Free as in Speech

I hold Westboro Baptist Church in the greatest contempt. They are hateful, graceless, and they shame the name of Christ. That said, I applaud today’s Supreme Court ruling that upheld their right to speech, even hateful speech.

The debate over the 1st amendment often gets mired in detours over sexual content and entertainment, over content distributors editing TV and films to increase market share to cries of “censorship” from the content creators.

It’s easy to forget that the original intent of the 1st Amendment was to protect political speech, and especially political speech that is unpopular and confrontational, even hateful. It is a shield that protects not only the speaker, but that protects society from a barren marketplace of ideas, where the monopoly of populism silences all other voices. Whatever else it is, the actions of Westboro are political, ideological expression. They are exactly the kind of speech that the 1st Amendment was written to protect.

You may not like the kind of speech that Westboro engages in – I don’t know anyone who does. Even so, we should be proud of a legal and political system that protects their right to freely speak.

And, once we have patted ourselves on the back, we should use every other means possible to shout them down. We should not use the law to silence public speech, but we should absolutely use public speech to shout down horrible ideas.

5 thoughts on “Free as in Speech

  1. Emily

    I’ve been avoiding other blogs (like my niece’s) about this because I agree. As much as I don’t like WBC, they are protected by the first amendment.

    I have been reading and hearing about people mobilizing to counter-protest the WBC in many arenas, including other military funerals. That’s the way we get it done and now if the media would stop covering them, they *might* just go away.

  2. michael Post author

    I don’t think it’s the job of the media to stop covering them. The job of the media is to report the news, and this is certainly news.

    I get nervous whenever I hear suggestions that the media should engage in “social engineering”.

  3. sharolyn

    I’d vote for them getting, say, 1/2 mile of space for 2 hours. People freeing their speech would still get the cameras, which is what they really want anyway.

  4. michael Post author

    That’s essentially what happened. They were over 1000 feet away from the funeral site (more than a football field), they were completely surrounded by counter-protestors, and the content of their signs wasn’t seen by anyone until after the event, when they got home to watch TV coverage (as stated by the grieving father in his lawsuit).

    Most states have passed laws that restrict time and place for public protests, that preserve privacy zones around family funerals. The court has upheld those restrictions, as they should.

    This lawsuit concerned the ability of the father to collect damages based not on the time and manner, but specifically based on the content of the speech, and to my mind that’s exactly the reason why it should be protected.

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