Friday, March 10, 2006

Defending free speech

I have the interesting honor of having participated in a service that was demonstrated against by Fred Phelps. You don't know who he is? Well, read this excerpt from the article, "Defend Fred Phelps' right to hold funeral protests":

Fred Phelps, as readers are probably aware, is a Christian extremist who heads a bunch of benighted bigots who get their twisted jollies by appearing in public with placards saying things like "God hates faggots." His "church" keeps a running tally of how many days Matthew Shepard has supposedly been roasting in Hell.

Headquartered in Topeka, Kansas, these raving homophobes travel all across America to spread shameless Jesus' name.

They've long been an odious, protesting adjunct at pride parades and other demonstrations backing gay equality.

Visit their website ( to see just how hideously depraved ultra-conservative religionists can get. Here's a sample from their FAQs page: "Why do you preach hate? Because the Bible preaches hate. For every verse about God's mercy, love, compassion, etc., there are two verses about his vengeance, hatred, wrath, etc. The maudlin, kissy-pooh, feel-good, touchy-feely preachers of today's society are damning this nation and the world to hell..."

Did you know that they've been protesting the funerals of American military personel killed in Iraq because they believe the tolerance of gays in the U.S. is repsonsible for those deaths? Well now there are state legislatures that want to ban those protests. Here's why the protests need to be protected:

While we despise everything Phelps so loathsomely represents, the First Amendment must trump personal feelings.

Even if it additionally anguishes already broken hearts -- or further fuels all-too-pervasive homophobic sentiment -- the freedom that surviving loved ones of those who've perished like to think their kin died for in Iraq has to be upheld.

Being a true American entails graciously tolerating unpopular views -- not to mention nutcase rants -- just as the Founding Fathers intended. (That also means that flag burners ought not be punished for their chosen, albeit distressing means of venting grievances.)

Besides, in the increasingly totalitarian-friendly mood that Bush's malicious manipulation of 9/11 has fostered, now is the time for all good Americans to come to the defense of their country's noble, original ideals.
America is best served by providing open channels for diverse expression, even if some of it strikes many folks as being utterly obscene. In fact, it's exactly our willingness to tolerate that which makes our blood boil that keeps democracy alive.

We always have the option to peacefully protest the protestors.

Of course, what troubles me is that the state legislatures didn't bother to consider banning the Phelps demonstrations when they were just held a the funerals of gay people like Matthew Shepard. Why are the grieving families of military people more worthy of consideration?

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