Point Counter-Point

Apr 122010
Authors: Kevin Hollinshead, Ian Bezek

Is protesting a funeral considered constitutionally protected free speech?

Funeral protests not protected speech
By Kevin Hollinshead

As a writer for an independent student newspaper, I fully appreciate free speech. But Westboro Baptist Church’s protests cross a line that should not be constitutionally protected.

The “Church” is a hate group that travels around the country picketing funerals, especially those of soldiers.

They believe that war casualties, along with other tragedies worldwide, are simply God’s wrath toward the U.S. and other countries for their tolerance of homosexuality.

The difference between the legality of this particular hate group’s expressions of speech and those of other hate groups is that Westboro invades the privacy of a funeral to defame specific soldiers to promote their agenda. However despicable they may be, the KKK, neo-Nazis and countless other hate groups legally protest in public areas where those who are offended at least have the luxury of leaving the area.

Funeral attendees should not have to leave a service if protesters don’t have the decency to respect the dead.

There is also a Supreme Court precedent asserting the legitimacy of limiting or outright banning some forms of offensive speech. Much like pornography, profanity and public obscenity, protesting funerals needs to be looked through the lens of not just the Constitution, but also that of common sense and decency in determining its legality.

Criminalizing protesting at funerals is perfectly appropriate. It is inherently harmful because of the unnecessary additional pain it causes families in a time of great sorrow.

While such speech is not physically harmful, the emotional burden that stems from it is akin to physical harm that obstructs people from pursuing happiness. As such, common sense must prevail in deciding its legality.

Kevin Hollinshead is a junior political science major. His columns appear Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

Protests are despicable but constitutional
By Ian Bezek

I concur with my fellow columnists that the protests of the Westboro Baptist Church are profoundly offensive. They make me, a Christian, look bad by mere association.

With that said, their vile speech is just as Constitutionally protected as more popular and less offensive speech. The level of offense speech generates does not determine whether or not the speech should be legal.

If we ban this form of speech, more will follow. Next thing you know, Confederate flags, the KKK’s activities and flag-burning will all be banned.

Where does it stop? What would stop the majority from banning every type of speech that 51 percent of Americans dislike? Say goodbye to pornography, vulgarity, unpopular religions and all sorts of other offensive things. If the majority deems it bad, then we can ban it, the line of reasoning goes.

This violates the whole principle of the First Amendment. It exists to protect unpopular speech, not widely accepted speech that doesn’t need protection.

There are some places the First Amendment doesn’t apply, such as when there is a threat of imminent danger from speech. You can’t go around threatening people or inciting violent action.

But Westboro’s protests haven’t done that. They have peacefully expressed their absurd beliefs.

Kevin is wrong to state that we can ban speech that “obstructs people from pursuing happiness.” Almost every day I’m confronted by offensive speech. That’s part of the trade-off for living in a free society; nowhere am I guaranteed protection from being “emotionally harmed.”

Free speech applies to everyone, not just the majority. Kevin is wrong in saying, “Common sense must prevail in deciding (the) legality (of funeral protesting).”

“Common sense” never trumps our inherent Constitutional rights.

Editorials Editor Ian Bezek is a senior economics major. His column appears Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 3:27 pm

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