Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Ugliness of Free Speech

Although the United States Supreme Court today upheld a minority group’s First Amendment rights to free speech, you won’t hear many people cheering about it. Because, in a Myrna Minx, “Confederacy of Dunces” moment, the victory is for the right message coming from the wrong people.

The right message isn’t the hate that the Westboro Baptist Church spews – its most recent schtick is to protest at military funerals because the military is fighting to defend a country that “supports” homosexuality. The right message is that free speech – even speech that is ugly and unpopular – is protected under the First Amendment.

That’s pretty much what Chief Justice John Roberts says in his majority opinion on the matter (the justices voted 8-1 in this case) according to
Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and -- as it did here -- inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker.
This case in particular had to do with Westboro protesting at a military funeral in Maryland. The father of the soldier sued, won in a lower court, but then lost at the Supreme Court level. The protesters were on public property, but not immediately adjacent to the section of the cemetery where the funeral was taking place.

Per, Only Justice Samuel Alito disagreed with the majority:
He said the church's “outrageous conduct caused petitioner great injury, and the court now compounds that injury by depriving petitioner of a judgment that acknowledges the wrong he suffered,” he said. “In order to have a society in which public issues can be openly and vigorously debated, it is not necessary to allow the brutalization of innocent victims like petitioner.”
If you want to live in a country that tolerates free speech, you have to live in a country that tolerates free speech. This is precisely why Arayan nation-type groups held parades in various cities in the Idaho Panhandle, and precisely why those who don’t agree with their message attend the parades but turn their backs to it. We have to take the bitter with the sweet.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints see the ugliness of free speech exercised just about twice a year when protesters  show up at the church's biannual conferences to wave signs, scream, rant and rave and such. The church has also chased some protestors, including those protesting against the church's stand on homozexual marriage, off of church property. For the most part, the protests and protestors are ignored, as they should be. Should they be shut down? No.

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