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Paul Hayden

A Constitution Designed to Protect Unpopular Speech

March 14, 2011

"It does not take a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds."
- Samuel Adams

My opinion of the radical homosexual agenda in this country is well known. On every issue from same sex "marriage" to homosexual couples adopting children, there is no sane reason for the reordering of American society to accommodate a tiny, loud, deviant minority. That said, anyone who subscribes to the odious worldview of the members of the so-called Westboro Baptist Church is one sick puppy.

I have opined on these people before, most notably in a column titled "Idiots in the Hands of an Angry God." They have made a science out of creating attention for themselves through the manipulation of the law in which they are well schooled. Their "church" is essentially Fred Phelps and his extended family of lowlife lawyers, living out their pathetic existence in a compound in Topeka, Kansas, and on picket lines around the country.

Though claiming to represent Jesus Christ, Phelps teaches instead a hodgepodge of Old Testament hellfire and brimstone aimed at one particular sin: homosexuality. So obsessed is he with this issue that he has come to the conclusion that American troops who die in battle defending this nation deserve to have their funerals picketed with signs reading "Thank God for IEDs" and "God hates fags."

Albert Snyder, the father of one fallen hero, 20-year-old Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, decided to sue Phelps and Westboro Church. Snyder won once and lost once before taking his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which last week ruled on the issue. In an 8-1 decision, the High Court said that Westboro's actions, disgusting though they may be, are protected political speech under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Only Associate Justice Samuel Alito dissented, writing, "Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case. To have a society in which public issues can be openly and vigorously debated, it is not necessary to allow the brutalization of innocent victims."

However, Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, proclaimed that the church group's signs represented protected speech on public issues, such as "the political and moral conduct of the United States and its citizens, the fate of our nation, homosexuality in the military, and scandals in the Catholic clergy. Distress occasioned by Westboro's picketing turned on the content and viewpoint of the message," Roberts concluded, "rather than any interference with the funeral itself."

As much as I respect Samuel Alito, I believe that John Roberts and the other seven members of the Court are correct on this issue. In fact, as reprehensible as Fred Phelps and his cult's message may be to us as Americans, and as distasteful as I find it to write these words, this decision by the United States Supreme Court may, in fact, turn out to be the salvation of free speech in our nation. If this group's disgusting message, aimed at those who should be our most revered citizens, is protected by the Bill of Rights, then it is hard to imagine a Christian pastor being sanctioned by government for preaching from the pulpit that homosexuality is a sin. And as our society hurls itself downhill toward Sodom and Gomorrah, that prospect becomes more real with each passing day.

This is the glorious and messy business of a free people. Popular speech is speech allowed by tyrants and the masses alike. It is the stuff put forth by those who would lull us to sleep for the purpose of stealing our liberties. Free speech is, necessarily, unpopular speech. As George Washington reminded us more than two centuries ago, "If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter."

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Copyright ©2011 Doug Patton

Doug Patton describes himself as a recovering political speechwriter who agrees with himself more often than not. His weekly columns are syndicated by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Readers are encouraged to email him at dpatton@cagle.comand/or to follow him on Twitter at @Doug_Patton.