Backers of the Wesboro Amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 39, defend it as “a shield, not a sword,” a protection of religious freedom rather than an attack on a segment of our population. But bumper sticker mottos such as “a shield, not a sword” are often purely political efforts to avoid having to intelligently address an issue and personally justify a position. And the symbolism behind such mottos has a tendency to undermine the cause the motto purports to defend.
Hiding behind a shield enables one to avoid seeing the other person. All the other person might see is the sword that is being pointed at him from behind that shield. The shield/sword analogy, therefore, emphasizes the greatest weakness of the proposal. Hiding behind a shield does not mean the other side will or should go away. The desire not to see the other side does not mean it does not deserve to exist. And if the only thing the other side perceives is a sword pointed its way, it is increasingly likely to press its case even harder.
So it is that legislation using the shield and sword analogy weakens, not strengthens, the argument for the legislation and increases the skepticism of those who see no reason to hide behind one and wave the other.
Defining the key words of a public policy that is this important and this divisive deserves more thought than is embodied in a slogan. In the next few entries in this series (we haven’t decided how many), let’s explore the dangers of definition.