Should Freedom of Speech Serve As A Shield For Child Abuse?

westboro kids 

 (Westboro Baptist children “protesters.”)

So the “God Hates Fags” nimrods have finally been handed their hat by a jury of their peers. Okay, maybe not their peers, for if it were their true peers on the panel surely there’d have been no judgment at all, but at least by a jury of mostly rational citizens who decided to send a message to these hate-filled miscreants that there is a proper time and place for expressing ones warped reality, and a soldiers funeral just isn’t the time or the place. (Some could argue that there is no better place than a soldiers funeral, pointing out the irony that soldiers die protecting the freedoms of the U.S. Constitution, of which free speech is one. I’m not sure I agree, but is poses an interesting question.)

While the Westboro Baptist Church has for years succeeded in inflaming scores of grieving families with their antics, this case marks the first time someone actually decided to try and make them pay for their transgressions, and predictably, the case was portrayed by the defendants in terms of religious freedom, freedom of speech, and freedom to assemble- all bulwarks of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Much talk has in fact centered on these concerns following the $11 million jury award against the church and its founder, Fred Phelps. But is this really a case about constitutionally protected freedoms? Or is this just a case about harmful behavior that steps outside the bounds of protected action?

For the family of the dead soldier whose funeral was disrupted by the sign waving zealots of the Westboro congregations, the issue was one of intentionally inflicting emotional distress, i.e. causing purposeful harm to another person without cause or concern for their suffering. Clearly, under those terms, this isn’t a case about the First Amendment at all, but rather one about conduct.

So therein lies the rub- protected speech and assembly or intentional harrassment?

Despite the knee-jerk reaction most everyone has towards the despicable behavior of these modern-day Inquisitors, we must remember two things: there are restrictions to the first amendment protections regarding freedom of speech, religion, and assembly. Laws exist that prohibit speech that incites violence or rebellion or panic of the masses; laws exist that prohibit protection of libelous or slanderous speech against another person; laws exist restricting some religious practices that make use of naturally occurring hallucinagenics; and laws exist that permit local governments to restrict the right of assembly without permits, and said permits can further restrict location and time of assembly. Yet with all these restrictions on First Amendment protections, most everyone can still enjoy the wide latitude promised by the First Amendment. And this jury decision does nothing to change that fact. In truth, the jury award against the Westboro group does not prohibit those folks from continuing to do what they seem to live for, it just makes it hard for them to pay their bills. (Perhaps, taking a cue from the San Diego Catholic Diocese, they could ask their congregants to pony up a few more dollars tithing to settle the judgement.) Of course, in practice this award may well put an end to their public hate parades, but nothing about this verdict actually bars them from continuing on. And it shouldn’t. One would hope that some internal sense of morality would temper their choice of time and place a little more carefully perhaps. (In truth, I wish they’d just shut up and go away, but there is some small comfort when these kinds of nutjobs go public- at least it exposes them to the rest of the world and we know for a fact that they are nutjobs.)

So I’m not terribly concerned about this case having wide-spread implications for the protections guaranteed under the First Amendment. No one is saying these guys can’t wave their banners. But just as burning up a flag at a VFW meeting will likely get you a solid thrashing, so should the purposeful attempt to denigrate a military funeral cause the disrupters a little pain. And that is what the jury apparently felt too.

What bothers me more than the assinine actions of this group in public is the horrendous indoctrination of their children that must take place behind closed doors. Children are like little sponges, soaking up all they see and hear around them. They seek to emulate their immediate elders, and are rewarded when they do so. And when a group of miscreants like the Phelpses pass along their hate-filled mantras to their youth, they are setting these kids up for a lifetime of hate and bigotry that can’t help but be a disservice if they ever stray from the hate-trap they must now call a home. Surely such “education” borders on mental abuse, especially when directed at a child.

So I ask you, which is worse? Boorish and probably pain-inflicting behavior in public towards adults who already don’t like you and don’t care or believe your message or childhood brainwashing of the worst kind?

Adults can use their years of experience and personal maturity to move forward after a distasteful episode. Children carry the roots of hate and prejudice with them forever.

At the beginning of this post, there was a picture of some of the Westboro kids on parade. Forgetting about sheer numbers for a moment, how is that picture, and all it implies, any different than this one?

hitler youth

8 Responses to “Should Freedom of Speech Serve As A Shield For Child Abuse?”

  1. SteveIL Says:

    Thankfully, the pigs that make up the Westboro “Baptist” “Church” (which isn’t recognized by any other legitimate Baptist church) number at most 75, and I believe just about all of them are family members of Fred Phelps.

    Phelps is like Castro. He’s annoying as hell while he’s alive. But he can’t live forever.

  2. Lisa Says:

    Yeah Ken are you trying to link these people in with all of Christianity.
    If that is so then should you also being linking any Muslim caught on the battlefield to all terrorists,yes?

  3. Lisa Says:

    Oh and to comment on the post yes I do believe it is child abuse whether they are taught to hate anyone.Even when they are taught to hate religion and anyone with a different view other that of a liberal view point.

  4. steve Says:

    “Okay, maybe not their peers, for if it were their true peers on the panel surely there’d have been no judgment at all, ”

    (really funny sentence)

    Actually though, true Christians don’t do any name calling.

    I keep saying though… If the ACLU tries to defend these guys, I’ll have more reason to hate the ACLU and if they don’t then it’s proof that teh ACLU is a ludicrous organization siding with neoliberalism only.

  5. Danielle Says:

    In a country where verbal abuse is a reconized form of a abuse this lawsuit should be no surprise. If badgering a gathering at a loved one’s funeral isn’t verbal abuse I don’t know what is. And don’t get me started on the poor, unfortunate children of the Westboro Baptist Church’s members. These people give Christianity a bad name.

  6. Matthew O'Keefe Says:

    I didn’t see anywhere in this post where Ken mentioned Liberals or Christians so your inference to the post is way off. Ken can correct me but he sited the first ammendment a couple of times. He also pointed out the possibility of child abuse by the family of this so called church. Their practices of faith is nothing I ever herd of or learned as a practicing Christian.

    As for my opinion, I am so happy that one of the families of our fallen soldiers stood up to these people and stuffed their protest right back down their own thoats LEGALLY in a court of law. As it should have been done and I for one thank Albert Snyder for doing it. He and his family did nothing to deserve this kind of abuse when burying thier son.

    Great F’n Post Ken!

  7. manapp99 Says:

    “Children are like little sponges, soaking up all they see and hear around them. They seek to emulate their immediate elders, and are rewarded when they do so.”

    While this is true to a degree it is clear from the many, many kids from ultra families (ultra religious, ultra enviromentalist, ultra biggoted, ultra liberal etc) that do not follow in Mom and Pops footsteps that kids are resilient and will ultimately choose their own path. I wouldn’t worry too much about them.

    I too am glad that someone has taken a stand against these vile people. Fucking A right on for the bikers that have been acting as a shield for the families. I fear, that like JMJ, if they were to show up at a funeral I attended I would get physical. It would be worth the trip to jail.

  8. Jersey McJones Says:

    Thanks for kinda understanding, manapp. ;)


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