Thursday, October 20, 2005

Free Speech

Recently, there have been two stories in the news, neither of which got much attention from the major news outlets. Both involved the free exercise of our first amendment right to free speech, and the methods in which the issue was addressed.

The first incident involved the Reverend Fred Phelps, the so-called Baptist minister who travels the country with a message of hate, proclaiming that "God hates Fags". He and his congregation, which is made up of his family members and possibly one or two fringe nuts, organize protests outside churches where the funerals of homosexuals who have died of AIDs are being held. Recently, he has expanded his protests to include protesting the war in Iraq, by picketing the funerals of soldiers who have been killed in action. His reasoning is that God is punishing America with this war for tolerating Godless homosexual behavior in our society. He claims to be a Democrat. Of course, he also claims to be a Christian.

This is what he and his congregation was doing when he once again made the news. According to the Claremore, Oklahoma Daily Progress:

CHELSEA--God spoke with the roar of revving motorcycle engines during a protest Tuesday by six members of a Kansas church that believes God is punishing the U.S. for protecting homosexuals by killing soldiers overseas.

Chelsea residents, however, believed God spoke on their behalf as the engines of more than 100 Veterans of Foreign Wars motorcycles drowned out the voices of the Westboro Baptist Church members who were allowed to protest from 1-1:30 p.m. before the 2 p.m. funeral services for Staff Sgt. John Glen Doles.

Rev. Phelps was completely within his rights as a citizen of the United States, in his protest. Phelps, who is also an attorney, dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's in preparing his protest. Everything he did was legal. He faxed the city before hand with his plans and procured the necessary permits. The group wasn't allowed to protest during the funeral (they had to end the protest one half hour before the scheduled beginning of the funeral, which they did.) and they had to stay half a block from where the funeral was being held. They complied with all regulations.

Those opposed to Phelps' protest exercised their right to free speech as well. The report isn't completely clear but it seems logical that they positioned their motorcycles in front of the band of protestors and revved their engines up to a level that was effective in drowning out the chants of Rev. Phelps group.

The other incident involved a group of Neo-Nazi's staging a demonstration in a predominantly black section of Toledo, Ohio. They too, had followed the proper procedures and had gotten permission from the city to conduct their demonstration according to the city ordinances and received a police escort as they walked down the sidewalk.

The residents of the neighborhood also decided to react to the offensivee display of racism.

Only their reaction was far more violent than the one in Oklahoma. A riot ensued in which large rocks were thrown at the demonstrators, as well as the police and ambulance crews, stores were looted and burned, and chaos reigned.

These incidents call into question the principles of free speech. Specifically, is there ever a time when we shouldn't be allowed to express ourselves? Does the right of free speech mean we have to endure offensive ideas and speech that incites people to violence? When the right to free speech interferes with others right to life, liberty and property, is it still guaranteed?

Can we indeed shout fire in a crowded theatre when there is no fire and expect to be protected? What is the best way to handle those whose speech is offensive to most of us?

I think the best way to combat these groups is to minimize their effectiveness by simply ignoring them. What they want is attention. If we don't give it to them they will eventually fade away, much like Cindy Sheehan has done since Hurricane Katrina pushed her off the front pages.

Most of my regular readers know that I am very much a proponent of free speech, but lately, when I see stories like these, I sometimes wonder if I should rethink my position.

No, I still believe free speech means exactly that. All of us has a right to say what we want. We also have the right to be stupid.


Goat said...


Poison Pero said...

Unfortunately there are way too many who take a full advantage of the last right you listed:

"The right to be stupid".

Erudite Redneck said...

Re, "He claims to be a Democrat."

I've never seen that anywhere. Citation, please.


Mark said...

ER, I remembered that he claimed to be Democrat but I didn't remember where, so for you, I attempted a google search. The first site I visited came up with this and it's even worse than I thought. The man is a lunatic, ER, and hum being a Democrat is nothing for Republicans to be elated about. He is an embarrament for all Americans regardless of party affiliation. Here is what I found:

Erudite Redneck said...

Wow. Wikipedis ian amazing thing. After reading some of that, I remembered that Teditor, who hangs out at my place some, interviewed Phelps while workin' as as a member of the workin' press in western Kansas. He is a freakazoid, indeed. (Phelps, I mean, not Teditor).


Pamela Reece said...

You're right that these hate groups desire attention at it greatest. Just look at Cindy Sheehan and her anti-american agenda. I was so inflamed that this group continues to picket in my town that I myself counter-protested them. Yes, some words were exchanged, but overall, I felt good about standing my ground. When I think about it, I don't think I was giving them attention so much as calling attention to the other side. I didn't want this group to believe they spoke for me or my town. I couldn't just ignore them because I knew others wouldn't.

Toad734 said...

There are several court cases that address these issues. The Chicago Public Library refused to let Matt Hale from the World Church of the Creator (Nazis)to hold a meeting in one of their public libraries, not because of his message but because they didn't have, nor should they be required to provide the amount of security that would be needed for such an event. So sometimes the threat of violence or the lack of security for such events outweighs the right to free speech.

After all, why should it be a cities responsibility to go out of their way to provide extra security for Nazis or anyone else who may incite a violent reaction?

Although the Supreme Court was going to allow the Nazis to march through Skokie, IL based on the first amendment.

And where does it stop? Would this mean they could do it everyday?

I don't know I am ranting.

And Cindy Sheehan isn’t quite the same; the Nazis message is violent and Cindy’s message is in opposition to violence. Of course she has the right to do what she wants because it isn’t a security risk nor would it create a huge burden on the municipalities in which she chooses to demonstrate.
The war-mongers who show up in counter demonstrate may be a different issue; after all if they are so fond of war they are probably violent themselves.

Rush/ Bush =Oxy Moron said...

--Rush Limbaugh

Etchen said...

I actually visit Toledo on the weekends and was there when the Nazis came. As for free speach,
there are legitimate, legal exceptions. The local city government should have disallowed their protest as they knew ahead of time that they could not protect the nazis or citizens effectively. It was as you said-yelling fire in a crowded theater. Their protesting in an all black neighborhood on the sidewalks in front of homes is in essence yelling fire to incite a harmful reaction.
*Please, please to everyone--ignore what CNN reported...Toledo is NOT known for their riots--the last one they had was in 1967.

jgaoehals14962 said...


I know, I need to be more serious... I'm a pastor... pastor's are serious... they have somber faces, and speak in hushed voices, with expressions of deep concern... almost not human...


OK, I will go back to my blog now...
God bless

Pamela Reece said...

Toad, just because I support the mission in Iraq, does not mean I am pro-war or violent. I am pro-American.

Hey, rush/bush=oxymoron----you are added to my blog roll!

Mike's America said...

Mark: I wish you could just ignore Phelps, the Nazis, Louis Farrahkan and that Bruiser fool parading today as "Rush/Bush."

Sadly, they don't just go away and the damage they do to the fabric of society is longterm and divisive.

They need to be exposed for the demons that they are and isolated to the degree possible without completely infringing on their rights.

To that end, I refuse to allow vicious, hate filled or totally disruptive comments like the Bruiser dirtbag above on my blog.

Too bad in Toledo, the Police could not have done a better job controlling the situation. I grew up near there and remember the riots in the 60's. It took decades for those neighborhoods to recover and it is apparent that the scars were transfered to new generations.

Regarding Phelps specifically, where his people seek to demonstrate, I would encourage the city government to be "creative" in it's interpretation of existing laws to control the situation (Think Clinton and the meaning of the word "is").

Allow Phelps to protest, but nowhere NEAR where any family of a fallen soldier could see or hear.

tugboatcapn said...

ER, how do you know that Teditor is not a freakazoid?
(Just kidding, Ted...)

Mark,I recently heard Glenn (you might have heard it too...It was the same day he talked about straight women experimenting with Bi-sexuality...) interview one of the Lunatics from the group of Nazis who marched in Columbus, Ohio, a couple of weeks ago, and I was ALARMED that I actually AGREED with a couple of his points...

Don't be disturbed, I am no Nazi, nor will I ever become one.
The man should be institutionalized, but I can understand why some impressionable people might agree, and join his organization...

As ER has said, Freedom is a messy business...
Callypso Louis Farrakahn (or however you spell him) has just as much freedom to state his opinion as Rush Limbaugh, David Duke, Pat Robertson, Bono, Barbara Striesand, or the guys who make the Southpark Cartoon.

I reserve the right to listen to, agree with, or believe any of them.

tugboatcapn said...

Or reject thier message...

I have my own brain, such as it is...