Free Speech Does Not Mean People Are Free to Inflict Pain and Suffering on Others
There are parts of
are beautiful and there are parts of the American experience that are
ugly. One of the ugliest is the actions
of a small group of protesters who show up at military funerals to promote an
agenda of hate and intolerance. The
funerals themselves are unrelated to the protest, the protesters are merely
using the captive audience of a military funeral as a platform to force their
message onto those who don’t won’t to hear it.
The horror and suffering of a military family who has lost a loved on in
combat is magnified by these insensitive protesters. America
For reasons almost impossible to understand the Supreme Court has sanctioned this activity under the guise of protection of free speech.
Speech is powerful,” Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority in that case. “It can stir people to action, move them 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.” He explained that even deeply flawed ideas must be defended when they are part of the public debate.
Notice the contradiction here, the Chief Justice acknowledges that the speech in question inflicts great pain, yet sides with the protesters over the victims. That the speech is against gay and lesbians probably made it all the more acceptable in the Chief Justice’s mind given the animosity of the Conservatives on the Court towards gay and lesbian citizens.
As a result many states have moved to try and at least regulate the activity, to make the protesters have less harmful impact on families already suffering a grievous loss. And now the Federal government, to its great credit has enacted a law to try and reduce some of the hate.
|No This is Not Protected Speech|
when it is at a military funeral
The new federal statute is more carefully written, and, unlike some state laws, it does not address specific protesters, like members of the Westboro church. The buffer zone established remains between 300 and 500 feet from the funeral depending on its location.
But the law is more restrictive than the previous one. The time window doubles to two hours before and after, and one element of the statute raises serious questions about its evenhandedness. It forces protesters who violate a term of the law to prove that they did not intend to disturb the peace, shifting the burden of proof from the government. The provision is so vague that it lets police choose whom they consider troublemakers among protesters. Lawbreakers can be fined up to $50,000 and imprisoned for up to a year.
But even these reasonable accommodations are too much for the editors of the New York Times who see a threat to free speech in the legislation.
The Westboro church says the federal law will not stop it from protesting and it is expected to challenge the restrictions in federal court. Any court that hears the case should consider whether the law — intended to show what President Obama called “the utmost honor and respect” to men and women in military service — does so at the cost of free speech.
There is no attack on free speech in the
States by laws like these, just as there is
not attack on freedom of religion in laws that require employers provide access
to family planning services for its employees who are covered by a health care
plan. People need to understand that in
order to protect the rights of the population they must not allow the actions
of a few to use and exploit those rights to inflict damage and harm on others.