Common Sense & An Open Mind

Advocating freedom of thought

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    "You must lay aside all prejudice on both sides, and neither believe nor reject anything, because any other persons, or description of persons, have rejected or believed it. Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable, not for the rightness, but uprightness of the decision." T. Jefferson

Archive for the ‘supreme court’ Category

A dangerous precedent

Posted by Free to Think on June 29, 2012

Today’s Supreme Court ruling on Obama’s mandated healthcare program has left me shocked and speechless. As stated by the Institute of Justice, “the Supreme Court has failed in its most basic duty,” abdicating  “its responsibility to enforce constitutional limits on government power.”

Possibly the saddest part about the willingness of Americans to relinquish their freedom and to expand our government is that it will not even achieve their intended goals. Our government has a 0% record of ever reining in the costs of anything, or ever creating a program with long-term economic sustainability.


Posted in curtailing freedom, Debt, Detrimental policies, Health care, Intrusive government, obama, Politics, supreme court, taxes | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Does everyone have a right to Freedom of Speech?

Posted by Free to Think on March 8, 2011

After a long winter’s hibernation, an exchange with someone on another website regarding this issue has prompted me to post. Our conversation is below. The other person’s comments are italicized.

The United States Supreme Court ruled on March 2 in favor of Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, stating that the funeral picketing conducted by the church is a form of protected free speech.

Other: This is the worst Supreme Court decision in my lifetime. If MY child died for this country and these yahoos showed up at the FUNERAL (not posting a blog or writing an article), a time of intense grieving and screamed that he/she deserved to be dead because this country accepts gays, I don’t know what I would do.

Common Sense: I must disagree that this was the wrong verdict, though I do concur that these people are despicable and their message hateful. But as military families must understand, we must protect freedom at all costs, even when extremely unpleasant.

It’s unlawful to hurt another, but to offend another, even deeply, is not against the law. We can’t ask the government to step in to protect our feelings without stepping on our own right to express ourselves. The best way to make the Westboro Church go away is for the media to give them less attention. If they don’t get exposure, they’ll figure out that they’re wasting their time.
As Thomas Paine said, “He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”

I appreciate your sentiments, but the court has previously ruled that one can’t yell fire in a movie theater and this kind of speech is an invitation to violence; no one is precluding them from voicing their vile opinions through the media but a funeral is a private, sacred event.

You have to understand the difference between these 2 examples. The reason why you can’t yell ‘fire’ in a crowded place is not because it will upset or annoy people, it’s because it could lead to a deadly panic in which people could be killed.

Can society pass laws against saying things that make others want to punch them in the face? Well, civil society should denounce it, but morality can’t be legislated. Allowing the government to draw the line on what is “offensive” to shield us from being affronted is censorship, pure and simple. So we have no choice but to allow it, even when it’s obviously heinous. Can neo-Nazis stand outside a Jewish funeral and cry that the Holocaust never happened? They can’t come onto private grounds, but as awful as that is, they can stand in the street and say it.

You cannot legally threaten someone or a group and I perceive this to be in the same realm; and while I believe in free speech, am “liberal” and hate to be on the same side as Justice Alito on this (or anything), I don’t know if I want to live in a society that would tolerate such vile taunts at a family whose child sacrificed his life to preserve “freedom”, especially at such a vulnerable time. There is a Bob Dylan line that says, “when something’s not right, it’s wrong”, and dress it up in First Amendment finery all you want, this ruling and this group’s actions are simply not right. In order 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.

Let’s differentiate between morality and legality. This group has been very careful not to threaten anyone. With all due respect, you and Bob Dylan and most of America may agree that someone’s action is clearly wrong, but our Constitution severely limits what our government can tell us to do. Some things that you find reprehensible can still be legal. And it’s important that this is the case because morality is different for everyone.

As strongly as you feel about the Westboro Church, others feel just as strongly that it’s offensive for a gay couple to hold hands in public. Others deeply feel that it’s criminal for a woman to have an abortion. Most of us probably agree that it’s terribly cruel for someone to put their aged mother in a nursing home and never visit her again. Or for someone to cheat on their spouse. Does our government get to decide which of these warrant a trip to prison or a fine? No. No one is allowed to harm us physically, threaten or libel us, steal or damage our property. But in this fine country you are allowed to do things that others think are wrong, as long as you don’t violate their constitutional rights. That does not make those actions right, just not illegal. Our government cannot protect us from every evil someone conceives because your evils may not be the same as mine.

However twisted their thinking may be, I can guarantee that these people from Westboro Church believe with all their hearts and souls that they’re defending what’s right. Brutalization is a charged word. defines brutal as: 1. cruel; vicious; savage 2. extremely honest or coarse in speech or manner. Do we have a constitutional right to be free from brutal speech? We’re not allowed to ‘harass’ someone, but harassment is a sticky legal concept. According to Wikipedia, ‘where the term is defined by law, the law varies by jurisdiction. It is difficult to provide any exact definition that is accepted everywhere.

I believe that it’s just as important for a woman to be able to walk freely into an abortion clinic as it is for another woman to be allowed to stand outside that clinic with a sign that says, “Abortion is murder.” Both will think the other is misguided, even evil. Both are free to try to convince the rest of America that they are the one in the right. Neither may impose the force of law upon the other.

Finally, I think people need to stop limiting themselves with labels such as ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative.’ We must keep in mind that it’s okay to disagree with most of what one group says, while seeing eye to eye with them about other things. And vice versa. It becomes dangerous when “loyal party members” feel compelled to agree with everything their party backs. We need to think for ourselves, on every individual issue.

I understand both sides of this issue and respect those who disagree, but Justice Alito’s comment  rings true to me; no one is preventing these people from spouting their hateful ideas on any of the millions of media outlets available to them; their showing up at military funerals does not further their cause. We are one of the few countries in the world where these wackos can state their perverted points of view without recrimination, but there has to be a limit as to time and place…in my opinion. Your other examples are nowhere near as heinous as this.

The fact that no one’s preventing them from taking the more upstanding road is beside the point. If this group simply took the mainstream route and tried to speak to media outlets, no one would give them air time. So their actions ARE furthering their cause. Or at least they believe so, because now people like you and I know all about them. Unfortunately for them, all most people will take away from this exposure is that the members of Westboro Church are warped individuals.

If this was an easy decision there’d be no controversy. They’re treading along the very edge of what they are constitutionally permitted to do- evil but smart. Yes, we as society should frown upon their behavior. But the justices who voted to defend this group’s constitutional rights are no less kindhearted than you, nor are they condoning the actions of the Westboro Church in any way. They made the very tough decision to defend the rights of us all, even those who participate in very, very antisocial behavior.

Morality cannot be legislated. We can’t quantify negative but lawful behavior. As far as whether picketing and yelling cruel slogans outside a funeral is more hurtful than abusing the trust of your life partner and potentially destroying your family is certainly up for debate.

Posted in Freedom of Speech, Intrusive government, Politics, supreme court | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »