Harmful Speech Shouldn’t Be Free
BY JESSICA WEAVER
Every American would agree that one of the greatest benefits of living in the United States is our freedom of speech. To be able to freely speak your mind and protest your beliefs is a great aspect of the country we live in. But where is the line drawn between open expression of opinion and fanatical and bigoted rhetoric?
This question was raised recently by the Supreme Court in the case of the Westboro Baptist Church. This small homophobic hate group from Topeka, Kansas was brought to court by Albert Snyder, whose son Mathew Snyder’s funeral was the site of an anti-gay and soldier protest. Westboro picketed outside the funeral with banners stating “Thank God for dead soldiers” and other vulgar statements. Mathew Snyder, a Marine who was killed in Iraq, was just one of the hundreds of soldiers whose funerals had been disrupted by this narrow-minded cult. When the case first went to trial in 2006, the Snyder family was awarded an $11 million judgment, which was later reduced to $5 million by the appeals court. However, recently the U.S Supreme court ruled 8-1 in favor of Westboro. The court stated that Westboro’s action constituted freedom of speech. This case is a perfect manifestation of arrogance and disdain towards others beliefs that is protected by a freedom that may have been taken too far.
Not only did the Court rule against the value of tolerance, it also disrespected the service of soldiers who fought for our country. Westboro’s demonstrations not only showed disrespect to the fallen soldiers, but to their families and friends as well. Although the constitution does state that every person has the freedom of speech, picketing, yelling and displaying signs of hate at the funeral of a fallen war hero in front of his grieving family could be deemed as intending harm. Westboro’s chants inflict psychological terrorism; their words have an everlasting effect on people. What rights are we taking away from those families by allowing organizations like Westboro their freedom of speech? There is an appropriate time to share beliefs and fight for those beliefs. When we permit the disruption of a solemn occasion with words of hatred, aimed at individuals showing remembrance and respect for their loved ones, we are then allowing ignorance and hatred to triumph over tolerance, kindness, and understanding.
Furthermore, the Supreme Court backed up their case by saying that the church did not use profanity during their protest. With this statement one must wonder where the justice is in this world. When most people think of profanity they think of curse words, but when used to hurt someone or bring someone down, words can be worse than profanity. Westboro would actually be more civil shouting profanity during their protests rather than holding up signs with their hateful comments and opinions. The court’s statement is oblivious to the power of the comments made by the church. To say that the protest was not unruly because it did not consist of shouting profanity or acts of violence is like saying cyber bullying is not wrong as long as violence is not inflicted.
Overall, the church’s actions are built out of ignorance, insensitivity, and pure hatred. For the Court to allow the Westboro Church to continue their protests is despicable. We look at free speech as an essential part of our Constitution, but there needs to be limits. The Westboro Church, as well as other extremists, must have regulations as to what they can say and do in certain situations. Although this contradicts the law, there is a right and a wrong, and our integrity should play a role somewhere in this situation. The Westboro Baptist Church has and will continue to violate our right to privacy. The Supreme Court failed to see the difference between what is and isn’t protected speech, and its decision to overlook the boundaries of free speech is unjust.