Editorial: Remedy for radical hate speech lies in truth, not suppression

The Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Snyder v. Phelps involving Westboro Baptist Church has enraged many, but for others it proves that the foundations of the First Amendment cannot be shaken.

Westboro Baptist Church, a radical self-proclaimed Christian group protests at military funerals, praising the death of soldiers. The church also protests against homosexuality and claims that God is punishing the United States for supporting homosexuals.

The church members demonstrate at funerals across the country, picketing at least 1,000 feet from the funeral and on public property. The protesters carry hateful signs with proclamations like “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” across them.

Albert Snyder, the father of Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder, brought suit against Westboro for picketing at his son’s funeral.

Although Snyder won the case in lower courts, it was eventually appealed to the Supreme Court which ruled in favor of Westboro, 8-1. The ruling was a major win for free speech proponents — firmly establishing that even inappropriate or offensive speech deserves protection under the First Amendment.

The College Media Advisers’ 2011 spring college media convention at the Marriot Marquis Times Square invited Margie Phelps, attorney and daughter of Fred Phelps Sr., founder of Westboro Baptist Church, to speak Monday on the recent ruling and the First Amendment.

Margie Phelps discussed the importance of free speech and stated emphatically that the government cannot — and should not — dictate what people should or should not talk about. It is true that this protection of speech — even the most unsavory of speech — is vital to the continuation of a democratic government.

Without the ability to speak and publish on controversial topics, the United States would cease to exist as a free democracy.

The power of the press lies in the First Amendment and the power of democracy relies heavily on the ability to check and balance every aspect of the government.

Westboro’s treatment of soldiers and their families’, however, is more than disrespectful — it is unchristian. Westboro is refusing to acknowledge that the only reason they have been granted the freedom to protest at a soldier’s funeral is because that soldier, as well as thousands before him
or her, laid their life down for liberty and freedom in America.

The hypocrisy that runs rampant in the group that has the right to spew hatred solely because of the democracy secured by the people it insults is sickening. But there is hope.

Chief Justice Roberts of the Supreme Court encourages states to pass laws that will create a buffer zone around funerals—thereby not limiting free speech but still protecting the funeral-goers from obscene behavior.

This type of law is the best legal solution since punishing Westboro members for their speech would open the door to government control and censorship.

The buffer zone would not limit speech, but merely change the location where speech is possible.

The media convention earlier this week is just a further testament to how important this case has been to journalism and free speech, and it is also a testament to how controversial the case is across the nation.

The shocking statements that come from Westboro normally warrant generous press time. But, just as they have the right to speak, we have the right to ignore. Whether or not you agree with the mission of Westboro and how they carry it out is not the issue.

In fact, disagreeing with them furthers the free speech process and allows the country to grow and unite under free speech.

We can’t suspend the protection of Westboro’s speech because that would hinder our ability to fight their anti-Gospel rhetoric.

Westboro Baptist Church has a mission that is antithetical to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

We must use every avenue — including the written and spoken word — to triumph over the misguided lies of this organization.

As a Christian community, we must realize that democracy, however great it may be, doesn’t trump the love and grace of Christ.

The people of Westboro Baptist Church are lost — perhaps we can use Scripture and true faith to show the world the true beauty of Christ. We shouldn’t, however, suspend First Amendment rights to do so.