We’ve all seen the signs and heard the protests of the folks from Westboro Baptist Church. They’re sickening campaign to tie the deaths of American soldiers to homosexuality is, well, sickening. To be sure, they are all misled, ignorant, and borderline repulsive people.
But as much as I vehemently disagree with them and their message, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grants them a right to be as misled and repulsive as they want with their speech.
That seems to be lost among the folks that have signed a petition to recognize the Church as a “hate group” and levy “some form of imposed regulation.” Now, don’t get me wrong, their message is just about as hateful as they come, and I couldn’t be more adamantly opposed to it. But that doesn’t give me, you, or the government any right to tell them what they can and cannot say.
The First Amendment wasn’t set up that way. It’s not there to protect speech you or I agree with, but rather the speech that you or I, with every fiber of our being, oppose. As much as I hate liberal Hollywood portrayals of the president, a line from The American President encapsulates First Amendment protections perfectly:
“You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours…”
That’s what our constitutionally granted freedoms are all about—not just recognizing those things that benefit us, but acknowledging and respecting those that don’t.
And while tragedies like those in Chardon, Portland and Newtown can leave us wondering why and searching for answers, eliminating the freedoms granted to us by our forefathers should not be that answer. Americans have every right to disagree with the Second Amendment, just as the aforementioned petitioners (and 99% of decent human beings) disagree with the First Amendment exercise of the Westboro wackos, but no one—not even the government—has justification to eliminate a constitutional right, short of a constitutional amendment certified by We The People.
We may bicker, argue and become upset at the actions of those we disagree with, but that’s what makes this nation so great—we have that ability to disagree without fear of retribution by our government.
So whether it’s gun rights, free speech rights of a genuinely abhorrent group of nut-jobs, or any other right afforded under the U.S. Constitution, these freedoms are not of the pick-and-choose variety. It’s a package deal, even if, from time to time, we don’t necessarily agree.