Westboro Free Speech

If you’ve managed to go this long missing out on who the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas is, you probably want to stop reading now. Because finding out about them will probably set you on a path toward the nearest hard surface to bash your head against.

They are the church that seems to have entirely missed God’s message of love for all people, regardless of action, national descent, personal belief, skin color, number of tattoos, gender, or sex. In their focus on what God hates, they have lost sight of what God loves, which only matters because they choose to share their understanding of a brutal and vengeful God on signs created to offend whoever sees them. And their favorite place to show off their handy work is at the entry to the funerals of U.S. military men and women. Because, apparently, if you believe that God hates everything except you, then you don’t have to extend compassion to hurting and suffering people.

But why am I writing about a group that so irks me, I degenerate into a twitching heap of rage within 20 minutes of thinking about them? Because this week the U.S. Supreme Court upheld their exercise of the First Amendment. As it should.

My heart breaks every time I see that the group has set up outside another funeral, because I can only imagine how much worse seeing their signs makes that moment, as if having to bury a son or daughter, friend, spouse, parent, relative wouldn’t make the day epically terrible. And so I send my sympathy to whoever has to face them, and if I was close enough, I would join the group who block the view of the mourners, because that would be my expression of free speech.

But the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Constitution, for which I am grateful. Because, despite the rage the group insights in me, we in the U.S. have agreed that everyone has a voice. From the craziest person you can think of to the smartest to the dumbest to the smart-ass, everyone in the U.S. has the protection of the First Amendment to share their thoughts on our country and the issues that we face.

And the First Amendment has to hold true for the ones we would shove to the edges if it is going to hold true for those who are held up as the center. For if we begin to decide some people or groups are too extreme, too crazy, too right, too left, too ____, we will lose the freedom to discuss what matters most to us in any real way.

So, in honor of the arbiters of our rules continuing to affirm them, I am going to spend this next week intentionally trying to listen and encourage those without a voice, those I vehemently disagree with, those I would discount (for any number of reasons), those I would attempt to push to the edges to speak and speak loudly. We may disagree, but I hope that you never stop talking, because our discussion is a big part of what makes this country work.

One thought on “Westboro Free Speech”

  1. This is a good reminder that free speech covers the entire spectrum of voices and opinions. Too often, we cry freedom of speech to defend voices of those we agree with, but less likely to defend those who differ in opinions from us. I do wonder about other countries, though, who have laws against hate speech and how they define it. A few countries in Europe have them, though some are barely starting to prosecute.

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