The word "homophobe" has gotten quite a workout lately. Just ask Dr. Laura.

Dr. Laura Schlessinger, the popular radio personality, is now in the crosshairs of gay rights activists who are loudly labeling her a homophobe.

But is she?

Dr. Laura tells her radio audience--20 million strong--that homosexual behavior is "deviant" and that homosexuals are "products of a biological disorder." (She also says they're "entitled to love and respect"--something that's gotten lost in the uproar.) For her crimes against political correctness, Schlessinger is being targeted by radical gays who are urging Paramount to cancel her planned syndicated television program. A website called Stopdrlaura.com urges people to join them in "a stand against hate."

I believe wholeheartedly in free speech, so I cheerfully support the right of gays to speak out against Dr. Laura's views. But I'm exasperated when I hear, in relation to Dr. Laura's comments, gay activists' use of the "h" words: hate and homophobe.

Homophobia, says Webster's, is "an irrational hatred or fear of homosexuals or homosexuality." It's a term I'm happy to see applied to people who deliberately set out to cause physical harm to homosexuals out of pure, vicious hatred. But if homophobia is "an irrational fear and hatred of homosexuals," what's the term for "rational objection to the gay political agenda or lifestyle?" I have news for you: There isn't one.

Dr. Laura doesn't hate gays. An Orthodox Jew, she believes--like millions of other Jews and Christians--that homosexual behavior is both unnatural and morally wrong.

Gay activist groups want not just acceptance of their lifestyle but full endorsement of it.

Clearly, there's a big difference between people who harm gays and those who believe
--on strong biblical or other grounds--that homosexual behavior is morally wrong and unhealthy. But there's no term that applies to folks who don't hate or fear gays and who would never raise a hand against them, but who don't view their behavior as normal or praiseworthy. Instead, gay activists deliberately slap the "homophobe" label on all their opponents, without distinction: The thug who assaults and murders gays is lumped together with the lace-covered and lavender-scented granny who believes what her Bible teaches: that God intends sexual behavior to be reserved for married couples--a man and a woman--only.

Calling those who oppose the gay agenda extremists, homophobes, or bigots is part of a deliberate strategy of demonization. Gay-activist groups want not just acceptance of their lifestyle but full endorsement of it.

That's why those who express moral objections to homosexuality, like Dr. Laura, must be swiftly punished. (Lest you think that's only because Dr. Laura is highly influential, consider: Even kindergartners are called on the carpet for expressing nonapproved views. Wisconsin gay-activist Paul Varnell tells teachers that if they catch their little charges expressing "anti-gay" views, they should be "disciplined or suspended.")

That's why we're seeing this deeply undemocratic attempt to link speech with violence. John Aravosis, president of Wired Strategies, the Internet consulting firm, told Salon.com that Dr. Laura's views are "dangerous." And Paramount producer David Lee says Dr. Laura "may not have a club in her hand, but she encourages an atmosphere where those who do wield weapons feel free to use them."

There you have it: Words are clubs. All speech that does not enthusiastically and unreservedly endorse the gay lifestyle or agenda pollutes the public square with an atmosphere of hate.

But there are worse things than feeling angry over comments we disagree with, and that's accusing someone with unpopular views of suffering from mental illness. Dr. Laura correctly notes that when gay activists label her a homophobe, they mean "I have a mental disorder--because that is what phobias are."

Linking unpopular speech with mental illness is worse than accusations of bigotry. It's a tactic that especially disturbs many Christians. Remember, in the former Soviet Union many Christians were locked into mental institutions because their belief in God "proved" they were crazy. Many others were sent to prison for refusing to renounce Christ.

To those who equate all objections to the gay lifestyle or political agenda with hatred and bigotry, I would point out a couple of things. Many AIDS hospices are run by churches. They're staffed by those "homophobic" Catholics and Protestants who don't support the gay political agenda.It's easy to label someone homophobic. It's hard to make the label stick when the homophobe in question is dressing the scabs on a dying AIDS patient. (Gay advocates dislike the popular Christian phrase, "Hate the sin, love the sinner" because they think it's a cover-up for loathing. Well, taking care of homosexual AIDS patients is what "hate the sin, love the sinner" looks like.)

It's easy to engage in name-calling, but tolerance means putting up with people whose opinions you despise. It's what makes civilization possible. Historian Paul Johnson writes that "the essence of civilization is the orderly quest for truth, the rational perception of reality . . . and the adaptation of man's behaviour to its laws." But Johnson warns that "the enemies of civilization invariably lie among those who, for whatever motive, deny, distort, minimize, exaggerate or poison the truth.

"The great defensive art," he says, "is to detect and unmask them before the damage they inflict becomes fatal." You don't like Dr. Laura's views? Go ahead and sound off. But don't poison the public well with uncivil and untrue accusations of hate.

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