Want to express your Christian faith with an entry in the Festival of Light parade? No problem. Want to include signs saying LGBTQ people are doomed to hell and death? Think again.
The Ashland Chamber of Commerce was right to ban a religious group from future participation in the annual parade that takes place the day after Thanksgiving.
The sponsoring group, “Marching for Jesus,” has participated in past parades with no problems and no complaints. This year, however, the group included another organization, the RV Saltshakers, in the parade entry. The Saltshakers brought signs reading, “Our lies, hate, theft, greed, lust, porn, fornication, LGBTQ, abortion, and all other sin earn death and hell. Trust Jesus! Be Saved!”
Was that hate speech? Not exactly. One of the Saltshakers group said, “I wrote it and don’t hate anyone,” so it couldn’t be called hateful. Except that anyone who happens to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered might justifiably feel attacked by the suggestion that they are doomed to hell simply for existing. And the Chamber’s parade rules forbid any message that is “insulting or offensive to any ... identifiable group or individual.” That would seem to include the signs in this year’s parade.
The group’s intention was “to share the Gospel,” said Jon Clement, a Saltshakers organizer. “Our message is to rescue people.”
But people who don’t want to be “rescued” shouldn’t have to endure that message in a community event. The Chamber is justified in excluding any group that violates the rules.