OP-ED: County Supervisors will decide if the Bible constitutes ‘hate speech’


Supervisor Joel Anderson

By Joel Anderson | San Diego County Supervisor District 2 

At our next board meeting, my San Diego County Board of Supervisors colleagues and I will have the opportunity to defend freedom of speech and religion or allow the Bible to be considered ‘hate speech’ by a county commission.

On Tuesday, March 22, 2022, the Human Relations Commission (HRC) voted to amend their bylaws, adding a code of conduct and a process for the removal of commissioners by a 2/3rds vote. The proposed changes would allow the Commission to censure and/or remove any commissioner for their comments that the super majority deem derogatory. These revisions are subject to approval by the Board of Supervisors and will be voted on at our April 5th board meeting.

These changes were proposed in retaliation to legally protected speech shared by Pastor Dennis Hodges, whom I appointed to serve on the HRC. When the HRC was considering taking action to support the transgender community last November, Pastor Hodges abstained from voting due to his religious beliefs concerning transgenderism.

Not satisfied with his abstention, some of Pastor Hodges’ fellow commissioners urged him to give his reasoning for abstaining. Pastor Hodges referenced the Bible, specifically the verse that says, “A woman shall not wear a man’s clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God.” (New American Standard Version, Deut. 22:5).

According to their own bylaws, the purpose of the Commission is “to promote positive human relations, respect, and the integrity of every individual,” regardless of any protected class they may fall under, including religion. By updating their bylaws, the Commission is suggesting that the super majority can and should remove anyone who holds beliefs that are different than their own.

This is not only detrimental to the mission of the HRC, but it is dangerous. In fact, we are talking about a much larger issue here than the situation with Pastor Hodges. The outcome of this example will tell the nation how we in San Diego handle public discourse.

When we don’t hold space for others to have and express beliefs that differ from our own, the eventual result is contempt. Contempt can be defined as the feeling that a person is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn. This attitude towards others is in direct contrast to the values that the Commission was designed to uphold.

At the annual John Courtney Murray, S.J. Lecture in 2018, social scientist, Harvard professor, and bestselling author Arthur Brooks gave a presentation on the topic of restoring civility to the public discourse. He argued that civility and tolerance are low standards for us to govern how we live together. We need to live up to a higher standard, and as a life-long Catholic, I agree with him when he says that standard should be love. Love is the opposite of contempt.

It takes strength and courage to support someone’s right to disagree with you, and I would even say that it is our moral responsibility to each other to do so. We need to learn from each other, and disagreement is a crucial component to that process. A competition of ideas brings about excellence, but we can only have that discourse when we set aside contempt and bring love back into the conversation.

When I served as a state legislator for 12 years, I belonged to a super minority. Yet, I did not let that stop me from authoring landmark legislation that helped not only my constituents but all Californians. During my time in Sacramento, no other legislator worked across party lines as often as I did. In fact, it was a Democrat senator from Berkeley, Nancy Skinner, who volunteered to give my farewell address when my term ended. The reason I share this is not to brag, but to further illustrate the power of respecting one another and working together to find common ground.

As any of the thousands of young professionals who have graduated from my internship program can attest to, I require my staff to read How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. In this book that has become the lifeblood of my office, Carnegie has a section on how to win others over to your way of thinking. There are two crucial principles from that book that apply here: 1) Show respect for the other person’s opinions; and 2) Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.

I am saddened that the HRC’s commissioners have decided to take a different approach. Instead of earnestly engaging with those they disagree with, they have chosen to use their power to amend the rules and silence those who do not fall trap to groupthink. This term comes from the field of psychology and asserts that small groups tend to accept a conclusion that represents what the perceived group consensus is—regardless of whether the group members believe it to be true. Groupthink is harmful because it has been proven to reduce the efficiency of collective problem solving within groups.

Now, San Diego’s Board of Supervisors stand at a crossroads. We will be given an opportunity to set the tone for how we believe San Diegans should handle discourse in the public arena. Will we fall into the trap of allowing ourselves to feel contempt for our neighbors? Or will we rise to the challenge of introducing love back into public discourse and allow ourselves the chance to be better, together? I am hopeful that my Board colleagues will make the right decision on April 5th.

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  1. This action is horrible. Pastor Hodges’ quote from the bible was only in response to additional inquiry.
    His abstention should have been accepted and then move on.

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