Thursday, March 3, 2011

When freedom of speech gets ugly

Yesterday, in an overwhelming affirmation of the right to free speech, the Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 in favor of the small congregation of Westboro Baptist Church and their right to demonstrate at military funerals, even when their demonstration becomes hurtful and ugly.

On one hand I’m grieving for the military families who have to tolerate such obnoxious behavior. As a retired member of the USAF I would pray that every member of the armed forces would be offered a dignified and respectful funeral service, uninterrupted by outside distractions.

And I really wish that Fred Phelps would do like many other churches have done recently and remove the word ‘Baptist’ from the name of his church. I shudder to think of all the Baptist churches that are going to be assumed to be in agreement with the actions of Westboro Baptist, simply because of the common denominator of the name Baptist. (By the way, I haven’t talked to any Baptists locally who want to affiliate with Mr. Phelps.)

If the Phelps family wants to rent a hall or a park, pay for advertizing space, or enter a float in a parade as means to get across their message, they should have that right; and if the sin message that they proclaim at funerals is the topic of every Sunday’s sermon, their right to free speech should be protected, but attacking individuals as a way to get to the system seems flawed, and Justice Alito got to the question behind the question in his dissenting opinion: "Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case,"

I have to wonder if the Westboro Baptist community would be so interested in freedom of speech if demonstrations against individual Baptists got so ugly during a funeral for one of their family members.

But it’s much more complicated than that.

As heartily as I disagree with the method used by Westboro Baptist Church to get their message across, I’m delighted that the Court ruled in favor of a Christian church. Lately it seems that whenever anyone is offended by a Christian message, the ruling goes against the church. Get rid of those crosses along the highway in memory of fallen police officers. Don’t allow protestant chaplains to pray ‘in the name of Jesus’; should we really place all those crosses in cemeteries on Memorial Day? How dare you ask me to pledge allegiance to the flag when it includes the words ‘one nation under God’? Budget shortfalls – no problem- just take away the tax exempt status for some of those big churches. And I keep waiting for people to refuse to accept US currency and demand that the words “in God we trust” be removed. Maybe now Christians will be seen to have some of the same rights as members of other religious groups.

I served in the military as a way of protecting those ‘unalienable rights’ as described in the Declaration of Independence, and to support and defend the Constitution of the United States (including the Amendments),against all enemies foreign and domestic, so seeing the Supreme Court uphold the law of the land does wonders for me. It reminds me of why I was proud to serve, proud to wear a uniform, proud to serve my country.

It’s just difficult to understand how things get so twisted. The Military fights to protect your right to free speech, and that right to free speech allows you to verbally attack individual military members.

So thanks to the valiant efforts of US Military as they support and defend the Constitution, Mr. Phelps and his flock have the constitutional right to disrupt the funeral of members of the US Military -sounds like a classic case of biting the hand that feeds you.

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