Right to protest

Oct 062010
Authors: Collegian Editorial Board

Four years ago, Kansas’ Westboro Baptist church picketed the funeral of Albert Synder’s only son, a U.S. Marine killed in Iraq.

Wednesday, Synder’s lawsuit against Westboro reached the Supreme Court, which began debate over whether the Westboro church has the right to engage in blatantly offensive anti-gay and anti-American protests at the funerals of soldiers.

Westboro’s protests included signage reading “God Hates You,” “You’re Going to Hell” and “Thank God For Dead Soldiers.” To any reasonable person, Westboro’s form of protest is exceptionally offensive.

But should it be illegal? No. While we certainly hope that no CSU students would ever take part in any of Westboro’s protests, we realize that limiting unpopular free speech threatens everyone else’s free speech.

Just last month, France banned the burqa –– the veil that many Muslim women wear. This sort of ban would be impossible in the U.S. due to the broad interpretation we hold of the First Amendment.

But if we allow chipping away at the First Amendment, many other forms of free speech would come under fire. What would stop Christians in America from limiting Muslims’ free speech here, as has already been done in France?

We also fear that a ruling that exposed Westboro to civil penalty –– one lower court found Westboro liable for $10 million in damages –– would have a chilling effect on free speech.

Anyone considering engaging in free speech that could be offensive will think twice, realizing that they could end up bankrupt if someone sued them.

While we, as the Collegian Editorial Board, detest Westboro’s speech, we acknowledge their right to speak. The alternative, a chilling of controversial free speech and the loss of free speech for minority groups, would harm our democracy rather than merely offending us.

 Posted by at 2:53 pm

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