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SNEDEKER: Did he just say what I thought he just said?

People usually mean what they say, but often not what their words imply. This is especially critical when the people saying things are those to whom we look up.

A couple of recent comments speak to this disconnect.

Bill O’Reilly, a conservative Fox News pundit whose nationally syndicated newspaper columns are widely read, had a column published Jan. 27 in The Daily Republic titled, “Atheism’s Faithful,” which lamented the accelerating erosion of religiousness in America.

“Atheism is chic,” O’Reilly wrote, in a back-handed criticism. In the column, he recalled debating the well-known doubter Richard Dawkins, who wrote a popular book titled “The God Delusion,” and chastising him for another book he wrote aimed at children.

“You want children to reject God and religion,” he recalled saying to Dawkins, “and you’re trying to get to the kids and say you’re an idiot if you believe in God.” O’Reilly added in the column that he’s OK with doubters thinking and saying whatever they want “as long as they don’t attack people of faith and leave the kids out of it.”

That’s what he meant to say. What he likely didn’t intend to imply but did is that only doubters should be condemned for trying to indoctrinate children and not, for example, his own Roman Catholic Church, which has been systematically and energetically indoctrinating children to believe in God for centuries, not to mention attacking, and occasionally burning at the stake, nonbelievers of all ages.

Rather than validating his ideas, O’Reilly’s statement unintentionally reveals more about the apparently unexamined hypocrisy in his prejudices.

Then, a Jan. 31 Associated Press article in The Daily Republic mentioned a bill introduced in the South Dakota Legislature to protect clergy who refuse to take part in gay marriages. In the article, Republican Rep. Steve Hickey, a Sioux Falls pastor, is quoted as saying, “ … keep the state out of my church.” Although not everybody sees it that way, it’s a rational stance.

But a statement of Rep. Hickey’s later in the article wasn’t.

He was quoted as saying, “I only promote and perform traditional marriages. It is not because I hate anyone. It is not because there’s any bigotry. It’s because I deeply care about people.”

The question is, can anyone fairly say he or she cares deeply about people while actively shunning and shaming a significantly large group of them?

Rep. Hickey cites scripture as defining marriage as only between one man and one woman. Scripture provides some traditional, ecclesiastical cover for this definition but none for the unkindness and persecution it engenders in America today.

According to a Williams Institute review in April 2011, approximately 3.8 percent of American adults identify themselves either as lesbian or gay (1.70 percent), bisexual (1.80 percent), or transgender (0.30 percent); or about 9 million Americans combined as of the 2010 census. That’s a lot of marginalized people, especially considering that same-sex marriage appears to be becoming broadly accepted in the United States.

The Legislature ultimately decided that there was no need for Hickey’s co-sponsored bill, holding that Constitutional guarantees of religious freedom are adequate.

In this free country, we the people are allowed to speak our minds.

But we should also be alert to the unintended meanings and implications of what we say. Sometimes, these are the most telling, and the least defensible.

-Write to Rick Snedeker at