of how people thought in times past. What a shame it would be to lose it!

  • http://notapottedplant.blogspot.com/ Transplanted Lawyer

    This lawsuit will not survive a motion to dismiss as soon as the defendants show up in court to make the motion. Indeed, since he filed it in Federal court, the Court has the power to make the guy file a brief explaining the legal merits of his claim even without the defendant appearing.

    And yes, there are hints in the allegations of the complaint, as reported in one of the links Hemant provided, that the dude is more than a little bit touched in the head.

  • Polly

    The only grounds I can see in this case is that the Bible may be claimed to incite actual violence against gays, adulterers, roudy teens, Palestinians, etc.. It does command stoning offenders and some have taken the Bible’s words as justification and even an outright command to kill others.

    Having said that, I don’t believe ANY book should be banned and that people are responsible for their own actions, not a book.

  • Tom

    I have never been able to figure out how they, in lawsuits, get to the insane amounts that they do. I mean, 70 MILLION dollars! Seems like a kind of arbitrary amount to me.

  • http://notapottedplant.blogspot.com/ Transplanted Lawyer

    Tom, in most states there’s no penalty for demanding too much money, but a very real penalty for demanding too little. Let’s say you broke your leg in an auto accident and I was your lawyer. Breaking your leg is painful, and you’re entitled to some measure of compensation for having to go through that pain. We’re pretty confident that the accident was the other driver’s fault, although of course you can never be 100% sure of what a jury will do with a given set of facts.

    As your lawyer, my job is to get as much for you as I can. So when I write up the demand, I could ask for $50,000, $100,000, $1,000,000, or $100,000,000. I’m pretty sure that not even the best lawyer in the world, with the best jury, would award $100,000,000 for a broken leg. The real verdict is probably somewhere between $50,000 to $100,000. Here’s why I would ask for $100,000,000 sooner than I would ask for $100,000:

    But if the case goes to trial, and the jury awards you $125,000, then the court will cut that award down to $100,000 if that’s what I put in your pleadings. Then you’ll sue me for the $25,000 that my mistake cost you. So when I file your lawsuit, I’ll sue for $100,000,000 — not because you or I think the lawsuit is worth that much, but because we’re trying to preserve our ability to actually get what the case is worth.

    The demand for seventy million is this case is only one star in the constellation of problems that this plaintiff faces.

  • Andrew

    He doesn’t have a case whatsoever. I think this is just an effort to get the issue out there.

    I do find it incredibly interesting, though, how often and how recently newer “editions” of the Bible are quietly edited to help fit contemporary worldviews better.

    For instance, satyrs, dragons, and unicorns are all mentioned in the King James Version of the Bible. But if you do a word search on an online Bible with any of the “New” editions… (drum roll please)… NOT ONE of those words can be found! They are all replaced with “beast”.

    Now how would a rational person justify that? I mean, unicorn and beast are not the same word. The language hasn’t changed that much in the last few hundred years to warrant that kind of translation. That would be like calling Jesus simply “person” or an angel a “being”.

    It all seems rather eerie when you think about it. Some groups of people are out there actually changing the Bible to make it more appealing to contemporary people. I thought the Bible was “God-breathed”? Like God somehow guides the Bible. Does God no longer believe in Unicorns or is it more likely that these subtle changes have been going on for some time. And that only undermines the Bible’s legitimacy even further than obviously mythical creatures could push it.

    I find it hard to come to grips with how a real Christian could justify this, but there is a business angle. Bible sales are good business. Certain members of my family have over a dozen bibles each. It would make rational sense to adjust the Bible to make it seem less ridiculous and therefore increase the amount of Christians and then increase the Bible sales. Not very ethical, but rational… yes.

  • http://notapottedplant.blogspot.com/ Transplanted Lawyer


    It would make rational sense to adjust the Bible to make it seem less ridiculous…

    A good plan, Andrew, with only one problem: that would involve taking out all of the references to God, angels, demons, Satan, miracles, prophecy, heaven, and hell. At that point, you’d be down to a pamphlet.

  • Daniel Hoffman

    I do find it incredibly interesting, though, how often and how recently newer “editions” of the Bible are quietly edited to help fit contemporary worldviews better.

    For instance, satyrs, dragons, and unicorns are all mentioned in the King James Version of the Bible. But if you do a word search on an online Bible with any of the “New” editions… (drum roll please)… NOT ONE of those words can be found! They are all replaced with “beast”.

    Now how would a rational person justify that? I mean, unicorn and beast are not the same word. The language hasn’t changed that much in the last few hundred years to warrant that kind of translation. That would be like calling Jesus simply “person” or an angel a “being”.

    It all seems rather eerie when you think about it. Some groups of people are out there actually changing the Bible to make it more appealing to contemporary people. I thought the Bible was “God-breathed”? Like God somehow guides the Bible. Does God no longer believe in Unicorns or is it more likely that these subtle changes have been going on for some time. And that only undermines the Bible’s legitimacy even further than obviously mythical creatures could push it.

    I find it hard to come to grips with how a real Christian could justify this, but there is a business angle. Bible sales are good business. Certain members of my family have over a dozen bibles each. It would make rational sense to adjust the Bible to make it seem less ridiculous and therefore increase the amount of Christians and then increase the Bible sales. Not very ethical, but rational… yes.

    It is a complete shame that translations often do that. Often it is done to appeal to a particular audience – and I agree that changing a word to make it more palatable or socially acceptable is unethical, and being a Christian I think it’s sinful – especially when it’s driven by greed. There’s no good excuse for it and I have no desire to excuse the publishers who do those kinds of things.

    But, fortunately, there are so many Greek and Hebrew (and Latin and Syriac, etc) texts from different times and places over the last 2,000 years that textual criticism can give us Greek and Hebrew texts that are truly, for all practical purposes, accurate. English translations simply need to be checked against the Greek and Hebrew. Some (like ‘The Message’) are much more accurately called paraphrases then translations.

    Still, languages (especially a world-language like English) evolve rapidly. Sometime translations are legitimately revised simply because an older translation will have an english rendering that in the last 50 years has acquired a different general usage or nuance that doesn’t accurately reflect the meaning of the original Hebrew/Greek anymore.

    Like I said, some translations are prostitutions – but on the whole this issue seems to me like one of the most constantly caricatured aspects of Christianity. The text is certain enough for thousands of biblical scholars (who know better than you or I) to bank their souls on.

  • Darryl

    Like I said, some translations are prostitutions – but on the whole this issue seems to me like one of the most constantly caricatured aspects of Christianity. The text is certain enough for thousands of biblical scholars (who know better than you or I) to bank their souls on.

    It’s not the words that people disagree about, it’s the meaning. When it comes to meaning, people decide what they think it means, or what they want it or need it to mean. How else do you explain the great variety of interpretations of this one book? It’s not a failure to understand the words in English or any other language.

    Regardless, this is a stupid suit which hasn’t a prayer. Yet, it is a perfect example of my previous point. To me it’s pretty clear that homosexuality is condemned in the Bible, and tradition supports this. But, more liberal, moderate, ‘enlightened’ Christians and Jews either avoid those passages that refer to homosexuality or they ‘properly interpret’ them to arrive at the opposite conclusion. Now, it’s all bunk so who cares, but that’s a good example of how words are interpreted in the Bible.

  • Valhar2000

    Well, I certainly hope he looses, and looses hard. This sort of self-righteous idiocy is in the same category as the tantrums of the few Catholic kooks who went ballistic over the holy cracker incident (on a smaller scale, of course).

    This idea that you can make up offense and then expect to be compensated for it is supremely pernicious and dangerous, and it must be stamped out everywhere it shows up.

  • Andrew

    A good plan, Andrew, with only one problem: that would involve taking out all of the references to God, angels, demons, Satan, miracles, prophecy, heaven, and hell. At that point, you’d be down to a pamphlet.

    Someday, I have no doubt there will be actually branches of Christianity that use the Jeffersonian Bible.

    Still, languages (especially a world-language like English) evolve rapidly. Sometime translations are legitimately revised simply because an older translation will have an English rendering that in the last 50 years has acquired a different general usage or nuance that doesn’t accurately reflect the meaning of the original Hebrew/Greek anymore.

    Of course languages evolve… But unicorn still means unicorn, and satyr still means satyr. My point is still valid.

    Like I said, some translations are prostitutions – but on the whole this issue seems to me like one of the most constantly caricatured aspects of Christianity. The text is certain enough for thousands of biblical scholars (who know better than you or I) to bank their souls on.

    First, I would hardly call this a “caricature” of Christianity. There was absolutely no exaggeration on my part. So I am not going to let you feed your self-delusions by simply dismissing it as an exaggeration. I pointed to what an older translation says and what a newer one says. That’s it.

    Second, I understand your statement about scholars as saying that you trust that other people have done this research, and since you haven’t heard anything else, you are going to go on assuming what you believe is true.

    Theists make similar arguments when debating someone on facts and theories of science. They assume that you need to be credentialed before you can understand something like being an evolutionary biologist or cosmologist. I may not understand quantum physics, but I understand the method scientists uses to arrive at their results. And with that understanding, I can accept scientists on their word becuase I know that I COULD do the science if I had the need and ability to.

    But with religion, it is different. We aren’t talking about what killed the dinosaurs. We are talking about immortal souls and the like. So when I first acknowledged my own skepticism of Christianity, I looked to the Bible. I read works from some of those scholars you mentioned above (focusing on historical works like the origins of the Bible, its books, history of the early churches, their beliefs, etc…). And I was shocked at what I found. If you want to know what I am talking about, you are going to have to figure it out for yourself.

    I just felt that the truth (or lack of it) was more important than just coasting along with something I suspected was a carefully cultured delusion.

  • EKM

    So this guy is gay and did not know that the Bible said bad things about gay people. What rock was this guy living under?

  • Pseudonym

    For instance, satyrs, dragons, and unicorns are all mentioned in the King James Version of the Bible. But if you do a word search on an online Bible with any of the “New” editions… (drum roll please)… NOT ONE of those words can be found! They are all replaced with “beast”.

    The KJV was published in 1611. It is not the standard by which modern translations are judged; the original texts (to the extent that we have them) are. Needless to say, our understanding of ancient languages has improved quite a bit in the last 400 years.

    I want to know why nobody is suing translators of Aristotle for mysogyny.

  • cipher

    To me it’s pretty clear that homosexuality is condemned in the Bible, and tradition supports this. But, more liberal, moderate, ‘enlightened’ Christians and Jews either avoid those passages that refer to homosexuality or they ‘properly interpret’ them to arrive at the opposite conclusion. Now, it’s all bunk so who cares, but that’s a good example of how words are interpreted in the Bible.

    Darryl,

    You may be interested in Wrestling with God and Man, a book by an Orthodox rabbi who is openly gay. He offers an interpretation that doesn’t try to avoid the difficult statements in Leviticus, but feels they’ve been misunderstood and taken out of context.

  • Pseudonym

    To me it’s pretty clear that homosexuality is condemned in the Bible, and tradition supports this. But, more liberal, moderate, ‘enlightened’ Christians and Jews either avoid those passages that refer to homosexuality or they ‘properly interpret’ them to arrive at the opposite conclusion.

    Homosexuality, the sexual orientation, is not mentioned at all in the Bible. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with what it has to say on the subject knows this, though some won’t admit it.

    What is mentioned, in a small number of places, is certain sexual practices. The question of interpretation comes up because it’s not necessarily obvious exactly what practices are referred to or why.

    Many of the instructions/commandments in the Bible are written to specific people in specific times in response to specific misbehaviours. If you want to understand what the instructions were meant for, you have to understand the misbehaviours that they were given in response to.

    Some liberals, for example, interpret Paul of Tarsus’ instructions about homosexual practice as actually referring to a specific kind of cult temple prostitution. I have no idea if it’s true or not, but if it is, then that changes how you would apply the instruction today.

    Most mainline and some liberal Christians that I know don’t talk about “proper interpretation”. They tend to either explicitly ignore it (as a teaching for a previous era, when homosexuality as an orientation was not understood), or figure that far more ink was spilled about sins like greed. In the latter case, the argument goes, even if homosexual practice is technically sinful, the disproportionate venom that some Christians seem to use against it is missing the point.

  • http://joniruhs.wordpress.com Joni

    I’m 60 lbs overweight. Question to the lawyers: Can I sue anyone because magazines and culture prefer thin, fit women and that’s depressing? ‘Cause I could use $70 million right about now. There’s gotta be someone out there responsible for my emotional well being. Oh. That’s right. That’d be me.


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