I have spent a significant number of hours on US Interstates that take me through what is considered the “Heartland” of the United States. These areas tend to be significantly more socially conservative than areas where I have lived. The beauty of our great country is that we do have plethora opinions and we are all free to express them.
One such opinion that found its way onto bumper stickers in the aftermath of 9/11 and the beginning of the War on Terror was “Freedom isn’t Free;” insinuating that Americans must fight and unfortunately die to protect our sacred freedoms.
I was extremely dismayed to read the LA Times headline yesterday that seems to point to deference towards one set of beliefs over another. “Justices appear set to limit funeral protests” was the top story at LATimes.com. This is simply wrong.
The Phelps family and their hate church are protected by the First Amendment in the same way that every religious group is protected. Their repugnant message should not be considered in this case, but from the looks of the coverage, and the questions put forth by the Justices, it would seem that they way in which they exercise and what they say with their freedom are on trial.
Last year, I went to Brooklyn to support a Reform Congregation that was “hosting” the Westboro Baptist Church on Shabbat. These folks came, they screamed and then they left. In the end it probably brought the community closer together. It was sad to see the church members filling their children’s minds with hatred and bigotry but this is a great country where all ideas are free to be discussed, believed and thankfully expressed by anyone.
This is where my conservative bumper stick slogan comes in: This freedom of speech isn’t free.
Our ability to congregate freely, to speak truth to power without fear of reprisal and to say what we want is something that is complicated and expensive, and it is of great value to our society. The Supreme Court is not the place to combat the evil of the Westboro Baptists, but rather in the court of public opinion; a court that is currently protected by our Constitution.
This is the freedom that has allowed religions to prosper, for scholarship to blossom and for our democracy to function (or at least kind of function).