By Eleanor Nagle
The First Amendment is a tricky thing. It gives us freedoms once unheard of and unique to America. Freedoms that make America what it is and should be. One would hope that those freedoms would be used to make America a better place but that doesn’t always happen. What is to be done when people use their freedoms in the ‘wrong’ way?
The most current and important example of this question is the case of the Westboro Baptists. The church, run out of Topeka, Kansas, asserts that the war in Iraq and the other problems America faces is the result of our acceptance of homosexuality. Members of the church routinely protest at funerals of fallen soldiers blaming their deaths, not on the war but on the wrath of God.
Protesters hold signs saying things like “God Bless Dead Soldiers,” and “God hates America.”
On Halloween, the church was ordered by a jury in Baltimore to pay the family of a soldier killed in Iraq $10.9 million in emotional damages. The father of the soldier, marine Matthew Snyder sued the church after seeing video of the church protesting outside of his son’s Westminster funeral.
The problem is that it is unclear whether or not the church members were well within their First Amendment rights when they protested at Snyder’s and other soldiers’ funerals. In fact, according to the Baltimore Sun, many Frst Amendment experts are saying that the case is bound to win an appeal.
The First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech…or the right of the people to peaceably assemble.” When you look at this particular case, the church members were certainly within their rights. They were not violent. They did not even get in the way of the funeral. Most of the mourners did not even see them. The father did not know they were there till he saw a video of it after the funeral.
There are laws and ordinances in most states to keep protesters from disturbing private funerals, and the Westboro Baptists followed them. They were a thousand feet away and on private property.
The Westboro Baptists do deplorable things to get their appalling opinions across. There is no question there, but the things they do are legal and they have the right to do them.
“While I think it’s sad that people would choose to use their freedom in such a way, we can’t simply choose to support that freedom based on whether or not we find their protest acceptable because that’s not a true freedom,” said sophomore Liz Eanes.
If the American people want to support true freedom, they have to support the Westboro Baptist’s right to use the First Amendment. It may be horrifying and inappropriate but that’s what true freedom sometime gets you.