The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court currently are deliberating a case revolving around one of our country’s most fundamental—and cherished—rights: the right to free speech.
Specifically, the court is hearing arguments appealing the decision of a lower court, which overturned a judgment awarding millions of dollars to plaintiff Albert Synder.
The case stems from a protest conducted by a group of congregants of the Westboro Baptist Church, based in Topeka, Kan., that has sparked a national outcry for action stifling the exercise of the First Amendment.
The case was brought to court by Synder, the father of a slain U.S. soldier Matthew Synder, who was killed in the Iraq war.
The father sued a group of protesters for invasion of privacy and the infliction of emotional distress by conducting a protest using disturbing and offensive signs such as “Thank God for dead soldiers,” and equally disgusting chants and shouts at his son’s funeral.
Fred Phelps, pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church defends his church’s actions, saying that the protesters have the right to the freedom of speech guaranteed in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, regardless of how offensive some may have found it.
Many state legislators are pressuring Congress to establish a law that would prevent groups like the protestors from the fundamentalist Westboro Baptist Church, from using hateful signs and loud speech during military funerals.
A longtime controversial pastor and attorney, Phelps believes that God has U.S. soldiers killed as a punishment to America because of the increasing tolerance and acceptance of homosexuals.
He says that the church’s high profile protests at military funerals serve as a warning for the wrath that God will unleash upon this country for is moral decline. The group is specifically outraged about the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, and is sounding the alarm to bring awareness to the nation that God is killing soldiers because of the military’s tolerance of homosexuals.
Understandably, military families—and many Americans—are offended, and argue that the families’ personal privacy is being unrightfully intruded upon at these solemn events. They feel strongly that boundaries need to be set so that protesters are prohibited from spreading their hateful messages near the cemetery site.
While many state legislators, veterans and the general public are eager for Congress to pass revolutionary legislation, others are hesitant. The outcome of this case has the potential to profoundly alter our historic understanding and interpretation regarding our constitutional right to freedom of speech.
Questions Americans should ask include: Who would have the authority to determine what speech is hateful or “offensive” enough to be considered illegal? Did the Founding Fathers of our country ever foresee a day when government would consider repealing or fundamentally weakening the Constitution’s First Amendment, impeding Americans’ freedom of speech? Most importantly, would we be disrespecting the slain military soldiers who sacrificed their lives to protect the protests’ constitutional right to freely express their beliefs?
Are we on the precipice of seeing this freedom diminish or even disappear?
Many fear that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the military families, it could open the door for the eventual dismemberment of the First Amendment.
This atrocity could start with tighter restrictions placed on special interest groups such as the Westboro Baptist Church protesters and similar groups around the nation.
Restrictions can be set, but once the door for alterations to the First Amendment is opened, it is possible that congressional leaders would be able to prohibit, restrict, and ultimately have the power to decide what speech, writings, protests, and publications are too “offensive” for the public, and therefore unprotected and illegal.
Undoubtedly, if government officials were to claim the power to decide which voices should be silenced, it would be extremely damaging to the principles and unalienable rights that make America so special.
Once America’s freedom of speech has been weakened and eventually diluted beyond recognition, political cartoons and political speech that some people might find disturbing or “offensive” could become “unprotected” and even illegal as decided by elected and unelected bureaucrats in our government.
Slogans, signs, and banners that target candidates or positions could be prohibited from being publically displayed. Radio and television programs that criticize the government, an administration, current government leaders, and potential candidates could be shut down entirely.
Sharing your views and opinions about government and politics on-campus could be profoundly affected and damaged beyond repair, for fear that other students might find your views too offensive by the government standards, and potentially place individual citizens in peril of being punished by new laws. This likely could lead to an unbalanced form of government, moving away from constitutional based governance and towards a progressive style of government and interpretation of our constitution that would truly change the face of our country’s policies.
This deterioration of the First Amendment would affect everyone, even outside of political boundaries. If someone finds your personal religious views offensive, the government could revoke your right to witness and share freely your beliefs with other students. Although this scenario seems far-fetched, the current political climate seems conducive to this type of movement, and this case could very well be a primary catalyst.
Progressivism is a trend that is growing with terrifying speed, and only the upcoming elections will tell whether or not America is ready to abandon the Constitutional values that our country was founded upon, for this new, radical form of big government control.
The irony in the Synder case is that it involves an American soldier who gave his life to protect the very freedoms and rights that are now hanging in the balance of the Supreme Court’s decision.
The Puyallup Post is the award-winning student news of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2017. Twitter/Instagram @puyalluppost