By Ian Hedges
On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Westboro Baptist Church could continue protesting funerals without civil penalties. If you do not know much about the Westboro Baptist Church, they are the Baptist-based group who hold up signs across the country saying, “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “God Hates Fags.” The court’s 8-1 decision in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church highlighted that even if speech is inflammatory or irreprehensible, our country must yield to the First Amendment and allow public debate on all issues. Chief Justice John Roberts, author of the majority opinion, wrote, “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. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker.”
For the first time since Chief Justice Roberts began his tenure on the bench, I agree with him on something. Yes, I am a gay man, and some might know me as a member of the Church of Cher, but I believe that gay rights are based on civil rights such as free speech. The language and hate spewed by the Westboro Baptist Church is completely inhumane and devoid of compassion, but Chief Justice Roberts is right. We must not squash public debate on this issue. Why? Because without it, no one would realize the vitriolic and discriminatory motives behind the Westboro’s bigoted remarks. When thinking about the issue, we need to flip this into perspective. What if someone was trying to silence those who advocate for gay rights? I am proud that I live in a country where I am given the right to speak up for LGBT rights every day and that I am given the right to call the members of Westboro “turd burglars” or “stumblebums.”
Some may still advocate punishing those who use words for hatred against an ethnic group, race, gender identity, religion, or sexual orientation. But remember that our right to free speech has already conquered the Westboro Baptist Church in many places. I was amazed last year when they came to my town in West Virginia. Instead of support or apathy towards Westboro, many businesses in my town made signs saying, “West Virginia is not a place for hate,” and hundreds of people showed up to counter-protest.
Either way, rest assured that we might as well give them their right to free speech because no one is listening to them. If people were, then we would have Mike Huckabee as our 44th president.