Westboro Baptist Church will have its day in court again on October 6th, 2010.
Westboro and its fundamentalist Christian pastor Fred Phelps often picket at the funerals of U.S. military killed overseas in war. Why? The pastor and the church believe that these military members are dying because of America’s sin. Pastor Phelps says “We don’t have to answer to anybody for our preaching.”
The group often taunts families with signs like “Your son is in hell.”
This is an ugly face of Christianity.
I do not believe that free speech is open-ended nor should it be.
However, we must be careful in how we deal with free speech. It can be an avalanche once folks start putting any limits on speech.
For over 200 years we have wrestled with what freedom means.
While still a young country, only 10 years old, John Adams passed four bills that were really the nation’s first ‘Patriot Act’ in 1798, aka the ‘Alien and Sedition Acts’.
One of these acts was the ‘Sedition Act’ which defined treasonable activity as including the publication of “any false, scandalous and malicious writing,” as a high misdemeanor, punishable by fine and imprisonment.
Soon after its passage 25 men, most of them editors of Republican newspapers, were arrested and their newspapers forced to shut down. Some were fined $1000 (a monstrous sum in those days) and sent to prison for four months.
“Scandalous and malicious” pretty much covers so many things that in 200+ years we still have not figured out how to deal with freedom of speech to everyone’s satisfaction.
Thomas Jefferson lead the effort to repeal the ‘Sedition Act’ when he became president. As a Jeffersonian, I believe that freedom of speech is just that, no matter how ugly, and freedom of religion is just that, no matter how much we disagree on tenets, and I believe that freedom of … is freedom.
I’m sure however that we can get creative about how to deal with folks like Westboro Baptist Church. The first major step would be if other Christians spoke strongly in condemning the actions of the church, instead of remaining generally silent.