Another Wingnut Freakout Debunked

Late last week there were reports that military computers had blocked access to the website of the Southern Baptist Convention and, predictably, the wingnuts flew into a tizzy. Right Wing Watch has a rundown of the almost instantaneous declarations of grand conspiracies and oppression:

“What we are seeing here, I want to be very clear here, we are seeing under the Obama administration a Christian cleansing underway in the United States military,” Fox News’ Starnes maintained.

David Limbaugh accused the military of acting like a “thought police” who “selectively suppress[es] First Amendment freedoms” that “our armed forces are charged to protect,” and the SBC’s top ethicist Richard Land said it was an “outrageous” move and the person who blocked the website “needs to be fired.”

The American Family Association called the incident an example of the military’s “hostility towards faith and religious freedom” and its spokesman Bryan Fischer claimed it was part of an Islamist-secularist conspiracy to classify the entire denomination as a “hate group that spews nothing but ‘hostile content.’”

The Southern Baptist Convention itself, on the other hand, remained reasonable and actually helped fix the situation, which was all due to a routine scan showing a potential vulnerability on their website. It was even reported in the Baptist Press:

Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, a Defense Department spokesman, said the military’s software filters detected malware at SBC.net and blocked the website. The malware since has been removed off the website, and the denomination’s website unblocked, he said.

“The Department of Defense is not intentionally blocking access to this site,” Pickart told The Tennessean in an email. “The Department of Defense strongly supports the religious rights of service members, to include their ability to access religious websites like that of the SBC.”…

Some Christians focused on the phrase “hostile content” and wondered whether the denomination’s traditional positions on abortion, gay marriage and the Bible were the reason the military was blocking the site.

Chris Chapman, the SBC Executive Committee’s director of information systems, said SBC.net — like the websites of many other organizations — is a target for hackers. He also said the military’s filters are at an “optimum level” in blocking content, not simply “recognizing invading viruses” but also blocking anything that possibly could be harmful.

“This most recent challenge fits into that latter category, and has been dealt with satisfactorily,” Chapman said. “Unfortunately, SBC.net has joined the ranks of other major organizations that are targets for hackers, detractors and activists. Those engaged in destructive creativity will exploit the continuing development of new technologies to cause new harm and threats of harm continually, so this latest challenge is, for us, just another one of the sort we deal with every day. The fact that it ‘made the news’ was certainly a distinguishing feature, but the attempted attack was not all that unusual.”…

Early Thursday, Roger S. Oldham, vice president for convention communications and relations for the SBC’s Executive Committee, expressed caution against jumping to conclusions.

“Though there have been several instances recently in which evangelical Christians have been marginalized by the broader culture, we think that a rush to judgment that the United States Military has targeted the Southern Baptist Convention as a hostile religious group would be premature,” Oldham said at the time.

Chapman also explained that the phrase “hostile content” has nothing to do with the ideas expressed:

“The recent situation impeding access to our website for some was aggravated by a misunderstanding of a term familiar to those in the information technology field. That term is ‘hostile content.’ To technical administrators, it simply means some sort of vulnerability or virus. It might not even be an actively harmful element, but simply an exploitable or potentially exploitable condition. We now live in an age where defending against or removing ‘hostile content’ is a daily undertaking, especially for any organization that maintains multiple Internet servers.

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