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Thursday, March 3, 2011

U.S. Supreme Court has it all wrong

The highest court in America has ruled that it’s okay to foster hatred, so long as it’s against gays.
They didn’t quite say it that way, but that’s the end result. Using their mythical and inconsistent “free speech” as the paper shield to defend this notion,  they’ve ruled that the hate-mongering performed by the small, fringe Westboro Church is alright with them, and is in keeping with the high standards of behaviour demanded by the U.S. Constitution. This church is a group that targets the funerals of dead soldiers so they can spread their message of “It’s God’s punishment that your loved one died, because we live in an amoral country that is tolerant of gays.” (Out of all the amoral things happening in America, why is that the one they focus on? Could their pastor perhaps be over-compensating for certain leanings of his own? Might he be casting the occasional doe’s eye at that strapping fellow handing out the collection plate?)
I love free speech. I’m happy to live in a country where I can say stupid, ignorant, or even hurtful things and not be locked up, shot, or tortured for it. Sure, I might become a social pariah, but the odds are just as good that I might attract a loyal horde of like-minded idiots to wait on me hand-and-foot.
But free speech comes with all sorts of caveats in any country. It’s against the law to utter threats (an odd phrase, but that’s the way it’s said in the books, as though “utter” is in common usage these days). I can’t even say the word “bomb” in an airport without risking an immediate full-body tackle by four eager security thugs. Try idly talking about how you would like to punch the President, and see how long it takes before your phones are tapped by the Secret Service.
More to the point, do you think the court would have ruled similarly if the church had been saying that America is being punished because it houses Jews? Or better yet, because it freed its slaves? Some topics are acceptable in the States, and some aren’t. Some groups don’t receive the same protection as others. Currently Muslims can be freely slandered and libeled. Homosexuals have always been a favourite target in America. You still get rabid anti-communists, although now they call it “socialism” (political code for “sharing,” and if there’s one thing rich folks don’t like, it’s sharing).
Of course, I could be wrong. America might be entirely comfortable with defending the right to offend. Certainly there have been precedents in the past that indicate they are. What I contend is that the right to free speech shouldn’t automatically confer the right to free expression. There is a world of difference between standing on a soap box, preaching to all who will listen, and following me around while I’m in the grocery store to harangue me. One is free speech. The latter is not: it is harassment.
Talk all you want. But who’s going to protect my right to not hear you?

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