Freedom of speech is the cornerstone of America. It pretty much boils down to freedom to exist in a way not regulated or legislated against: to be who we want to be without fear of governmental reprisal. We could not be Americans without our First Amendment rights. We would not be America.
But there exists in this country a group that believes its right to free speech is more important than the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness granted to others. They believe their right to demonstrate supersedes the rights of everyone else to live their lives unmolested, and the rights of a grieving family to attend the funeral of their precious nine-year old daughter, cut down before her life could even begin, without having to hear screams of protest and see brightly-colored signs bearing messages of hate.
Brainwashed children of the Phelps cult.
This group is Westboro Baptist Church, and if you’ve been following the atrocities fueled by religion in the past decade or so, you’ll know them as the group led by Pastor Fred Phelps out of Topeka, Kansas responsible for picketing at funerals with messages such as “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” They have shown up for funerals of homosexuals such as Matthew Shepard (a 21-year old man who was tortured and murdered for being gay), soldiers who died in the line of duty, notable public figures such as Michael Jackson, Fred (“Mister”) Rogers and the widow of Martin Luther King, jr., and victims of national disasters like the Sago Mine collapse in West Virginia and this past Saturday’s shootings in Tucson.
Thursday, January 13th is the funeral of Christina Taylor Green, the nine-year old girl killed in the Tucson shooting spree held by Jared Lee Loughner against Representative Gabrielle Giffords. The beautiful little girl was attending Gifford’s meet and greet at a local Safeway grocery store with a neighbor to learn more about politics, and had recently been elected as her third grade class president. She wasn’t even old enough to understand the demands made by Westboro for America to turn from its “Fag-enabling” ways.
Westboro has plans to attend with their signature colorful signs and accusational screams that God allowed Christina to die to punish America for being accepting of homosexuals. The immediate response of a Facebook group that plans to wear oversized angel wings and guard the funeral from picketers isn’t enough. Luckily, an emergency law has been passed barring demonstrations within 300 feet between an hour before and an hour after any memorial service.
Good for Arizona. They join Indiana, South Dakota, Michigan, and Illinois in the small group of states that have taken notice of the abominable church’s actions and have taken a stand against it. George W. Bush also signed a law prohibiting picketing at military funerals. All of this took place mostly in 2006, but Westboro has still managed to remain in the news pretty consistently, and according to their own count, picket an average of six locations every day.
So the question remains: how long are we going to tolerate hate crimes under the banner of free speech? We do have laws criminalizing slander and libel, and it’s illegal to practice the fine art of lying while under oath. So why is it that groups like Westboro are winning lawsuits against people whose rights have been violated? Westboro’s right to free speech has taken precedence over their unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Why does hatred win out over a family’s right to grieve in peace?
I believe wholeheartedly in the First Amendment. It’s the foundation that free thought, skepticism, and balanced journalism are built on. To change it even in the slightest would jeopardize any number of things without which we cannot better ourselves as individuals, as a community, as a country, or as a species. However, it’s time to stop using it as an excuse to protect the religious faithful from the natural consequences of their intolerance and hatred. The targets of their abhorrent use of their rights have rights too.