All of us should want to be “right” about everything we do and say. We should seek, moreover, to be considerate of the rights of others. But a very important part of our American freedom is the “right” to be “wrong.”
We are not at liberty to violate our laws, of course, nor to deny equal rights to others. But people naturally will not always agree on everything, and America’s Constitution guarantees the right to express differences — including some plainly obnoxious differences.
One example involves a painful but correct ruling this week by the United States Supreme Court, in an 8-1 decision.
The case arose from the 2006 funeral in Westminster, Md., of U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who died in Iraq.
Disgustingly, some meddlesome members of the tiny Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., have chosen to demonstrate at more than 600 funerals across the country.
The protesters have expressed their views against the acceptance of homosexuality by carrying appalling signs saying such things as “God Hates Fags,” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “You’re Going to Hell.”
Albert Snyder, the father of the Marine who died in service to this country, sued the picketing church members for infliction of emotional distress, intrusion upon seclusion and civil conspiracy.
A federal court jury in Baltimore awarded the father a verdict calling for payment of $10.9 million in damages. The amount was cut in half by the trial judge. Then the award was overturned by a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That court said that although the protesters’ behavior was clearly offensive, it was protected speech on a matter of national debate.
The Supreme Court generally agreed in upholding the appeals court’s ruling, with only Justice Samuel Alito dissenting. The high court made it clear, though, that in no way was it endorsing the protesters’ behavior.
It is sickening that the demonstrators at the deceased Marine’s funeral added to the distress of his surviving family members.
But in this case, “freedom of speech” was protected for us all, while we deplore the obnoxious and repugnant speech of a few.