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Steve Likes to Curse
Writing, comics and random thoughts from really a rather vulgar man
You can love the freedom and hate the speech 
Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011 | 06:43 pm [commentary, news, politics, religion]
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The United States Supreme Court ruled earlier today in favor of the right of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church to protest outside funerals. The Topeka, Kansas-based church, which consists almost entirely of Phelps and his family, has attained a level of infamy these last few years by assembling near the funerals of American military dead and holding up signs with slogans like “Thank God for Dead Soldiers”, “Semper Fags”, and the fiendishly clever “You’re Going to Hell”.
 
Westboro Baptist first made national headlines in 1998 when members protested the funeral of Matthew Shepard, the 21-year-old University of Wyoming student who had been beaten to death because he was gay. They’ve since protested outside hundreds of funerals, as well as courthouses and state legislatures, usually expressing their opposition to same-sex marriage and other forms of gay equality by holding up signs reading “God Hates Fags”.
 
In an overwhelming 8-1 decision, the court ruled in favor of Westboro Baptist, and against Albert Snyder, who filed suit after the church protested at the funeral of his son Matthew, a Marine Lance Corporal killed in a vehicle accident in Al Anbar province, Iraq, in 2006.
 
And the court was absolutely right. Freedom of speech doesn’t cease to exist when the speech in question is ugly, or hateful, or hurtful. Of course the idea of a small group of bigoted religious fanatics protesting near the burial of a dead soldier is disgusting to most of us. It’s a despicable thing to do. It’s a horrible thing, grieving family and friends having to bury their beloved son or daughter, brother or sister in the presence of a bunch of ignorant assholes holding up signs that read “God Hates the U.S.A.” or “Thank God for 9/11”.
 
But hurt feelings, even those of devastated parents saying good-bye to their dead children, cannot override the freedom of expression, no matter how vile the expression — not in a free society. As Oliver Wendell Holmes famously wrote, the first amendment guarantees not merely free speech, but free thought:
 

Not free thought for those who agree with us, but freedom for the thought that we hate. (United States vs. Schwimmer, 1929.)

 
Freedom of expression that only protects popular speech is worthless. Freedom of expression that protects all speech, no matter how repugnant, is worth everything.

Comments 
Thursday, March 3rd, 2011 | 02:47 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
I couldn't agree more. Free speech is free speech is free speech, even when the speech is vile. I'm glad to see we're not going the way of Canada and Europe with "hate speech laws." Very slippery slope, those hate speech laws.

But, I think Ace of Spades offers a pretty good argument here http://ace.mu.nu/archives/312777.php not about the content of the funeral picketing, but the location and the victim's inability to escape the protesting. It's something to think about, anyway.

See what you think.
Thursday, March 3rd, 2011 | 02:55 pm (UTC)
Hey! Live Journal just ate my comment! Well!
Anyway, what I said was that I couldn't agree with you more. I'm glad to see we're not going the way of Canada and Europe with "hate speech laws." Very slippery slope those hate speech laws.

But, I think Ace of Spades offers a pretty good argument against, not the content, but the location and the victim's inability to escape the protesters and what laws are already on the books.

Check it out if you want, http://ace.mu.nu/archives/312777.php
Thursday, March 3rd, 2011 | 03:19 pm (UTC)
I don't have a problem with requiring the protesters to maintain a certain distance from the funeral. The organizers of an event, including a funeral, have a right to reasonably control who attends their event and to maintain order. The Westboro Baptists shouldn't be allowed to stand next to the casket with their "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" signs, because that would be tantamount to trespassing.

Ace seems to miss the point that the court determined that Westboro Baptist's protests aren't harassment, precisely because they don't target specific individuals or families. It was nothing personal against the Snyders; these assholes protest against anyone and anything -- shit, they were outside a high school in Hagerstown a few months ago, for no other reason than they were on their way to D.C. for the Supreme Court hearing.

I agree with you on hate speech laws, too, wild-eyed liberal though I am. As long as you're not committing slander or libel, or inciting violence, you should be allowed to say whatever you want, no matter how bigoted, ugly, hateful or stupid. The way to fight hate speech is to answer it, not to outlaw it.
Thursday, March 3rd, 2011 | 05:07 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
Eh, you're all right for a wild-eyed liberal, I guess. :-)
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