From earlier today:
The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a grieving father's pain over mocking protests at his Marine son's funeral must yield to First Amendment protections for free speech. All but one justice sided with a fundamentalist church that has stirred outrage with raucous demonstrations contending God is punishing the military for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality.
The 8-1 decision in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., was the latest in a line of court rulings that, as Chief Justice John Roberts said in his opinion for the court, protects "even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate."
The decision ended a lawsuit by Albert Snyder, who sued church members for the emotional pain they caused by showing up at his son Matthew's funeral. As they have at hundreds of other funerals, the Westboro members held signs with provocative messages, including "Thank God for dead soldiers," `'You're Going to Hell," `'God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11," and one that combined the U.S. Marine Corps motto, Semper Fi, with a slur against gay men.
Our hearts go out to the families and friends of fallen service members who have had to endure the morally repugnant actions of these jerks from Westboro Baptist Church but this is absolutely the right call.
Free speech matters. And free speech still matters in this country.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for the court and Justice Samuel Alito was the lone dissenter.
The 8-1 split is an ecouraging sign for this country in that a right guaranteed by the very first amendment to the Constitution is held this importantly by both the left and the right. A 9-0 decision, however, would have been more preferable.
This carries cultural implications as well, we belive. Recently, in France, they have banned the burqa and even more recently a fashion designer there will stand trial for alleged anti-semetic rants he made in public. To Americans, the speech trial would appear to run counter to our concept of free speech.
The burqa ban is odder even still and is representative of a capitulation of the highest order. It is as if the French threw up their hands and cryed, "We give up!" in the matter of cultural assimilation. France's and much of Europe's embrace of multiculturalism painted themselves into a corner with respect to assimilation and when the Muslim immigrant population took this as a cue to not assimilate, reactionary policies such as the burqa ban and the Swiss flirtation with a minaret ban became the results that appear wholy un-American to us.
That is why this court decision and what the rest of the world would view as our completely radical concept of free speech are so important to the republic.
When Westboro Baptist sets up shop at military funerals, they are met by scores of counter-protesters including veteran biker groups. These folks came here to San Diego a couple of years ago and protested in front of The Rock church in Pt. Loma and were greeted by hundreds of countering gays, Christians, veteran, bikers, gay Christians, Christian bikers, gay vets, Christian vets, gay bikers... the whole lot, actively participating in democracy and "voting" in the market place of ideas.
If all 6 members of Westboro Baptist were simply hauled off to the slammer, our democracy is diminished as someone or something took care of the "problem" for us. Instead of an examination of what is being said and done which then results in those words and deeds getting trounced in the marketplace of ideas, the threat of being offended or seeing/hearing something unsavory is removed. Hold ridiculous and/or repulsive speech and ideas up to the light so they can be mocked and ridiculed for what they are.
A banning of "Thank God for dead soldiers" or the burqa does nothing to promote the shared cultural values of countrymen, be they native-born or foreign.
This notion that speech, even offensive speech, is protected is of paramount importance for a robust democracy and yes, for assimilation. We don't care what people wear but we do care what they believe.
So tying the ideas of free speech, American exceptionalism and assimilation all togther:
Wear your burqa, please. But please also embrace freedom of speech, religion, property rights and the rule of law and also embrace an allegiance to this country because all of this makes us who we are as Americans. If you cannot carry through on these beliefs, perhaps you would feel more comfortable living elsewhere.