Sunday, November 28, 2010

Harrisonville Stops Speech

In Harrisonville, thousands line street to keep Phelps clan away from soldier’s funeral -

As I've said before, I don't disagree with what Fred Phelps and his family-church believes, I only cringe at the way they say it.

I do disagree with the patriotism and imperialism of Harrisonville, MO, and I also cringe at the way they express it.

The First Amendment was designed to prevent the government from preventing speech, not the people of Harrisonville. But physically preventing speech is repugnant to the spirit of the First Amendment.
“This soldier died so (Phelps) could do what he does, as stupid as that is,” said Steve Nothnagel of Harrisonville as he looked at the turnout.
But Phelps was not allowed to "do what he does." So the soldier died in vain.
By 9 a.m., an hour before the funeral of Army Cpl. Jacob R. Carver, an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 people, many of them waving American flags, lined nearly a half-mile of the street in front of the church, making sure Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church/family congregation were crowded out....

The seven protesters got out of their van and waved their signs and ranted their slogans that soldiers’ deaths were God’s punishment for America’s tolerance of homosexuality.

Opponents drowned them out with a rousing rendition of “God Bless America” and chants of “USA! USA!” and “Go home! Go home!”
If someone shows up at my funeral to shout bad things against me, I hope nobody else shows up just to shout louder and prevent the first group of shouters from being understood. As Justice Brandeis put it,

Those who won our independence by revolution were not cowards. They did not fear political change. They did not exalt order at the cost of liberty. To courageous, self-reliant men, with confidence in the power of free and fearless reasoning applied through the processes of popular government, no danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present unless the incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion. If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.
Louis Brandeis, concurring, Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357 (1927)
The people of Harrisonville have chosen enforced silence rather than reasoned argument.

(To say that the Phelps church is not "reasonable" or open to rational argument is a claim I do not believe. I don't believe it of anybody, or of any church. But if you want to reason with them, you cannot approach them with the same tactics they use against others. This is the meaning of "love your enemies" in the First Amendment context.)

On the other hand, I don't object to supporters of a speaker filling up the seats in an auditorium before the hecklers can arrive. Cowardly, perhaps. But waving a flag and shouting "USA! USA!" is not a rational argument. (And yes, the Westboro signs and slogans are not a mature, robust exercise of the First Amendment either.)

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