Monday, December 24, 2012

Should Hate Speech Be Free Speech?

Let me answer that question right now, there is no reason for the freedom of speech to be infringed upon. I don’t care what it is, I will never disagree, that the rights outlined in the first Amendment of the Constitution be infringed upon.

I bring this up though, because over the course of the last week I have been seeing a lot of people posting and talking about the Westboro Baptist Church. If you don’t know who or what the Westboro Baptist Church is by now, they are a fringe, radical group of religious protestors who picket the funerals of dead soldiers, AIDS victims, celebrities, and other high profile funerals. They have been known, and gained a lot of notoriety by picketing the funerals of dead soldiers holding up signs that say “God Hates Fags”, “Thank God for Dead Soldiers”, “Thank God You Are Dead”, “Thank God For 9/11”, and a whole bunch of other signs that get your blood boiling. Though recently they seem to have stepped up their hate game and brought it to a whole new level by protesting the funerals of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims. Holding up signs that say “God Sent The Shooter”. This is undoubtedly the most heinous thing I have ever heard or seen in my life. What bothers me more, is that now I have to defend them.

Please don’t get me wrong. I despise these people, I would like nothing else but to see these people wiped off the face of the planet, but as American citizens they are entitled to the same rights as everyone else in this country and that first Amendment in my opinion is and should always be uncompromising. I have signed petitions and other futile things like that, but the bottom line is, it is their right to do this. Like I said, I have seen and heard comments coming from everywhere including government officials, saying that, “they should be arrested”, “they shouldn’t be allowed to protest at funerals”, “the government needs to be stop them”. As unfortunate as it is there is nothing that can be done by the government, or should be done. Just because something may be hard to hear, or disgusting to hear it does not mean that voice should be silenced. It is the cornerstone of what makes this a democratic and free nation.

What can be done? Well just because the government can’t do anything about it, that doesn’t mean actions can’t be taken and it doesn’t mean as Americans we can’t exercise our own first amendment rights. For example the day the Westboro Baptist Church was set to protest the Sandy Hook Funerals, a group of off duty firefighters and police officers that I know personally went to Connecticut to shield the families of the victims from the WBC. From what I understand the amount of first responders and civilians that showed up to counter protest and shield the families of victims out numbered the WBC members that where there to protest, significantly. Which means although the WBC was there, the families where able to mourn in peace without having to worry about seeing a sign that said “Thank God Your Child Is Dead”.

You can hate the people, you can hate their message, but you cannot doubt their resolve. Their ambition and persistence is unceasing. They don’t care about what people think about them and all they care about is attention. People talking about them is exactly what they want. So the second thing that can be done is just ignore them. They are exactly like children in the sense, that if they are not the center of attention they will scream and yell and do stupid things until they get heard. We just need to keep ignoring them. By talking about them, all we do is give them legitimacy. Which is why I rarely write about them or even talk about them. If their threats went unacknowledged maybe they wouldn’t follow through.

Finally, people say that allowing a group like this to exist makes us as a country look bad, Christian groups don’t like the WBC, because they fear the people will group actual churches of peace into the same category. Just because it may not be right, people have tried taking official action against them. In 2010 Snyder v. Phelps, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 8-1 that the WBC absolutely has the right to protest the funerals of dead soldiers and that just because their speech may be defined as hate, it is still nonetheless, speech.

My final point is this. We as a people need to learn to care about each other more and learn from each other. Groups like the WBC exist and are completely self serving. What we need to do is not rely on the government we need to help ourselves. Take action like the civilians and first responders who shielded the mourners. Create groups whose sole purpose is to counter the WBC. Fight their hate with love and peace. Groups that go around to protect mourners from the protests, groups that are designed to counter the WBC protests. We don’t need take people’s rights away, we need to take advantage of the first amendment just like they do and be better then them in every way possible.

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