This week, the Facebook Page of the Landover Baptist Church sparked a discussion in the OHPI office on the limits of satire. Are there any limits, or is all fair in love, war and lampooning?

First, a brief background. The Landover Baptist Church is a fictional Baptist church is the US that satirises fundamentalist Christianity and the religious Right. Its aim is to ridicule and ultimately expose the prejudices of the far right Christian movement in the US through an outlandishly extreme example of it. So a standard debate on LBC’s forum www.landoverbaptist.net would be “God hates rational thinking” or “Scientific proof that earth is flat” in which the church would use an extremely literal interpretation of the Bible to make its point.

So far, so good. While it would be hate speech to attack a person because of their religion, attacking an idea is ok. Questioning or even mocking what a religion believes is therefore ok, provided that it doesn’t go on to promote hate against people who follow that religion. Given that many flavours of fundamentalist religion themselves attack people in a manner that could be considered hate speech, for example for being non-believers or the wrong sort of believers, or on another basis such as sexuality, some statements from religious groups clearly do need to be challenged.

In the case of the Facebook Page of the Landover Baptist Church our antennae started buzzing when we saw updates ridiculing people with disabilities, racial and sexual minorities, and just unlucky people. The satirists would argue they were actually mocking fundamentalist Christians who have these views, but is that what they were really doing? Here are some examples that had us furrowing our brows:

On Down Syndrome sufferers:

 

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To see it live (and report it), click here.

On the victims of Arkansas and Oklahoma tornadoes:

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To see it live (and report it), click here.

On Jews being racially targeted:

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To see it live (and report it), click here.

On homosexuals:

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To see it live (and report it), click here.

On women:

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To see it live (and report it), click here.

When discussing these examples, the OHPI staff called on Lady Diamond, one of our anti-hate campaigners, for her thoughts. Lady Diamond explains that the normal rule in satire is to “punch up”. Satire should be directed against someone your own size, or preferably, bigger. Satire picking on a minority is not usually socially appropriate, unless the context makes it appropriate.

LBC makes an interesting case in that respect. On the one hand, the LBC is taking on the establishment: the powerful Evangelist Christian churches of the US. But it is doing so by stripping other marginalised groups of their dignity. Is it ok to use them as collateral damage in their larger campaign?

We think not. LBC is not making any great point about Right-wing Christianity by ridiculing a girl with Down Syndrome or Jews under attack in Eastern Europe or victims of a natural disasters. It is punching down: using those who have no avenue to defend themselves to try get a laugh. These posts are also not reasonable and in good faith as they don’t focus on the real beliefs of fundamentalist Christianity but more on trying to demonise fundamentalist Christians by ascribing additional distasteful beliefs to them without a reasonable basis. The example attacking women and gay people may be more justifiable, not because it is ok to target these groups, but because the satire is more focused on actual beliefs of fundamentalist Christianity.

In the Australian context it is worth remembering the “Make a Realistic Wish Foundation” skit that got the popular show The Chaser’s War on Everything suspended for two weeks. The show regularly got away with lampooning politicians, governments, heads of states, businessmen and companies. But having a go at terminally-ill children clearly crossed a line, it was a case of punching down, and was met with universal condemnation.

Do you think LBC has crossed the line with their posts discussed above? You can join the discussion on our Facebook page here.