The Straight Line

The high road

The recent Supreme Court decision in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas has added more fuel to the fiery debate surrounding this organization and their antics. In case you’re not aware, these are alleged Christians that protest military funerals with signs and slogans giving thanks to their god for Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) that claim the lives of American service personnel. The death of American personnel, they claim, is their God’s judgment upon America for the sin of homosexuality.

Earlier this month the Supreme Court ruled 8-1, Justice Samuel Alito dissenting, that the actions of Westboro Baptist were protected under the First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly. I am likely to annoy more than a few of you with this statement, but here it goes: in this case, the Supreme Court of the United States did absolutely the right thing.

The First Amendment is pretty damn clear on this; government shall not interfere with free speech. Over the past 200 years there have been a few limits placed upon speech, basically to preclude slander, libel and an incitement to violence or an illegal act. But speech is protected, and so is assembly. These people, while repulsive and disgusting, are acting within their Constitutionally guaranteed rights.

Would I like them to shut up? Absolutely. Will I advocate some legal means to shut them up? Not at any cost. Respecting fundamental civil liberties means that we have to allow the bad with the good. Equality means everyone must have the same rights under law, and that those rights are more important than the capricious whim of public opinion.

The bottom line (or the straight line, if you prefer) is that Westboro Baptist members have not violated the law. They have not incited violence or committed slander or libel. They piss people off. They piss a lot of people off. That, however, does not nor cannot justify placing limits on their freedoms. Legal measures to silence them will only make them martyrs and provide them with additional sympathy and support.

Personally, I think the best thing we, as a society, can do is to let these idiots shout at the top of their lungs. The more they scream, the crazier they look and the faster the more rational, moderate elements of society will tune them out and stop paying attention. They have planted the seeds of their own destruction, and those seeds will continue to grow until this group becomes so marginalized as to rate not even a footnote in the D-section of a local paper. In the process of doing so, they will push increasing numbers of rational, moderate people in the direction of equality.

If we abandon our fundamental values in order to stifle the rights of these bigots, what does that say about us, as a people? What does that say about how true we are to the values of liberty and equality? This nation was built upon the ideals of equality and liberty, that we are all equal under the law and that we all deserve the same liberties and the same protections.

No, we don’t always hold to those principles in our legal decisions, nor do we do so in our individual decisions as members of society. History is replete with examples of discrimination and inequality. These battles are still being fought to this day, and will continue to be fought well into the future.

I can’t speak for everyone involved in the fight for equality, but I can say this for myself. To me, equality means everyone. I don’t see how we can say that we stand for equality and liberty while attempting to deny that right to others.

I firmly believe that our society is on the brink of fundamental change. The increased resistance and “fringe-lunatic” behavior by certain elements only serves to show how desperate they really are. Taking the high road and demonstrating love, compassion, and a true commitment to a free and equal society is what will finally bring about that change. I urge you all to stay on that high road.

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