Saturday, January 25, 2014

Counterpoint: Vet tossed from HJR 3 hearings

Posted By on Sat, Jan 25, 2014 at 3:32 PM

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Respect. I've heard that word thrown around a lot lately as the General Assembly continues its debate of the controversial constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Indiana.

Almost every time I've heard the word, the context has been that conservatives don't respect the views of gay rights supporters.

But I seem to remember learning in elementary school: You have to give respect to get it.

House Joint Resolution 3 has had two hearings, before two different committees, both held in the House chamber.

Both times, one member of the public was ejected by the chairman of the committee.

Once, it was a woman who was obnoxiously yelling and clapping after a man testified in support of the amendment.

More recently - and far more newsworthy - an Air Force veteran was expelled after giving Elections Committee Chairman Milo Smith, R-Columbus, a double thumbs down gesture.

Opponents of HJR 3 exploded across social media, condemning the expulsion and turning Scott Spychala into a martyr.

RELATED CONTENT: John Krull's take on the same event

But let's think about what actually happened and why he was removed from the public gallery.

Before both hearings, the committee chairman acknowledged the sensitive and emotional nature of the debate and asked for respect from both sides.

During the first hearing, Judiciary Committee Chairman Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, had to ask for quiet and respect multiple times after Freedom Indiana supporters in the gallery were laughing and making other noises after people testified in support of HJR 3.

Last Wednesday, Freedom Indiana supporters again filled the public gallery and had taken to giving a double thumbs down gesture, often while standing, during the testimony of anyone in favor of the amendment. Finally, Smith stopped someone mid-testimony and asked for respect. He said he didn't think the thumbs down sign was respectful.

As Smith said that, Spychala looked straight at the chairman and gave him a double thumbs down.

Is the gesture itself bad enough to deserve being kicked out of a public hearing?

No.

Should Spychala have been expelled?

Yes.

Lost in the public backlash was the true reason behind his expulsion. In committee meetings, the chair is more or less all powerful. He or she sets the rules, within reason.

Smith asked for no thumbs down gestures.

Spychala looked at him and gave a thumbs down.

Smith kicked him out. Seems pretty logical to me.

RELATED CONTENT: How would HJR-3 affect you? Readers weigh in

Maybe Spychala was trying to make a statement. And there is certainly something to be said for that. History is filled with people who faced consequences (often much worse than Spychala's) for standing up for what they believe in.

But that doesn't mean Smith was in the wrong.

Throughout my coverage of this debate, I've done my best to be impartial, to be a quiet observer. In fact, I haven't even made up my mind as to how I would vote if HJR 3 makes it to the ballot in November.

But there's one thing I have learned. The debate isn't good for anyone without respect.

For everyone.

From everyone.

John Sittler is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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