Westboro Baptist learns the cost of free speech

I remember a song years ago (can’t quite recall who the artist was, though) that contained the line, “Freedom is never cheap just because it’s free.” Jesus told his followers,

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'” – Luke 14:28-30

Well, the followers of Fred Phelps, the psuedo-Baptist paster of Westboro Baptist Church, just learned that the cost of free speech in America is in the neighborhood of $11 million; only I’m not sure that they can count that high. From the AP:

Associated Press Writer

BALTIMORE (AP) — The father of a fallen Marine was awarded nearly $11 million Wednesday in damages by a jury that found leaders of a fundamentalist church had invaded the family’s privacy and inflicted emotional distress when they picketed the Marine’s funeral. …

Snyder sued the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church for unspecified monetary damages after members staged a demonstration at the March 2006 funeral of his son, Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq.

Church members picket military funerals out of a belief that U.S. deaths in the war in Iraq are punishment for the nation’s tolerance of homosexuality.

Apparently church members also carried signs with anti-gay slogans as well as anti-military slogans, even though Snyder was not gay. The jury felt that the right to free speech stops when it damages others, in this case, the right of the family to mourn without being picketed. Phelps, however, plans to appeal, believing that the case “will elevate me to something important.” My gut response at this point is simply, “what a jerk.”

I don’t know enough about the points argued to have any feeling for whether this case would be overturned on appeal. I could see an appellate court ruling in favor of free speech; however, the question remains as to whether the protesters’ methods went over the line, and whether they have the right to target individuals to make a public statement. The Westboro protesters were, after all, intentionally inflicting emotional distress; otherwise, the protest would have been ineffective (or ineffective in a different way than it already was). There are appropriate ways to express yourself, and as much as I believe in the freedom of speech, I do think there have to be reasonable limits. Call it censorship, but that’s how I see it.

Another issue in this case is also a 1st Amendment issue, the right to express their religious beliefs. However, that too has its limits. Human sacrifice, for example, is understandably over the line, as is serving poison-laced koolaid for communion and car-bombing. I wish being stupid was also over the freedom of religion line, but that would be harder to judge than pornography, and as you know by now, that would infringe on our right of free speech (the right to say really stupid things in public).

However, there’s a deeper issue here, from a Christian standpoint. Phelps has been quoted as saying, “The goofy jury threw a fit at God.” However, I don’t think God was the issue. In fact, I don’t think anyone saw God anywhere in Westboro Baptist’s protest; I know I haven’t. My guess is that God was comforting the mourners, not marching with the Westboro bunch. Phelps and company are not representing Christianity, they are only representing hate and self-righteousness (which are not fruits of the Spirit in my Bible). I am sure that Phelps and company believe that they are being persecuted for their faith; however, as I’ve said before and will say again, you are not being persecuted if people hate you because you’re a jerk. So again, you’ve got to “count the cost.”

And, it appears the cost of being a jerk is up to $11 million.

Another Free Speech Award Winner!

Thanks to my friend Mike for pointing out “former homosexual and HIV-positive Christian activist” James Hartline, who demonstrates that ultra right wing Christian fundamentalists also take advantage of our freedom of speech. Now, I’ve never heard of Mr. Hartline, but I felt compelled to go to the source and check him out. Wow. That’s all I can say.

Here, from his very own blog, is the quote that won him this prestigious award:

They shook their fists at God and said, “We don’t care what God says, we will issue our legal brief to support gay marriage in San Diego!” Then Mayor Jerry Sanders mocked the Christian vote and signed off on this rebellious legal document to support same-sex marriage.
And then the streets of La Jolla under the Mt. Soledad Cross began to cave in.

They shook their fists at God and said, “We don’t care what the Bible says, We want the California school children indoctrinated into homosexuality!” And then Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law the heinous SB777 which bans the use of “mom” and “dad” in the text books and promotes homosexuality to all school children in California.

And then the wildfires of Southern California engulfed the land like a raging judgment against the radicalized anti-christian California rebels.

Apparently Harry Reid was wrong. It’s not global warming, it is the gays. We should have known. So, Mr. Hartline, you win! If this blog made a profit, I’d send you a trophy or something. But, as it is, the prestige will have to suffice. I should point out, if you’re new to the blog, that the Freedom of Speech award is given to those who proudly take advantage of the First Amendment, which guarantees us the right to say really stupid things in front of millions of people.

What’s “really stupid” about the statement I quoted? Well, one of the commenters on Hartline’s blog had this to say:

god demolished new orleans via katrina. well, except bourbon street, where all the homos are.

currently, fires are burning in southern california, but the city of los angeles has been spared. west hollywood is still standing, but republican strongholds have been turned to ash.

clearly, god hates black people and republicans.

What’s wrong with this “judgment” mentality? Well, consider these Old Testament examples: God sends the flood, but saves the only “righteous” man left (and his family). When Abraham negotiated with God for Sodom & Gomorrah, God agreed to hold off judgment if a mere handful of righteous people remained; as it turned out, he removed Lot and family from the place first. Does God have a pattern of destroying the righteous and leaving the “sinners” behind? It wouldn’t seem so. By the way, in San Diego, you’d expect the Hillcrest area to go up in flames first (along with my favorite restaurants…), not conservative Poway and Rancho Bernardo. Were the people who died gay?

It’s bad theology, bad logic, and just plain ignorant. From this comment, it appears that Mr. Hartline doesn’t know his Bible, and doesn’t know his God (or maybe we have different gods…). I am not “pro-gay” by the way. I’m just pro-truth.

To Freedom of Speech!

The new Freedom of Speech Award goes to…

Harry Reid!

For those who may not be aware, since it’s been some time since I gave out this award, The Freedom of Speech Award is given to those who go above and beyond in celebrating their right of freedom of speech. And, as I’ve explained before, the freedom of speech is defined by me as “the right to say really stupid things in front of millions of people.”

Which brings us to Harry Reid, who could qualify for this award on a fairly regular basis. But, I wait until I see a prime example of public stupidity – I mean, free speech – to take up space here. As reported on the Maverick Philosopher blog, The Hill posted an article Wednesday which included the following gem from our man Reid:

“One reason why we have the fires in California is global warming,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters Tuesday, stressing the need to pass the Democrats’ comprehensive energy package.

In a perfect example of America’s much-valued privilege of Freedom of Speech, Reid is completely shameless in being a political opportunist as well as a speaker of public stupidity. Where else but in America! The Maverick P’s post goes on to make the following observation: “The hot air of a jackass like Reid plays more of a role that any supposed global warming.” However, as the Maverick P goes on to state, Hugh Hewitt doesn’t seem to appreciate free speech as much as I do:

Reid is a witless opportunist. Half a million people are evacuated, at least 1,200 homes have been lost so far, federal, state, county and local resources are performing acts of heroism all over California to save lives and property, and Harry Reid wants to blame it on global warming to score political points for his energy bill? What a creep.

Oh well… Hugh has his First Amendment rights, too. I just like to look at the positive side of things.

Return to Fahrenheit 451

A rather humorous (if it wasn’t so scary) story is being played out at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. It seems that the Discovery Institute, a group which promotes Intelligent Design, was scheduled to present a conference entitled “Darwin vs Design.” The event was co-sponsored by the University’s Christian Legal Society. However, some of the Darwinist professors wrote to the school’s administration, asking that the event be shut down. (In case you missed it, this is Southern Methodist University.)

As you would hope to expect, people charged the opposing faculty with attempted censorship. Opinion articles and letters have since been traded in the school’s newspaper, including two articles by some of the opposition faculty. Anthropology professor Ronald Wetherington first wrote a piece entitled Freedom of Speech vs. License in which he claims essentially that censorship is okay, as long as you can characterize the material as “license” rather than “free speech.” In other words, if you believe the point of view is wrong, you can censor it (although then it’s technically not censorship).

Subsequently, biology prof John Wise wrote an opinion piece that simply collapses the whole notion of free speech. Wise states, “It turns out that even scientists have a First Amendment guarantee to the right to express themselves, and not surprisingly, some of us even exercise this right.” See? It is okay to call for censorship of someone else’s opinion, because it’s just exercising your own freedom of speech…

For years, Christians have been accused (and often rightly so) of supporting the censorship of opposing viewpoints. History will show that often it is that opposing viewpoint that shatters the consensus notion of truth. The need to control the opposition is based in insecurity; otherwise, why bother? If the truth is so obvious, why get your boxers in a bunch?

It would seem that the tables have, or are being, turned. Why are Darwinists so seemingly afraid of Michael Behe and the other IDists? And, why resort to politics (censorship) as an escape, rather than simply restating truth?

Did I point out that this is happening at Southern Methodist University?

(thanks to Lawrence Selden for reporting this and providing the links to the SMU articles.)