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The Suburbanite
  • Charity Goshay — Westboro ruling affirms rights of the hateful

  • On any given morning, I can find news releases on my desk from the Westboro Baptist Church, “celebrating” the deaths of Americans serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last week, the virulently anti-homosexual, allegedly Christian group sent out a gleeful statement, “Week 1027 of the Great Gage Park Decency Drive,” that lists Staff Sgt. Bradley C. Hart of Perrysburg, Ohio, among the war dead.

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  • On any given morning, I can find news releases on my desk from the Westboro Baptist Church, “celebrating” the deaths of Americans serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    Last week, the virulently anti-homosexual, allegedly Christian group sent out a gleeful statement, “Week 1027 of the Great Gage Park Decency Drive,” that lists Staff Sgt. Bradley C. Hart of Perrysburg, Ohio, among the war dead.
    The irony that Bradley Hart died to preserve, defend and protect Westboro members’ freedom of speech is surpassed only by their gall: “... Staff Sgt. Hart and 1st Lt. Hildago gave their lives for the constitutional right of the WBC to warn America. To deny us our First Amendment rights is to declare to the world that these soldiers died in vain, and that America is a
    nation of sodomite hypocrites.”
    Such sentiment is hardly worthy of the trash can to which it is relegated.
    ‘GREAT PAIN’
    Even so, it is no surprise that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the group’s constitutional right of free expression.
    In 2007, the family of Marine Cpl. Matthew Snyder sued Westboro after members picketed his funeral. (Westboro also threatened to come to Canton to picket the
    funeral of Marine Cpl. Heath Warner in 2006.)
    The Snyders were awarded money by a Maryland jury, but the verdict was overturned by an appeals court. Their appeal to the Supreme Court included amicus briefs from 48 states in support of their case, but the justices voted 8-1 in favor of Westboro.
    This is where democracy gets difficult. Chief Justice John Roberts acknowledged as much, writing that “Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and — as it did here — inflict great pain.”
    HIGHEST PRICE
    Because of the First Amendment, the Westboro case reaffirms that even the rights of the most willfully ignorant and hateful among us must be upheld and protected. Compare this to France, where fashion designer John Galliano not only has lost his job, but he also is
    going on trial for his drunken
    “I love Hitler” rant.
    Americans may not be the most chic people, as evidenced by our
    national uniform of T-shirts, baseball caps and flip-flops, but we know that thinking before speaking
    always works better than censorship.
    And it says something about the American character that in spite of deliberate provocation by Westboro members, none of them has woken up in the back of an ambulance.
    Actually, it’s a miracle.
    The definition of “free” just means that someone else is paying for it. In the case of Westboro members’ freedom of speech, it hardly seems fair that some of the people they hate the most have paid the highest price.