Thursday, April 08, 2010

Pesky First Amendment Issues, Alas!

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Sometimes we talk about "the Wee People." Sometimes we talk about "We the People." Either way, we always set aside a nice slice of pie just for you!

Last weekend I drove from the flatlands to the mountains and back again, using one of the busiest stretches of roadway in the Great Blue Northeast. Even on Eostra morning the traffic was brutal. But Spare and I got home safely.

Monday afternoon when I went to pick up Spare from high school (an unusual treat), I got rear-ended by a teenage driver who admitted she had only had her license since January. Both Spare and I got whiplash, but it could have been worse. If the teenage driver had hit me just a little harder, I would have been pushed into a crowd of pedestrians. They were the reason I stopped in the first place.

This morning I drove my car over to the body shop for a new rear bumper. As the insurance adjuster was examining the damage, I happened to see my handy First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, carefully attached to the exterior of  my Dodge. Thank goodness it's not on the bumper! It's on the side of the car, up at eye level.

It says right in the First Amendment that American citizens are guaranteed "freedom of speech."

This is just another of those super-simplified statements in our nation's principal code of law. Freedom of speech covers everything from saying, "Excuse me" when you need to get past a fellow citizen on the sidewalk, to shouting, "Dead soldiers are proof that God hates fags!" at a funeral for a Marine corpsman killed in the line of duty.

Boggles the mind, doesn't it?

Something tells me the original framers of the U.S. Bill of Rights didn't envision some of the applications of freedom of speech that today serve as a barometer of the lack of civility in our populace.

I needn't link you to the loathsome Westboro Baptist Church. Nor do I need to explain to you that this small fringe group of hellhounds has seized upon military funerals as a way to publicize their radical anti-gay message. Nor do you need to believe in our "mission" in Iraq in order to mourn the loss of a young man in the prime of life -- even if he chose to be a soldier, knowing the job is almost as dangerous as coal mining.

There are myriad species of pond scum that have more appeal than the handful of haters that comprise the Westboro Baptist Church. Sadly, as our U.S. Constitution is currently written, WBC has certain rights under the First Amendment.

Our Supreme Court of the United States (also known as JBB -- Justices for Big Business) will hear a case against the WBC, brought by a parent of a Marine. This is the first time a case against WBC has advanced to JBB. It's hard to say how the current batch of (In)justices will decide, since some of them pad their benches with the Constitution.

As we at "The Gods Are Bored" see it, this case must fall in favor of WBC. The nebulous quality of the First Amendment allows for odious shouting -- and the resulting mental trauma -- doled out by lunatic hellhounds who somehow manage never to get into scuffles that they start themselves. Freedom of speech. It's there. If the WBC can't shout at military funerals, then what comes next? Perhaps we need to ask the Chinese.

Cruel, hard-hearted Anne! What if that was your daughter, being lowered into a grave under the watchful eyes of a military escort, as someone in the background shouts, "This is proof that God hates fags!"

Here's what I say to that.

Grieving parents, We the People hear you. We feel your pain. Such a vast majority of us feel your pain that the pain crosses every religious and political boundary. We are behind you, grieving parents. We are behind you with moral outrage and deep sympathy.

I wish to add the following:

WBC is a tiny fringe group that has gotten just what it wanted -- publicity, and lots of it. If that publicity leads to widespread disruptions of solemn funerals or other life-changing events it will be time not to pass a law, but to amend the Constitution.

Which state in this nation would vote against a Right to Dignity at Religious Observance Amendment to the U.S. Constitution? You tell me. Where do you live?

Not that I'm looking out for my own selfish interests here, but the above proposed Constitutional Amendment would also prohibit the rabid Christians who shout abuse at the Fairy Festival attendees. I see all silver cloud with no lining here! Please tell me if I'm wrong.


Maebius said...

The really ironic thing is that soldiers are killed in service to an authority (the US Gummint) who supports free speech, and thus in oen way "supporting" those who are protesting the funeral. I grant you they'd never accept that outlook and continue to trumpet their anti-gay messages, but still.

I can't -immediately- think of a bad side to a Right to Decorum at funerals, but it doesn't ring 100% to me either, so I'd be wary of voting to provide such a thing Constitutionally.

On a local level, however, Absolutely!! so the police can intervene in the same way yelling FIRE in a theater is disallowed.
Dissent can be allowed, but distraction and disruption shouldn't be. ...but then again there's that slippery slope of who defines that line in the sand?

nettle said...

Some of the anti-WBC protests are so beautiful (or funny - google "anti-wbc protests" for some encouraging images) and that seems like the way to go about dealing with these people - with love or mockery. They have their free speech, but so do we and there are more of us then there are of them. I like my first amendment.

That said, I'd have no problem with a "no unfriendly disruptions at religious observances" law as long as it was carefully worded and fairly enforced. A constitutional amendment seems a bit much. I wouldn't want to see restrictions on speech, but there's plenty of precedent for restrictions on behavior, and disrupting a funeral or a religous service is pretty terrible behavior, regardless of the message.

Might be nice to throw "medical facilities" in there as well... but that would never fly, would it?

Yvonne Rathbone said...

I agree that the best use of Dada is in response to this kind of extreme hate. Ideally, there really is nothing more to say to them than, "No, God loves everyone. She told me so herself."

But I fear that when they get to West Virginia to announce to everyone that the mine tragedy was caused by our acceptance of gay people, locals may have another reation.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Sorry to hear about the whiplash. If the funeral protest issue arose in Canada, I suspect our courts would handle it by recognizing the WBC's right to freedom of speech but balancing it by imposing a buffer zone of quite a few hundred feet or yards so that the WBC could not be so "in the face" of the mourners. A couple of decades ago, that's how they handled protesters at abortion clinics.

Anne Johnson said...

I have seen some of the counter-protest signs, and they are classic.

I know these WBC people won't read what I'm about to write, principally because they probably can't read at all. But Mr. Phelps, if you are reading this, I'll make it as simple as possible.

Do not go to WV.

Servitor Lucem said...

It won't necessarily fall in favor of WBC. They first have to prove that their speech is "protected speech," like political speech. For instance, the First Amendment does not (this is a classic example) give you ther right to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater, if there is, in fact, no fire. Other non-protected speech is what is known as "fighting words," speech intended to provoke trouble. WBC's problem is that their actions can easily be interpreted to fall into this category, since the events they appear at are not public events, political events or even "religious" events. They are private services conducted for familes and friends. WBC's people are, arguably, uninvited guests who deliver "fighting words." This is not a legitimate means of protest, and the Supreme Court may well find this to be the case. I sincerely hope so. What the lower court was thinking is beyond me, because this looks like a no-brainer. By the way, if you've seen the WBC websites, like, you may note that Fred Phelps (supposedly also an attorney) states that the Constitution is "Satanic." He is, in a word, a seditionist. I think this needs to get around more.

sott'Eos said...

Sorry, but I disagree with any attempt to water-down our First Amendment rights. The fact that We the People have freedom, means that there will necessarily be instances where we are irritated by others exercising their freedoms, and we will likely, occasionally, irritate others as we exercise our freedoms (many Christians are 'irritated' that pagans get to exist at all).

If you try to reduce the opportunities to irritate, or be irritated, you cannot help but reduce freedom. I know some corporations that would love to squelch the irritations of protesters. The RCC would probably love a law that protected churches and clergy from being irritated by embarrassing disclosures about child-rape.

Nope, I'll side with freedom. And if Phelps wants to protest at my funeral, as much as that will suck for my loved ones, at least Phelps won't be doing something else, possibly something effective.

Pom said...

Unfortunately I live in much closer proximity to the WBC than I care to. Their goal is not to convert people to their way of thinking (though Roeder of the women's clinic murder was a big fan of theirs and preaches their same bile for very different reasons). As a small fringe group their goal is to piss people off enough to be physically attacked and can therefore sue their "offender(s)" - Phelps and several of his spawn are/were attorneys. This is why they show up with their signs at those locations certain to cause the most emotional responses. It's not about "freedom of (hate) speech" - they are hoping that someone will attack them - or even better from their POV - one of the children holding their hate-filled signs. If someone does finally "lose it" their plan will succeed and they will cash in big.

I truly cannot bear breathing the same air as these people.

Thank you for not linking to their website and may I have peach a la mode?

kimc said...

Sott Eos -- Other countries, (I'm thinking of Canada here) have different definitions of "Free Speech" than the US does, and they get along fine with their definition. They are not less free than we are, and it is possible to argue that they are more free because of using their definition of free speech. I might be inclined to agree with them that freedom to live trumps freedom to talk.


i hope you go see a dr about the can be peskier than you think...