If you have been following the news in the last few years, you have probably heard of the Westboro Baptist Church. They are a hate group centered around an independent Baptist church. The group is known for its extreme stance against homosexuality and for protests that include picketing funerals. They have been publicly active at this for over twenty years.
They were recently in the headlines because they were the recipients of a winning judgement from the Supreme Court. The high court ruled “that members of Westboro Baptist Church had a right to promote what they call a broad-based message on public matters such as wars”. The father of a fallen Marine had sued the church for protesting at his sons funeral, saying those protests amounted to targeted harassment and an intentional infliction of emotional distress. Chief Justice Roberts wrote this for the majority:
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.
Speech is powerful. Because it is powerful, we must protect the right to express it, regardless of the message. Any exception we layer onto this right must be carefully considered and kept as restrictive as possible (i.e. obscenity, private property). If we start only allowing speech we agree with, it is not freedom. If the government only has to support speech it agrees with, it is no longer a right. Freedom of speech becomes a privilege, granted by the whims of the majority.
A cliche statement Americans often make is that “freedom is not free.” It is usually pulled out as a patriotic cry of support for the military. But it applies to more than just freedoms won by the sword. The protests of the Westboro Baptist Church is also a price we pay for the freedom of speech. Watch any amount of television, and you will hear hateful speech, hear people decrying the values of others as immoral, irrational, etc. In this country, everyone has the right to say their piece, and not all of them will you agree with.
This is a price we have to pay, that I gladly pay, for my own freedom. Freedom I can use to denounce the Westboro Baptist Church and all those of their ilk. They hold the opinion that America’s support of homosexuality (as meager as it is) is leading to our downfall. They are wrong. I not only disagree, but I think the opposite. Our continued oppression of the LGBT community is hurting this country. Denying a segment of our population equal rights violates are core tenant of this country.
I will speak this loudly and clearly to everyone I can, until the situation changes. As is my right.
-That is all.