Saturday, March 27, 2010

Hateful speech

A few Sundays ago, there was a column in the Phila Inquirer by Michael Smerconish which discussed the unfortunate situation involving the members of a Baptist church who demonstrated across the street from the funeral of a recently killed soldier. These demonstrators carried signs and made remarks that were not very charitable to the dead soldiers's family. I sent the following letter to the Inquirer in response to Mr. Smerconish's article. The Inquirer sent me an e-mail saying that they were interested in pubishing my letter but did not so I am reproducing it below.

To the editor:

Michael Smerconish's Sunday column brings to light a situation which tests the very core of our freedoms. In essence, do we allow the freedom of speech and assembly to include speech, signs and sentiments that we find abhorrent? Mr. Smerconish concludes that in this case, the right to assemble, demonstrate and display opinions that most people consider hateful should be denied in favor of a grieving family's right to privacy as they mourn the loss of their son, a man who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country and his beliefs. To me, like the difficult legal battles and emotional reactions that surround flag burning, we need to remember that our constitutional rights were created by a group of men who understood that the rule of rational law is needed precisely because emotions flare and wane and laws based on feelings will never be fairly adjudicated. The problem in this case is that the members of the Westboro Baptist Church value their own opinion over the true spirit of the First Amendment. Rather than asking if they have the right to such a demonstration (I believe they do), they should be asking if they should exercise their right in such a manner. Would they be as supportive of the First Amendment if protestors began demonstrating in front of their church, disrupting their Sunday service? As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. Our constitutional rights have provided each and every American with great powers of expression. Here is hoping that we exercise these rights with more responsibility than the Westboro Baptist Church.

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