I have always been a fan. Therefore, I was very disappointed to read your recent column about the Westboro Baptist Church and the Snyder v. Phelps decision. In it you wrote:
I’ve spent most of my life defending the First Amendment. But when the Supreme Court ruled last week that it gave a church group the right to picket a dead soldier’s funeral with signs that said, “God Hates You” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” I was appalled.
Fair enough… so were we all, Bob. (as long as you were appalled by the speech, not by the ruling)
The group believes our soldiers are dying because God is punishing America for tolerating gay people. That anyone would have the audacity to claim knowledge of God’s reasoning is ridiculous, but here’s what I don’t understand.
The courts have long held that free speech can be limited in rare circumstances. We can’t yell fire in a crowded theater if there is no fire, because it would endanger public safety – people might be trampled in the chaos.
The First Amendment has done just fine with that limit.
But if that is so, why isn’t public safety endangered when a mob hurls brutal abuse at an innocent citizen who could be scarred with severe and lasting emotional damage?
Two flags on the play. First, whenever someone invokes the “fire in a crowded theater” analogy, you know that they don’t have the slightest idea what they are talking about — or they are trying to appeal to the masses of morons (which is probably a good strategy in this country). I presume that you know better.
Second, “public safety” is not endangered because someone might have hurt feelings as a result of someone else’s speech. That’s the whole point of the First Amendment. We have a “profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks…” See New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964) (the sentence ends with a discussion of public officials, but the doctrine is clearly broad enough to encompass this situation).
You see Bob, despite the fact that we’re pretty much a nation of mewling cowards, we still stick to the principle that we can get over nasty speech. Don’t worry, one day the feminists and the manginas will take that away from us too, but I never expected to see you jump in with them.
Now you get stupid, Bob:
We must obey the law, because we are a nation of laws. But whatever the laws, what these military families have endured is not right, and every community must now move quickly to establish buffer zones (which are legal) to keep these protesters as far as possible from military funerals.
No, we don’t need to keep them “as far as possible from military funerals.” I do agree that we ought to have laws that keep them as far away as necessary to keep them from disrupting the funerals. You see, if we want to restrict speech, we can do it. We just can’t do it with some far-reaching, emotion-soaked brush. We have to do it narrowly and to further a compelling interest. Saving people from hurt feewings, that’s not a compelling interest. Stopping douchebags like Westboro Baptist Church from actually disrupting a funeral (military or not), well, that’s compelling enough for me.
When there are those among us so selfish and cruel they are willing to use one of our most cherished freedoms to intrude on the grief of parents who have lost a child just to promote their cause, we must do everything legally possible to deter them.
Yes, Bob, we oughta do everything legally possible to deter them. How about this, lets just let these morons say their piece. Everyone gets it… We. All. Hate. Westboro. Even the freakin Ku Klux Klan wants to distance themselves from the Phelps-dipshit-a-thon. (source) And, on the other side of the spectrum, The Patriot Guard Riders will show up at any funeral where Westboro does and drown out their crap with their motorcycles and American flags.
That, Bob, is what we do to deter them. We let their speech enter the marketplace and we see that everyone, even the KKK refuses to buy. Then, we add our counterpoint to the marketplace.
Therefore, I’d say that if you have a problem with the Westboro Baptist Church, let them speak. Your beliefs are certainly not so fragile that they can’t stand in opposition to theirs. If you really want to do something about it, join the Patriot Guard. I did. And I have an extra motorcycle I can lend you if you don’t have one of your own.