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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Common Decency Is Not a Law

The Supreme Court has ruled that the first amendment protects the Westoboro Church's hate spewing funeral protests in an 8-1 decision.  A 2007 jury awarded damages to Albert Snyder -- whose son Matthew, a Marine lance corporal, died in Iraq -- after Phelps and his family picketed the funeral.  In its decision, the court found in favor of the Westboro Church and denied damages for Snyder.

My first reaction to this decision is, "I HATE IT!"  Sometimes hateful words have a time and a place, so I choose to use mine here.  I feel its terrible, wrong, hideous, hurtful, (sorry, but my vocabulary of hate is limited) and I wish someone would put these awful human beings in their place.  As Justice Alito, the lone dissenting vote, stated in his opinion, 
Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case.
But, despite my hateful feelings for this decision, I cannot reason against it.  Justice Roberts concluded his opinion with the following, 
Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, movethem to tears of both joy and sorrow, and—as it did here—inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a Nation we have chosen a different course—to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stiflepublic debate. That choice requires that we shield Westboro from tort liability for its picketing in this case.
Whatever my personal feelings may be, they don't really matter; nor should they.

Our Bill of Rights stands as a guardian, protecting us from just such emotion.  Too often in our democracy, the emotions of the majority will vote in ways that are contrary to our ideals.  The constitution stands as our protector in those times.

I don't like the Westboro Church.  As a man of God, I'm repulsed by their sacrilegious actions.  Just this January, they set upon my small town of Sainte Genevieve, Missouri.  A local son - a hero - Army Sgt. Michael Beckerman was killed in Afghanistan.  They came and spewed their vile hate while Sgt. Beckerman's family and friends sought to honor his life and memory.   They did not know Michael, but they came to protest what they felt he represented.  Their words were hateful; and they were hurtful to a community in pain.

Our anger burns against such people.  The actions of the Westboro Church scream against our common decency.  Those words have been echoed by many who find fault with the Supreme Court today.  But, our common decency cannot be legislated or decided by a court.

Our common decency is just what the words imply - a shared standard by which we, as a society determine the appropriateness of words or actions.  Those who stand today and use this to find fault with the court's decision are wrong.  Our fight for common decency does not depend on the law.  In truth, our only weapon in fighting for a common decency is shame.

By our laws, the state does not have the right to punish the hater, but I do.  I am not required to talk with them, or do business with them, or share the same space with them quietly.  I am free to bring their wrongs to light.  I can stand against their hate by standing with the object of it, by forming a group opposed to their hate, and by taking that group to the streets in protest against this hate.  In doing such, I will have used the same rights as the Westboro Church, which were afforded protection by the Supreme Court in this decision.  These protections exist for all of us or they exist for no one.

In his decision, Justice Roberts did allow for laws that place reasonable limits on protected speech:
That said, “[e]ven protected speech is not equally permissible in all places and at all times.” Id., at 479 (quot-ing Cornelius v. NAACP Legal Defense & Ed. Fund, Inc., 473 U. S. 788, 799 (1985)). Westboro’s choice of where and when to conduct its picketing is not beyond the Government’s regulatory reach—it is “subject to reasonable time, place, or manner restrictions” that are consistent with the standards announced in this Court’s precedents.
In previous opinions, the court has allowed reasonable restrictions on the first amendment, provided those restrictions are content neutral.  While many states have placed restrictions on funeral protests, as has the federal government, this is an inadequate response.

Perhaps they day has come when we can put to rest the liberal ideal of tolerance.  Such hate will continue, and even grow when it meets no resistance.  Why must we tolerate that which we find contemptible?  Our common decency has no foundation in a world of tolerance.  Our common decency, by definition, is intolerance.  Either we refuse to tolerate what we feel is outside the bounds of decency or we lose all pretense for a common decency in our nation.

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