Skip to main content

Today - And Today Only - I Root For Fred Phelps

The gay-bashing folks of Westboro Baptist Church had their day in the Supreme Court today, contesting a lawsuit that would force them to pay millions of dollars in damages for demonstrating near a military funeral.

The church's actions are distasteful in the extreme. But it's important to note that a number of news organizations -- including the New York Times -- have weighed in on the side of the church. Limiting Fred Phelps' ugly free speech, you see, might have real consequences for the speech the rest of us express and hear.

Respondents were found liable for millions of dollars in damages for intrusion and intentional infliction of emotional distress based solely on their publication of offensive religious and political opinions -- opinions which the Petitioner encountered not at his son's funeral, but only several hours later by watching news reports, and then weeks later after conducting an online search. Imposing tort liability for such speech will chill the activities of all who speak or publish on controversial issues.

In other words, the family didn't actually encounter the Phelpses at the funeral. But they knew the Phelpses were out there, somewhere near -- 1,000 feet away, in compliance with funeral picketing laws -- being offensive. In fact, the family is claiming to have been intruded upon because they found offensive material by searching for it on Westboro's web site. With all due respect to the family, that's a really lousy foundation to start restricting free speech rights: It doesn't really punish the Phelpses for intruding on their privacy, but for expressing repugnant opinions. That's not how it is supposed to work in America.

Either you believe in the First Amendment, in other words, or you don't. Read the whole brief, and you'll get a sense of how silencing Fred Phelps might be a step down the slippery slope to silencing all of us.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Yoga

I've been making some life changes lately — trying to use the time I have, now that I'm back in Kansas, to improve my health and lifestyle. Among the changes: More exercise. 30 minutes a day on the treadmill. Doesn't sound like a lot, but some is more than none, and I know from experience that getting overambitious early leads to failure. So. Thirty minutes a day.

One other thing: Yoga, a couple of times a week. It's nothing huge — a 15-minute flexibility routine downloaded from an iPhone app. But I've noticed that I'm increasingly limber.

Tonight, friends, I noticed a piece of trash on the floor. I bent over at the waist and picked it up, and threw it away.

Then I wept. I literally could not remember the last time I'd tried to pick something off the floor without grunting and bracing myself. I just did it.

Small victories, people. Small victories.

Liberals: We're overthinking this. Hillary didn't lose. This is what it should mean.

Interesting:
Nate Cohn of the New York Times estimates that when every vote is tallied, some 63.4 million Americans will have voted for Clinton and 61.2 million for Trump. That means Clinton will have turned out more supporters than any presidential candidate in history except for Obama in 2008 and 2012. And as David Wasserman of Cook Political Report notes, the total vote count—including third party votes—has already crossed 127 million, and will “easily beat” the 129 million total from 2012. The idea that voters stayed home in 2016 because they hated Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is a myth. We already know the Electoral College can produce undemocratic results, but what we don't know is why — aside from how it serves entrenched interests — it benefits the American people to have their preference for national executive overturned because of archaic rules designed, in part, to protect the institution of slavery. 

A form of choosing the national leader that — as has happened in …

I'm not cutting off my pro-Trump friends

Here and there on Facebook, I've seen a few of my friends declare they no longer wish the friendship of Trump supporters — and vowing to cut them out of their social media lives entirely.

I'm not going to do that.

To cut ourselves off from people who have made what we think was a grievous error in their vote is to give up on persuading them, to give up on understanding why they voted, to give up on understanding them in any but the most cartoonish stereotypes.

As a matter of idealism, cutting off your pro-Trump friends is to give up on democracy. As a matter of tactics, cutting off your pro-Trump friends is to give up on ever again winning in a democratic process.

And as a long-term issues, confining ourselves to echo chambers is part of our national problem.

Don't get me wrong: I expect a Trumpian presidency is a disaster, particularly for people of color. And in total honesty: My own relationships have been tested by this campaign season. There's probably some damage…