Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A demonstration of why our Constitution works...even when we may not like it.

"To preserve the freedom of the human mind...and the freedom of the press, every spirit should be ready to devote itself to martyrdom; for as long as we may think as we will and speak what we think, the condition of man will proceed in improvement." - Thomas Jefferson

I read the news today, oh boy. I read it, and at first and was decidedly stunned. Stunned at the decision of the Supreme Court, and stunned that the majority of both Conservative and Liberal justices were very clear: Freedom of speech, however ugly, deserves protection. You should perhaps, read this first before you go on.

I personally hold the Westboro Baptist Church in a state of utter contempt. I first learned about them back in 2000, while I was in the play, "The Laramie Project." Eight actors playing sixty characters. two of the characters I played were Matthew Sheppard's father, and in a complete 180 degree direction, Fred Phelps, the "pastor" of this church. It was through researching Phelps and his church that my disgust for him and his ilk grew.

It was his protests at Shepard's funeral that first garnered Phelps national attention, and he's been in it ever since, most notably in the last few years by the incidents outlines in the article above. He is the worst sort of religious zealot, and while his followers are few, they are vocal and know how to attract attention.

On to the Supreme Court decision. It partly made me sick to my stomach. I am no arch right wing conservative by any means, nor am I an uber-liberal, but I thought what the Westboro protesters were doing was in every way equivalent to a neo-Nazi march. Free speech is one thing. What they were doing, in my opinion was beyond what are the normally accepted boundaries of free speech. I felt they were infringing upon the rights of the families of soldiers that were killed in battle to conduct their mourning unencumbered by the rantings of people whose religious/social opinions differed with others.

The justices decided otherwise, and at the end of the day, as conflicted as I am, their rationale is sound. It is at the heart of our freedoms in this country. Their are many who read this blog from places outside the U.S. who probably find our country confusing, and downright contradictory at times. let this article serve as an example of what we can be at our finest. I see examples of curbs on free speech in Europe, even with the best of intentions, and cringe at them.

I'll leave with a quote from the writer Evelyn Beatrice Hall, which is often mistakenly attributed to Voltaire:

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,"

1 comment:

Jay at The Depp Effect said...

Yep, having read the article, I have to agree - but I also agree that the buffer zone might be necessary to avoid pain inflicted on innocent people.

We had an incident here in the last couple of days. A case had come to court involving a mass murderer who (among other things) had blinded a policeman in a shooting incident. The policeman turned up to give evidence and a young woman approached him outside the court building and said 'bang bang!'. This was clearly a cruel and provocative thing to say - not to mention ugly - but the response of the police was to arrest her on a public order offence.

Now, my first reaction was to say 'GOOD!' But on reflection, OH and I both decided that the arrest was wrong. She has the right to free speech, she didn't gesticulate, encourage anyone to join in, or commit physical violence, nor did she incite racial hatred, she merely said something inappropriate.

We are losing our right to free speech on a daily basis here in the UK. I think we need to protect it.