As I watched WBIR Channel 10’s coverage of the Oneida cheerleading squad’s stand for faith Friday, I felt like someone should start a slow clap.
Many news outlets — ranging from dozens of Internet websites to Fox News Channel — picked up the cheerleaders’ story last week, but WBIR was the only one that bothered to do a story exposing the hatred that was lobbed at the cheerleaders.
In the “news business,” we strive so hard to play things right down the middle — representing both sides of any situation — that we sometimes lose sight of right vs. wrong.
And too much of the response to the cheerleaders’ story was just flat-out wrong.
Not that there aren’t two sides to the story; there are. It’s sometimes hard to believe here in our sheltered community, but there is an alive, well and thriving atheist movement in the United States — and folks who do not believe in God have the same rights as those who do. And even within the Christian community, there are some — not many, but a few — who argue that prayer has no place at public events like football games.
Each of those folks are entitled to their own opinion, and they have every reasonable right to express it. What they don’t have a reasonable right to is to expect society in general to sit back and allow their bigotry and hatred to dictate the discussion.
In our society, folks who publicly display statements of hatred or bigotry towards racial minorities, foreign nationalities or those who espouse alternative lifestyles are shouted down. And they should be. Childish, bigoted insults have no place in public discourse.
So why doesn’t the same hold true for Christians?
As the cheerleaders’ story went national, a small but not insignificant portion, of the reaction was made up of hateful, mean-spirited and vulgar comments. Things were said about the Oneida cheerleaders that would cause just about any father to ball up his fists — and probably put them to use — if those things were said about his daughter in his presence.
And most of those comments were made on news websites that have clearly-stated Conditions of Use policies that do not permit bigoted comments towards any group of people. Staff members or volunteers moderate those comments and remove the ones that are insulting in such a manner.
So why were these comments about a group of teenagers who profess to be Christians allowed to stand?
It’s a question that deserves an answer, but don’t expect one anytime soon. In a society where we condemn bullying and bigotry, both were on full display last week. And to many of those websites where they were on display — from the well-known Huffington Post to many less popular websites — it’s no big deal.
The irony of these displays of intolerance coming from the same group who claims that Christians are intolerant is beside the point. The bottom line is simply this: whether we’re talking about a gay teenager or a Christian teenager, such vile and mean-spirited comments have no place in public discourse.
• Ben Garrett is Independent Herald editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.