April 25, 2013

#WestTX, Westboro Baptist, the First Amendment and liberals

Betty Phelps, daughter-in-law of pastor Fred Phelps and a member
of the Westboro Baptist Church, demonstrates outside the Supreme
Court while justices hear oral arguments in Snyder v. Phelps,
which tests the limits of the First Amendment, October 6, 2010
in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/AFP/Getty Images)
Once again, the family (let's not even use the word "members") of Westboro Baptist Church has threatened to make a collective ass of itself through funeral protests. This time, the family is talking about protests at funerals for first responders and other victims of the West Fertilizer Co.'s plant explosion in the town of that name, just north of Waco.

And, once again, people, including public officials who swear an oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States" seem to be overreacting.

I cite McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara.
"Make no mistake about it," McNamara said. "Any attempt by any group or organization to disrupt the funerals of any of our victims of this tragedy will be dealt with swiftly and prosecuted to the full extent of the law."
First, "disrupt" is in the eye of the speaker. It's not a legal term, unless one is loosely using it to refer to disturbing the peace.

Second, if WBC, as per the usual, gets an appropriate protest permit from the city of West or the city of Waco (depending on where they're at; I'm not sure if West itself has a funeral home) and follows the legal restrictions of that permit, they are perfectly within their rights. Indeed, the Supreme Court said so, by an 8-1 vote where Sam Alito, even more visibly than usual for a justice, let his emotions overrule his legal mind.

Beyond that, it's not just the good sheriff (who needs to get his peace officer's license completed, if he wants to do something) that's whiffing on this.

A lot of folks, from what I've seen, of both generally conservative and generally liberal stripes, want to muzzle the Westboro Baptist family.

Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

We still have a First Amendment in place, which has FOUR freedoms, not just one or two.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Everybody knows the first two, even if the Religious Right screws up the first one and many both inside and outside the mainstream media thinks the second one gives the press a privileged stance.

But, most people forget the third and the fourth. Or don't even learn them in the first place.

Folks, the Westboro Baptist family not only has the right to say, or yell, what it wants, as individuals, but, as a group, with the appropriate permit, has the right to make placards and march up and down on a sidewalk.

Period. End of story.

Besides, per a Tweet noted in this story, the Westboro Baptist family, like stereotypical Jehovah's Witnesses (or Alawites in Syria) LIKES the "persecution."

If only, in the cases of future tragedy, the general public would read the Constitution, and elected officials would do their proper duty with as close to zero noise and grandstanding as possible, we'd be better off and the Westboro family would move on down the road sooner.

I added "liberals" at the end of the story because, in this particular case, liberals, (and "outside the tent" groups like Gnu Atheists who may allegedly be liberal and who see this as a cheap way to attack religion) should know better.

Repression of civil liberties is generally associated with rightist impulses in the United States. No good liberal should ever, EVER support the First Amendment being folded, spindled or mutilated in this way.

No comments: