Is protesting funerals protected speech?

What a lot of people seem to misunderstand is that freedom of speech does have a limit; it doesn’t mean that you can say whatever you want at any time without consequence.

As Voltaire once said, “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

In this instance, I’m not so sure that I agree with Voltaire. For those of you who have been living under a rock or some other heavy society-obscuring object for the past ten years or so, the Westboro Baptist “Church” of Topeka, Kan., has been picketing at the funerals of LGBT people (most notably Matthew Shepard), major political figures, and US Soldiers for the better part of two decades. There is currently a case before the Supreme Court dealing with the WBC’s right to picket funerals.

In the media there are two schools of thought on this matter.

  1. Protesting is protected as free speech. No matter how much we hate the message, we have to let them (The Westboro Baptist Church) preach their hate.
  2. Freedom of speech can only go so far. When your speech is distressing to a family in mourning you overstep your freedoms by hindering the freedoms of others.

In my opinion, what the WBC does is not just picketing and exercising free speech, they’re harassing the friends and families of the deceased. The families of soldiers have no option but to listen to the taunts of this radical hate group during funeral proceedings. The main difference between a group exercising freedom of speech and harassing others is that it’s only freedom of speech if one can ignore the message. For instance: Eminem has the right to sing about raping women and killing gay men in his dense little songs, but I have the right to switch the station. There is no such option at a funeral when the offenders are screaming taunts at the top of their lungs. It’s not like the funeral procession can be moved elsewhere. There is no “off button” to the noises around when you’re putting your loved one six feet underground.

What a lot of people seem to misunderstand is that freedom of speech does have a limit; it doesn’t mean that you can say whatever you want at any time without consequence. You can’t scream, “Fire!” in a crowded area because it incites fear. Similarly, bullying isn’t protected speech because it can result in tragic suicides as we have seen in the past several weeks. You can’t say whatever you want about a person regardless of the truth, that’s slander.

A family has only one chance to bury their loved one. They should be left in peace to do so.

I am by no means religious, but this congregation of pious, inbred morons really makes other religious people look bad. And you know what, it’s about fucking time. While the WBC are obviously a fringe group who misrepresent the bible that they preach, they rather accurately represent the views that so many people have of LGBT people. Christians proclaim that Fred Phelps, the Church’s cult leader, bastardizes Christianity. That is very, very true. Christianity is distorted past recognition by many of its followers. Modern Christians are hateful and closed-minded, and the Westboro Baptist Church is merely the natural progression of blind faith. The only problem with the concept of blind faith, however, is that it implies sightlessness. These religious fanatics can see, they simply see through everyone they disagree with, dehumanizing their struggles. “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is not loving, it’s hateful of who we are and if we are to believe that God is loving and kind, it’s a disingenuous message. These people only see their own struggles, and expect everyone else to get on board, offering an ultimatum; follow us or go to Hell. The fact that they truly believe that I will be going to Hell for something I did not choose or even want when I was younger gives me the power to respond with nothing but pity for their ignorance. If only I could be so blind I may not be burdened with humanity.

I know that not all religious people are hateful, and I do have many friends who prescribe to faith. Religion has been soured for me. Where once I believed I cannot imagine associating myself with organized religion because of how easily broken the word of their god is. Unfortunately, the voices of loving, kind, and affirming religious people are so quiet when compared to the hateful members of their congregations.

In short: fuck your free speech if it impedes upon my own right to happiness. When the Westboro Baptist Church picket funerals and win in court on the guise of free speech, families are being told that the “free speech” of a radical fringe cult is more important than the right to mourn in peace. If that’s what our constitution states then maybe it’s about time to fix it.

It’s often said that this group needs to get the sticks out of their asses and leave others alone. Perhaps the members of the WBC should instead take those picket signs and shove the stick end up there, good and deep. Some rectal stimulation and/or trauma might do these people a great deal of good.

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