Thursday, March 03, 2011

Good News! The Supreme Court Has Upheld Your Right to Be a Dumbass!

Well, that's not exactly how they said it, but it sounds better my way.

In an 8 to 1 decision handed down yesterday (Justice Alito dissenting), the Supreme Court upheld the right of the members of the Westboro Baptist Church to protest at military funerals against rights for (or acceptance of) homosexuals. This photo shows a typical selection of the types of protest signs for which the intellectual and moral giants of the WBC are famous:

As with most things, reasonable people can agree to disagree on both the message and the medium by which it is delivered. My personal opinion is that these people are utterly repugnant ass clowns who deserve the condemnation and disgust of decent people everywhere.

But the Supreme Court doesn't agree, and it's correct.

The First Amendment to the Constitution - the very first paragraph of The Bill of Rights - is pretty clear on the subject:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Let's see how it applies in this case:
1. Free exercise of religion - check.
2. Freedom of speech - check.
3. Right to peaceably assemble - check.

Yep, it looks as if these people - however detestable their beliefs and their choice of venue for expressing them may be - are enjoying the same Constitutional protection that allows me to publish (and you to read) this blog.

Mike wrote about this topic this morning as well, noting that "...depending on who you talk to it was a good/bad decision. I have a tendency to go with the good right now." I agree.

Nobody needs to defend speech that's popular. If I stand on a street corner and declaim loudly about how gorgeous Scarlett Johansson is, no one is likely to object (unless on the basis of perceived acting talent). But deeply held, yet unpopular beliefs deserve protection, too. There are reasonable limits, of course - the law does, after all, prohibit you from inciting to riot, or starting a panic by shouting "fire!" in a crowded club - but the simple exercise of expressing an opinion must be protected.

If you disagree, you might enjoy living in a civil rights wonderland like Pakistan, where "blasphemy" will earn you a death sentence ... and the streets will fill with otherwise educated and knowledgeable lawyers who will gladly throw the first stone.

I have always believed that everyone should be permitted to express his (or her) views freely. There's a reason we expose dirty laundry to fresh air and sunshine. The unrestricted ability to hear, evaluate, and reject repugnant ideas ensures a vibrant and educated democracy. Of course, there will always be those who will uncritically accept the most bizarre religious and political ideas (a lot of Republicans got elected last November by people who accepted their simplistic economic theories) ... but the ability to hear and debate ideas leads (theoretically, at least) to a better world for all.

Yes, I think the members of the WBC are stupid bigots. But their right to be stupid bigots is guaranteed by the same laws that allow us to protest the things that really matter.

As I'm fond of pointing out, the Constitution guarantees us freedom of speech. Freedom of smart is, sadly, another thing entirely.

Have a good day. Celebrate the fact that you live in a nation where the highest court of the land protects your right to be a dumbass.

More thoughts tomorrow.



Gilahi said...

As a friend of mine used to say, "I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to have such an ignorant, uninformed, stupid opinion."

The Mistress of the Dark said...

Couldn't they arrest them for hate crimes? The pretty much missed the passages in the bible that says he who is without sin can cast the first stone..and love your neighbor as yourself.

God...these people make me violent.

Bandit said...

Ditto to you, Gilahi, and Mistress.

Mike said...

Ditto to Bandit who ditto'd G & M.

Raquel's World said...

I just think that is ridiculous. So picket at the army sign up office if you'd like. But the funeral of someone who gave their life for your freedom. RIDICULOUS!!!

Chrissy said...

Well written...and as always...I appreciate that you used the phrase "ass clown" (a personal fav).

But gosh...there has to be something to can whack those ass clowns over the head with right?

I'm a mom. Maybe I can put them in a time out. That outta show 'em!

Chrissy said...

Sorry...I should not be allowed to yell at my kids, drink and type all at once. Was trying to write "there has to be something WE can ..."

Duckbutt said...

In general the Constitution and our Republic is strong enough that it can survive some asshats pushing the envelope on it.

What they're doing is legal; but they're still jerks.

KathyA said...

In order for the First Amendment to be strong we must uphold the rights to free expression for all -- even the most repugnant, slack-jawed, pusillanimous, bottom feeders such as these.

Again, the Amish have the right idea in shunning.