07 October, 2010

The Westboro Baptist Church

I really didn’t want to comment on this, but it’s become evident that I should.

Although I have finally come to the conclusion that the Libertarian party is not for me, there are still quite a few areas in which we agree. One is unequivocal support for the First Amendment.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

For those of you who are unaware, the case of Snyder v. Phelps has arrived at the United States Supreme Court. Albert Snyder is the father of slain American soldier Matthew Snyder. And Fred Phelps Sr. is the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas.

Phelps and his congregation, if you want to call them that, have become famous for their disruptive picketing of funerals for American soldiers, with rather disturbing signs and catcalls.


Fred Phelps and his group are vile and offensive. What they’re doing is just as vile and offensive.

However, I stand by what I said above. I have unequivocal support for the First Amendment. As much as I loathe them, I think it would be a mistake by the Supreme Court to rule in favor of Snyder.

Over the years, the Court has ruled to limit the First Amendment on occasion. Pornography and obscenity immediately come to mind as well as limits where speech could be harmful (i.e. the infamous yelling of “fire” in a crowded theater).

It seems to me that the only options that Court has to limit Phelps free speech are to a) determine that his group is not “assembling peaceably” or to b) say that the offensive speech is somehow obscene or equivalent to obscenity.

In the former case, it seems that the group should still be allowed to assemble, after having addressed whatever the Court deems as not peaceable. The latter case is more disturbing.

If the Court decides that “vile and offensive” speech can be limited the same way pornography and obscenity can be limited, this seems less like going down a slippery slope and more like falling off a cliff.

What if the government later decides that Rush Limbaugh’s speech is “vile and offensive”? Or Glenn Reynolds? Or yours? Or mine?

Oddly, the funerals they are picketing are for the same group of people that fought so hard to ensure that they have that right.

As Yoda said:

Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.

This is a very dark path.

Let me repeat myself, even more strongly. Fred Phelps and his group are among the most vile and disgusting groups of Americans it has ever been my displeasure to encounter. It pains me to support them, but free speech is a very big deal to me.

P.S. As I was writing this, J.E. Dyer made a similar post at the Green Room at HotAir. I like his solution.

But then there’s the American way.  And pay attention here:  the marvelous thing about this is that it’s what a bunch of Americans came up with because there was a problem, and demanding that the government step in and referee it for them was clearly the wrong thing to do.  Most readers probably know I’m building up to the Patriot Guard Riders, the group of motorcycle riders who volunteer to show up at military funerals – at the families’ request – and create a cordon of honor sequestering the family and the honored deceased from the WBC protesters.

I urge everyone to watch the video at this link.  There are other videos of the Patriot Guard online, but this one is by far my favorite because of the narrator and his priceless accent.  He is of a piece with the glimpse we get of the Patriot Guard: thoroughly, recognizably, inspiringly American.  Listen to his pride in what the Patriot Guard does.  Watch the Guard raise a sea of American flags to hide the protesters and encourage the family.  Watch the riders act as an escort for the funeral procession.  Look at the Guardsmen; look at the whole scene.

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