I find myself agreeing with Greg Reeson more than I care to admit, as he is an avowed conservative and I am, well, not. However, in two of his recent articles, “Defending the Right to Hate (Part 2)” and “Does Government Know What’s Best us?” he defends the First Amendment in ways that I think are a bit too extreme.
On a very basic level, I agree with Reeson’s ideals. Free speech should just be free speech. People should be allowed to express ideas freely.
But the founding fathers assumed a level of personal and public responsibility that no longer exists and the right to free speech has been impinged on almost as long as we have had a constitution. The Constitution was signed in 1789; less than 9 years later, Congress enacted the Alien and Sedition Acts restricting freedom of speech.
The act basically made it a crime to “write, print, utter or publish” any untoward comments about the President or the Congress. And, made it a crime, punishable by two years in prison, to speak ill of the laws of the Untied States.
The law expired after just a few years, but its major opposition came not from its infringement on Free Speech, but because many people in the lead up to the Civil War, believed in infringed on states’ rights.
In 1918, Congress passed a sedition law restricting the free speech of anyone who criticized the government or troops during the war. Though it was repealed 3 years later, while it was the law of the land, it was even upheld by the Supreme Court. The mainstream media of the time supported the law in the name of patriotism.
Even now, there are laws restricting freedom of speech, ostensibly to protect the public from themselves. There are laws against yelling fire in a crowded theater and laws against freedom of speech when that speech can be defined as a hate crime.
So, while I agree with Reeson’s basic theory and am thankful that military men and women across the country support the First Amendment, I think the amendment has already been compromised. If a person can be charged with a hate crime for speaking or acting against a person based on their color, creed, gender, disability, or sexual orientation, then shouldn’t Fred Phelps and his group already be serving sentences for their hate crimes against American soldiers?
Isn’t it fair to say that the American military, by virtue of the oath they take to serve and protect the country, share a common creed? Aren’t Phelps and his church then attacking the families of grieving soldiers and violating the rights of someone with a different “creed”?
Reeson’s argument that Phelps and his church members have the same constitutional rights to free speech and assembly as any other Americans is absolutely correct. However, soldiers and their families have the same right to be defended from hate as any other group. It shouldn’t require additional laws to do this, but if it does, than the Congress should be commended for realizing that soldiers and their families should be protected too.
Recently, it appears, it has become somehow acceptable to bash military members without evidence or restriction. Sen. John Kerry illustrated that Monday night when he told California students to study hard and learn as much as possible or they would end up “stuck in Iraq”
While the Senator later claimed the comment was a poor attempt at a joke at President Bush’s expense, every military family I talked to found the implication of the statement to be insulting to military personnel. One woman was livid that her son-in-law, who has a master’s degree and is serving in Iraq, could be insulted so easily by the leaders of this country.
Clearly comments like Kerry’s encourage people like Phelps and his church to believe that they can heap whatever insults on the American military that they want. It is time to put a stop to it at all levels.
Phelps and his church should be able to peaceably assemble, even at funerals, if they want, and if he wants to preach that “God hates Fags” and that America’s amoral behavior is leading to deaths on the battlefield, he should be allowed to as well, in his church or at some gathering other than the funeral of a dead soldier.
At some point, someone has to decide that his right to free speech does not give him the right to impinge the right of the soldier’s family to peaceably assemble for a funeral. As Americans, we must decide that the law should be applied equally to everyone. And, since Fred Phelps is spewing hate, then the laws against hate crimes should put a stop to it. His rights should never be considered more important than the rights of those who shed their blood to assure the rights remain. Currently, it looks as though in the vein of “Animal Farm”, some rights are “more equal than others”.