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Does Freedom of Speech Trump Moral Decency?
The Dangers of Free Speech
It started when a gay soldier died in Iraq defending his country. Okay, he wasn't defending us against anything. But he was in Iraq, sent there by this government to carry out whatever the interest is in Iraq. Let's just leave it at that. He goes where he is told and does what he is told to do. Then he dies.
If you have a pulse you already know this story. You heard it on the news or read it in the paper or saw it on the Internet. Matthew Snyder was a gay Marine who died in Iraq and who's father and family and friends were trying to mourn and bury when the Westboro Baptist Church got a call from God himself saying Matthew Snyder was a sinner and he doesn't love him. Yes, that is what they said, apparently, having nothing else to do God stayed on the line a while longer to let them know he wanted more soldiers to die and he hates Obama.
"You're Going to hell" and "Thank God for Dead Soilders" signs, held high outside the church where Mr. Albert Snyder had a difficult time mourning his son. This was not the only funeral they picketted, however, Mr. Snyder took it to the Supreme court where he lost 8 to 1. HE LOST.
Yes of course, everyone has the same conversation each time a matter such as this rears its ugly head. How does free speech exist if we start to draw lines and change the rules and where does it end? If we say free speech we have to mean for everyone. Even people as ignorant as the Westboro people have a right to be ignorant out loud, in a crowd and be proud. But does that mean that Mr. Snyder did not have the right to privately mourn his son? Where does free speech end and moral decency begin? Isn't it obvious where one should draw a line and just do what is right, Period?
Who are these Crazy People?
In the news all you hear is Westboro Baptist Church. It's really identified as a hate group and is just the huge family of it's founder Fred Phelps. Mostly, this group hates homosexuals, but they don't discriminate, they hate Jews too. Jews are also sinners who are going to hell, although I have not yet figured out why they feel this way. They actually held a protest at the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. They have signs that say, and this is truly telling of their ignorance, "Jews Killed the Lord Jesus". Oy, if only they read the good book, you know, the good book the Pope just wrote. He explains to them how Jesus was in fact killed by the Romans and not the Jews. But then I have known this for years. I am shocked the Pope and I are aware of this fact but not people who apparently have a direct line to God. One would think he'd mention this.
This small group of familial lunatics has had a movie made about them called "The Most hated Family in America". So no, it really isn't about them, they are just idiots who claim they spend $200,000. a year flying around picketing funerals as it is there job to spread "God's Hate". My concern does not really lie with the hate mongers. No one gives much creedence to people such as these. But do they truly have the right to be so abjectly offensive in public? Are there no rules to picketing church funerals? Perhaps we never thought it was unnecessary and now perhaps it is.
Personally I think the Westboro Church simply knows what every 4 year old knows, negative attention is better than none at all.
The Justices Have Spoken
Eight of the Nine Supreme court Justices voted to protect the first amendment and by extension, the Westboro Group. But one judge just couldn't do that. It didn't sit right with him that hiding behind the First Amendment to spew hatred was acceptable. That just couldn't be. So Supreme Court Judge Samuel Alito voted against the Westboro Group. He believed that it was morally indecent for them to pickett a Soldier's funeral.
Judge Alito stated that "...when publicly offensive speech is also -- and perhaps primarily -- personally painful, the Constitution doesn't protect it." I agree with him. The Group has a right to their opinions, no matter how mis-guided. They simply should not have the right to interfere, interrupt, or otherwise cause a commotion or potentially violent gathering with their words of hatred at a private funeral. Mr Snyder has rights as well.
Protecting the First Amendment
According to the Bill of Rights in our Constitution of the United States these people have every right to speak out about how they feel about, well, anything because Freedom of Speech, Press, Religion and Petition are number one. There is a reason for this. At the time people were locked up for speaking against their government in Britian and this was the most relevent thing to our founding fathers. The right to say what you feel and not be punished for it simply because someone does not agree. Generally, someone powerful like the government. So they assured us this would never happen by giving us a list of what our new government would NOT do. The first one being, taking away our voice as a people. The people of these United States take their Bill of Rights very, very seriously, especially when it is convenient for them.
But I wonder, the Bill of Rights were written in a different time. People would have not picketed a funeral. They would not say in public the things people say today. Many ugly political remarks were made publicly, even back then, but there were boundaries and most people knew exactly what they were and observed them because observing them showed your moral and ethical beliefs and to society, these things mattered.
Iinterestingly enough just the other day in the supermarket someone asked me what happened to society, there used to be a sense of community and people used to take care of each other. The elderly neighbors, the neighborhood children, everyone kept an eye out for everyone else. If Mr. Simmons the old man three doors down wasn't seen in a few days someone went to check on him and his neighbors would verbally express their concern. Today Mr. Simmons could be dead a good month before anyone in their crazy busy lives even noticed they haven't seen him in a while. Not only don't we take care of each other anymore, we don't care ABOUT each other anymore.
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., in Schenck v. United States (1919) said:
"...the character of every act depends upon the circumstances in which it is done. The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent..."
So no one yelled Fire in a crowded theatre. There was no imminent danger. Aren't they basically saying that we have to use common sense in flexing our freedom of speech muscle? Don't we have the "common decency" to know when to voice our opinions and when to shut up? Just because we HAVE a voice doesn't mean we have to use it whenever we damn well please right?
Do we no longer understand what is morally correct? We are so consumed with doing what is politically correct and not offending anyone and everyone with what we say regarding others, but not what we DO. These behaviors don't mesh somehow. What good is one without the other?
Just because one has the legal right to behave in a certain manner doesn't mean they should. There are moral obligations that should come before legal rights. And no one should have to be told what they are, as they are obvious.
I wonder if perhaps we have to stop living in the past. We need to remember history and Americans don't. That is why we keep making the same mistakes over and over again. But we shouldn't live in it. What was back when the constitution was written no longer applies today in very many ways. For instance a right to bear arms was great for the young America and its farmers and hunters. But not today. Today it is more dangerous for the people then useful or helpful.
Perhaps what we need now is a Bill of Rights that defines what is morally appropriate and what is not. We can speak out all we want but not at certain venues or perhaps at certain times of the day. I don't know. But back then when this country was being founded we needed some guide lines as to how this government would work and what they could and could not do. Now the people need some guidelines. A Moral Bill of Rights. The country has come a long way and as it turned out the Constitution helped it along quite well. But as for the people...well, lets just say someone else wrote them a short list of about 10 items to follow for some moral decency and they have a hard time abiding by that one, so I doubt a moral bill of rights would do much good either.