To the editors:

After reading Grant Pick’s overly sympathetic article about the religious leafleteers, “This Could Be Your Last 5 Minutes Alive!” (Oct. 14), I’d like to speak up for the “heathens.”

To begin with, how dare these people accost me in public to tell me that I am going to burn in hell because I don’t have the same beliefs that they do? They probably don’t realize that they are insulting MY beliefs when they do that. A lot of people seem to think that their religious beliefs entitle them to lambaste anyone who holds different views. I wish people could see this behavior for what it is: religious bigotry.

Pick’s article mentions the First Amendment rights claimed by the pamphleteers. Yes, they have the right to say that everybody who is not a follower of their religion is condemned to hell. They can say that, or pretty much anything else they want, because bigoted speech is protected under the First Amendment as is any other form of speech. Tolerating it is part of the price we pay for having free speech and freedom of the press. But it’s important to realize that the First Amendment doesn’t guarantee every speaker a willing audience. Since a large portion of the public is uninterested or hostile, some leafleteers resort to harassment or trickery. For example, I find the practice of terrorizing children by putting “hellfire” tracts in their Trick-or-Treat bags to be execrable.

The First Amendment does in fact guarantee something else: the right to speak up if you don’t like someone else’s speech. The woman who Grant Pick somewhat unjustly called a “hag” did indeed have the right to say the things she said, even though one could argue that she expressed herself in an unaesthetic way. I personally haven’t found it to be worth the trouble to argue with these self-ordained preachers, since they generally don’t listen to anybody, but to each her own.

Finally, I have to wonder: for every conversion that takes place as a result of these “hellfire” tracts, how many other people are so repelled by “hellfire” messages that they avoid contact with any form of spirituality after that?

Alida M. Jatich

W. 56th Pl.