Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church in a case brought against them by the father of one of the soldiers whose funeral they’d picketed.
For those who (luckily for you) don’t know about this lunatic fringe, it’s a small church of 100 or so members whose entire theology seems based on a couple of verses in Leviticus condemning homosexuality. Convinced that the U.S. is going to hell for tolerating homosexuality, they picket funerals, initially for people who died of AIDS, and then expanding to soldiers killed in action, and even children. If you want to see examples of their sickening and disgusting picket signs, just Google them.
My gut reaction is nausea (and not because I’m recovering from the flu). To think that these twisted freaks have free rein to spew their venom makes me sick. And I can’t imagine how that father (or the many other people who’ve had to face these assholes) feel.
But the Supreme Court got it right: the group has the right to their opinions and, more importantly, the right to express them. (And it’s not like we’re completely unprotected: we have laws about defamation, privacy, private property, etc., that can all be used and combined in various ways to provide protection.)
We get into very dangerous ground when we start deciding that certain viewpoints should be suppressed or punished. While it might seem simple to determine that someone shouldn’t be allowed to insult, for example, a specific ethnic group or race, it’s an extremely slippery slope. Where does it end? Who decides? Democracy is about freedom to express your opinions, no matter how vile or stupid. That’s why I’ve never believed in hate speech laws.
Beyond this philosophical viewpoint, there are practical aspects to my beliefs. First, prosecuting one of these lunatics gives them much more attention than they deserve. Take the case of Ernst Zündel in Canada. A Holocaust denier, Zundel was prosecuted several times, and served some jail time, although his convictions were overturned. I was still living in Canada at the time and recall that sales of his sordid little books jumped into the hundreds of thousands. No one would have heard from him if he’d been ignored.
Second, daylight and air have wonderful effects. Expose opinions to light, and people can see them. If they’re shitty and maggot-infested, they’ll dry out. Leave them in the dark, and they’ll fester and grow without anyone knowing – until it’s potentially too late.
Categories: Random thoughts