Last Sunday I wrote a post titled Caution: Engage Brain Before Opening Mouth, in which I lamented the abuse of the right of free speech and its relationship to some of the dreadful crimes and abuses we see in the world around us. If you haven't read that post, you might want to go back and read it now. I'll wait a few minutes while you do.
Finished? Okay, now take a look at this news story posted on CNN yesterday: Justices to Hear Case Over Protests at Military Funerals. The case, which is already being viewed as a potential landmark case that seeks to balance freedoms of religion, speech, and privacy, deals with the actions of a small Kansas church congregation which protests loudly at the funerals of military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. They contend that God is punishing the United States for "the sin of homosexuality" by allowing soldiers to be killed, and they travel around the country, shouting at grieving family members at funerals and displaying such signs as "Thank God for Maimed Soldiers" and "God Blew Up the Troops." Here's an example:
The problem with freedom of speech (if I can call it that) is that it protects even the most heinous and despicable of messages. My personal opinion is that those who would intrude on the grief of families who have suffered the loss of a loved one are heartless, morally bankrupt, and deserving of condemnation by decent human beings everywhere.
But their speech is protected by the Constitution, even as is my freedom to condemn their callous behavior.
The real problem with rights and freedoms is that we have separated them from responsibilities. Many people in America today are quick to complain about infringement of their rights, but never consider the possibility that they might be acting irresponsibly. Those who demonstrate and file lawsuits on behalf of unrestricted gun ownership never mention that not everyone exercising his or her right to bear arms will do so responsibly...that's why we seldom go a week without reading of someone going on a killing spree with guns (which have, almost invariably, been legally purchased). Those who insist on unrestricted freedom of speech never seem to worry about the harm their speech might cause others, but are quick to appeal all the way to the Supreme Court if they think their rights are being infringed.
Freedom is good. Freedom coupled with responsible behavior is better.
Unfortunately, shouting about freedom is much easier than behaving responsibly.
I have a dream that this case will make it to the Supreme Court, and that nine justices will glower down from the bench and give these despicable people a lesson in civic behavior and common decency.
But I think, somehow, I'll win the lottery first.
Have a good day. Enjoy your freedom of speech responsibly.
More thoughts tomorrow.