How do you know she’s a witch?

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“How do you know she’s a witch?”

“She looks like one.”

This comedic interchange from the classic movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” is supposed to be satire, but these days, I’m not so sure.

Recently, a sponsor boycott ended the TV program of political commentator Bill O’Reilly, the FOX channel’s most successful show. O’Reilly has been accused of sexual harassment and this accusation was under investigation by his network when the boycott was launched. Dollars talk and his show was cancelled. It frightens me that a person’s career can be ended without due process.

In the 1950s, actors, musicians, directors, and others were blackballed in the entertainment industry because of accusations – not proof – that they were communists. Some were indeed members of the communist party. Some were not. Others had to hide their sexual orientation, relationships, and children born out of wedlock because of the very real fear that exposure of these secrets might end their careers.

In these United States, we are supposedly free from persecution based on belief systems. We are also protected by the Constitution that presumes our innocence until guilt is proven. We don’t throw witches in ponds or burn them at the stake because they look like witches. But O’Reilly has in effect been burned at the stake without due process.

Before the lawyers reading this get too worked up, I understand that our democratic republic guarantees the right to due process for criminal acts – not civil opinion. But what if O’Reilly didn’t sexually harass anyone? Oops.

His accuser stated that her “mission was to bring down Bill O’Reilly.” With help from the court of public opinion, he was tried, convicted, and sentenced. How do you know he’s a sexual harasser? Because he looks like one. That is a precarious razor’s edge on which our lives also balance.

When I was in grammar school, classmates hurt my feelings on occasion. My mother used to tell me to ignore it. That was good advice. But it seems nowadays many of us aren’t content with ignoring people we don’t like. We have to take it another step and ensure that we end their careers – we need to “bring them down.”

It is sort of the equivalent of kids on the playground not being satisfied ignoring people they don’t like, but instead feeling the need to make sure none of the other kids play with them.

This reminds me of gay bashing, a phrase that doesn’t have much meaning anymore, but it used to be common. Groups of individuals were so troubled by homosexual behavior that they weren’t content to voice their opposition. They felt the need to go out and find homosexuals and beat them up. That’ll show ‘em.

What happened to O’Reilly and others is akin to gay bashing. Let’s go find people that offend us and show ‘em we won’t tolerate their kind. That may not seem like a big deal to you if you aren’t gay – or if you aren’t Bill O’Reilly.

I’m not an apologist for Bill O’Reilly or sexual harassment and I’m not supporting or condemning any specific lifestyle. I’m simply noting that if a person’s life can be destroyed because of a vigilante mentality, no one is safe.

Once we open the door that allows the public to deliberately take people down simply because they disagree with them, then no one is safe. A philosophy of “Don’t offend me” and “Don’t say anything I don’t agree with” is a very tenuous one.

O’Reilly may recover. He reportedly will get paid $25 million even though he isn’t working. But he lost his show. If he is like many of us, he works at his job because he likes it. He doesn’t want to stay home.

In my opinion, there is a more civilized way to deal with actors and musicians you don’t like. Don’t watch their shows and don’t buy their stuff. Like my mom told my sisters and me, if you don’t like what people say or do, go somewhere else and ignore it.

[Gregory K. Moffatt, Ph.D., is a college professor, published author, licensed counselor, certified professional counselor supervisor, newspaper columnist and public speaker. He holds an M.A. in Counseling and a Ph.D. in Psychology from Georgia State University and has taught at the college level for over 30 years. His website is gregmoffatt.com.]