The news out of Washington today is that the Supreme Court has upheld freedom of speech for Westboro Baptist Church. Some are appalled and disappointed over the decision. The vote was 8 to 1 with Justice Samuel Alito dissenting. I think he’s wrong in his opinion about freedom of speech but since he was outweighed by the other seven justices, it matters little. Here’s what he said:
“Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a licence for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case,” he wrote.
“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.”
His opinion suggests that freedom of speech has degrees based on the message’s appeal to the audience. If such is the case, we are mere moments away from hate speech legislation such as exists in Canada, England, and France.
This is not the same as not being able to falsely yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. This is about not liking the message or interpreting the receipt of the message as emotionally unpleasant or “vicious”. What would ever be said beyond “I don’t agree” that would not raise the recipient’s blood pressure? Not much.
But the issue is really freedom of speech. The Supreme Court had to decide whether Westboro’s message is free speech and protected under the Constitution. It was ruled to be protected. That’s despite whether we like their message or the court’s decision.
So let’s step back a moment and look at the situation a little differently. What would a deceased soldier say about it? We don’t know and will never know in this forum. I’ll offer an opinion as a 16-year-plus veteran: I would hate to have my funeral marred by such antics and would detest the victimization of my friends and loved ones. But as a serviceman, I swore “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States” and did so without regard for the message, the messenger, or the method. If we cannot accept Westboro’s rights to their message and methods, then we have a problem with the way the Constitution confers rights and that means we have bigger problems. It would seem as if we want selective rights and if so, let’s make voting rights selective too: Blacks, women, and anyone else we choose. Let’s just turn the clock back a few centuries. Not going for it? Good! We can’t go back.
Now what about their message? I don’t agree with their message at all. Why they think they know God’s mind on the issue is beyond me. It’s not as if the wars are holy ones with God’s promise of protection. He did that with Israel millenia ago as long as the Jews followed His rules. Anyone remember the victory at Jericho and the rout at Ai?
God will judge right and wrong in His way and in His time. I seriously doubt that Reverend Phelps has a hotline to Heaven to know what that entails. The sad thing is that this man and his followers claim to speak on God’s behalf but fail to follow His guidance on correcting in love. If the message is not given in love, then it’s not likely from God but rather from the hateful, sinful lips of the human who is speaking.
I denounce Westboro Baptist Church as a church and I denounce Phelps as a spiritual leader. Such men do come along from time to time and their end is inevitable: Manson, Jones, Koresh…