Freedom of speech permits vitriol, too
The recent Supreme Court case, Snyder vs. Phelps, has brought out a lot of discussion about freedom of speech. The case involves the protests of the Westboro Baptist Church at the funeral of military man matthew Snyder in 2006 .
Snyder’s father sued the WBC after they showed up at his funeral with signs indicating that Snyder’s death was God’s punishment for the United States’ liberal treatment of homosexuals.The WBC is made up of Reverend Fred Phelps and most of his family, who believe that “God hates fags” and the U.S. is being punished for their tolerance of homosexuals.
They also hate Jews, Muslims and even most Christians, although they themselves identify as a Christian church. In general, they hate all of us.
All of this raises an age-old question: Where does your freedom of speech end, if it ends at all?
Although what Phelps and the WBC do and say is deplorable, one thing is for sure: they have the freedom to say what they want, regardless of content or level of crazy.
I’m not saying I agree with Phelps or any other hate-oriented groups in any way. I think these people probably have deep-rooted issues and could use the help of a therapist or two. But I do think that the WBC has the right to say what they choose, even if what they say is offensive.
For the rest of us sane people, it’s hard to swallow that these people have the right to say such sick and terrible things. And I am sure the founding fathers didn’t include freedom of speech in our Bill of Rights just so bigots like Phelps could spread their racism and bigotry.
But freedom of speech includes such people, even if we don’t like it. There are no stipulations or “buts” in the First Amendment.
The freedom to say what we think and feel is vital to a functioning democracy. A free flow of ideas allows for discussion of all sides to take place.
If we are to make logical decisions about right and wrong, we should hear all sides of the story. How else are we to know that what we are being told is right? Would we all simply believe whatever we are told?
Without the freedom of speech, we would all be sheep who believe without question. Which I would guess is the case in most racism-filled communities like the WBC or the KKK. That would make us no better than any of them.
And without real-life examples of what is wrong, how do we teach our children what is right? These people give us a chance to show our children what tolerance is and how much importance it carries in our society. This a great example of how we should be tolerant, regardless of what the person, or persons in this case, believes.
Plus, we shouldn’t be stooping down to the same level those bigots, like Phelps, operate at. If we censor something because we don’t agree with it, how does that make us any better or different from the WBC? Just because the WBC is intolerant doesn’t mean we have the right to be intolerant of them as well. It’s cliché, but we need to be the collective bigger person in this situation.
So in the end, I think we have to accept the fact that there are no limits to our freedom of speech and that freedom is essential for our way of life.
We don’t have to like it, but without it our democracy would suffer. The right to not be offended doesn’t exist, but free speech does.
In the words of Noam Chomsky, “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for those we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”