Free Speech for Assholes

I try not to say that I hate anyone who disagrees with me politically.  Sure, I make fun, possibly insult, and so on, but I don’t hate. But I’m inclined to throw that out the window for the Phelps group. 
You’ve heard of these pussheads, right?  Fred Phelps, and his cohorts form the Westboro Baptist Church.  They make a point of  standing around at solider’s funerals.  Soldiers. Who. Have. Been Killed. In. War. And they wave their flags and banners and celebrate the death of our brave men and women.  See, they’ve somehow gotten it into their tiny little asshole heads that God hates gays, and since America is (kind of-sort of) nice to gay people, every dead solider is just a wee little bit of God’s glorious retribution for our wrongs.  So they take it upon themselves to go to the funerals of passed on soldiers, where there are mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and sometimes even spouses and children who have lost a loved one far, far too early, and they wave banners proclaiming “God Hates Fags.” 
The only good thing about the Phelps group is that it has sparked one of my now-favorite organizations, The Patriot Guard Riders.  This is a group of what would appear to be your stereotypical motorcyclists, with leather and chains, but they’re mission is to ride around to these funerals.  With the grieving family’s blessing, they do what they can to stand between the family and the Phelps assholes, hoping to separate them so the family does not have to deal with dickheads in what should be a private time of mourning.  They wave flags and even pray with the family if desired, anything to help them deal with their grief and these monsters. 
But here’s the problem:  There’s more to this than just a bunch of idiots exercising their sadism on a dead hero’s grief-stricken loved ones.  A Kansas father, who’s had to experience these assholes firsthand at his son’s funeral, has sued these jerks for invading his privacy and emotional damages.  Although the fallen hero’s father did win a significant jury verdict, the Fourth Circuit has overturned this verdict, stating that they had a protected right to speak.  The Supreme Court will review it. 
As much as I hate it, I hope the Supremes rule in favor of the Phelps monsters.  If the First Amendment failed to protect unpopular and even emotionally destructive speech, it would not be worth one of the Phelps groups filth spewing signs.  If emotional devastation is the standard by which we reject speech, we will have to allow others to decide what could be emotionally devastating.  It may be something almost all of us can agree is horrible today, but it may be something that is vitally important tomorrow.  Even assholes have First Amendment rights. 

5 Responses

  1. I beg to differ.

    If Phelps wants to preach this garbage in his church, no problem. If he wants to hold public demonstrations; it is his right under the First Amendment. He can publish books or rant online.

    But to invade a family funeral? Thats over the line for me. It seems the free speech equivalent of “Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.”

    • My understanding is that they didn’t actually enter the private property of the church/funeral home/whatever. Most of those are in fairly public places, where it’s easy to find an area that you would be seen without being on the actual property.

      Of course, if I’m wrong, they should be bound by trespass and it’s associated restrictions.

  2. I agree. As hateful and repulsive as these people are, the fringe should not be silenced. After all, these same idiots would claim that hearing about the existence of people who are gay is emotionally devastating.

    I don’t know, maybe they should be prohibited from being near the funerals. Here is an odd thought. Can anyone think of a hypothetical situation in which you would approve of protesting at a funeral?

    Your post title might makes me think of the ‘for dummies’ books. Maybe a new series? Windows for Assholes? Powerpoint for Assholes?

    • Everything for assholes! Funny!

      I was about to say no way on the hypothetical situation, but then I did think of one possibility. Lets say a really bad, bad person, say, Saddam or OBL were being lionized as a great man at his funeral. I think protests could be justified then. I wouldn’t say the same for even a run of the mill bad guy, say a gang leader or suicide bomber; it’d have to be a real terrorism leader, and they would have to be treating him as a hero, not just quietly recognizing his passage and praying for his soul.

      I do think that we should speak frankly about the dead. See, for example, my piece from the day of Teddy Kennedy’s funeral , but I didn’t expect any of the Kennedy’s to read my blog (and I think I was generally respectful in tone), so that’s pretty different from appearing at the funeral with a nasty sign.

      Of course, I can’t think of anything that could justify something as far removed from the actual person who’s life is being mourned as what the Phelps group does, even if I were to start from a position of agreeing with their ideas. (which I most certainly don’t!)

      • I could even see demonstrating against the honoring of less-than-legendary bad guys. They ‘touch lives’ in the same way as the heavyweights; they only leave fewer victims.

        But yeah I agree, that was sort of the first place my mind went when I thought of the question.

        I also cannot think of a single thing to protest that would be sooo totally unrelated to the deceased as the existence of gays is to the deaths of US soldiers. That’s sort of like going to Ted Kennedy’s funeral to protest last week’s American Idol results. But when your cause-and-effect relationships involve mediation by a magic daddy, who the hell knows what sort of associations you can make… 1000s of years of thought and development and we still deal with the same thought patterns that justify dancing in circles to make rain!

        On that post about Mr. Kennedy: yes you were as respectful as is possible while pointing out someone’s obviously sordid history. The ‘Chappaquiddick incident’ is pretty darn creepy. It is a crime that, not only was he was not held accountable, but went on to have a long political career and die some sort of liberal hero. I don’t know. The more I think about it… maybe someone should have protested…

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