Many of my Sunday talks have the same underlying message: everything that happens is an opportunity for spiritual practice. My opportunity came when I read an article about the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) deciding to defend Milo Yiannopoulos. As most of you know, the ACLU is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that works to “defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States." Some of you, however, might not know Milo. You can find plenty about him online, but I’ll use the ACLU’s own words from a recent blog post: “Milo Yiannopoulos, trades on outrage: He brands feminism a cancer, he believes that transgender individuals have psychological problems, and he has compared Black Lives Matter activists to the KKK. The ACLU condemns many of the values he espouses (and he, of course, condemns many of the values the ACLU espouses).”
Why would the ACLU defend him? Here’s the backstory. Milo recently published a book titles Dangerous. It’s Amazon description states, “The liberal media machine did everything they could to keep this book out of your hands. Now, finally, Dangerous, the most controversial book of the decade, is tearing down safe spaces everywhere.” Posters for the book were displayed on trains and buses of the Washington DC metro. Again, from the ACLU blog: “Unlike Mr. Yiannopoulos’ stock-in-trade, the ads themselves were innocuous, and self-evidently not an attempt to influence any opinion other than which book to buy.” Within days, however, enough complaints were submitted and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) removed all advertisements for the publication. Milo is one of four plaintiffs (with ACLU, Carafem, PETA) in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU arguing that the WMTA violated Milos’ right to free speech when it refused to let him promote the book.
I should let you know that I’m a monthly contributor to the ACLU. I believe in their work, especially given the views of our current political leadership. This, however, gave me cause for pause. It did not feel right to know that my money was going to help defend Milo’s hatemongering. But as I sat with it, I realized the ACLU was right. Their words slowly struck home: “The ideas espoused by each of these four plaintiffs are anathema to someone — as is pretty much every human idea. So, to anyone who’d be outraged to see Mr. Yiannopoulos’ advertisement — please recognize that if he comes down, so do we all. The First Amendment doesn’t, and shouldn’t, tolerate that kind of impoverishment of our public conversation.” I didn’t like it, but they were right. Whether or not I agreed with Milo’s views (which I emphatically don’t), they were right. He was entitled to the same rights as the gay couple I publicly cheered on as they sued a bakery for not making their wedding cake on the grounds of “religious freedom.”
The truth is, we can’t have it both ways as much as we’d like to. This is an important lesson for our spiritual practice as well. We love to say “We are One” and “Namaste” and “Love Everyone” but we make exceptions for those who disagree with us. I’ll be honest… Milo Yiannopoulos is not someone I often consider holding in a space of loving kindness. Okay… ‘not often’ is an exaggeration. It’s more like never! Do I consciously hate him? No. But maybe that’s not good enough. I don’t have to agree with his opinions to extend love and forgiveness. And when I withhold love and forgiveness from anyone, I am not being the embodiment of Divine Love that I am potentially capable of. Holding Milo Yiannopoulos in a space of love and forgiveness? That’s some serious Mastery Level Love! It’s what we’re all aspiring to. And it’s certainly not easy. But the ACLU helped me today by reminding me that his rights are my rights, and that’s at least one way we are the same.
So while I still struggle towards Mastery Level Love, today I say, “Thanks for the lesson ACLU!”