Westboro Baptist Constitutionality

Here is a little debate I had with a member of Liberal Forum. The WBC or Westboro Baptist Church is blatantly conducting hate speech. I found that the debate was interesting and it helps clarify a conservative position a bit more.

NeoConvict: The idea of hate speech is silly and unconstitutional. You have no constitutional right to go through life without being offended by someones speech. The only speech that should be controlled by criminal law is that which endangers others, not something that simply offends them.

Subby: This is special case, in which it deals with funerals of soldiers. I think there needs to be some sort of law and thus regulation for this. Phelps and his people should not be able to protest within 100 yards or something.

NeoConvict: We have no freedom from being offended in the public square. Civil law and criminal law are different in this case. If ones speech is proven to cause fiscal damages then they should be held liable to civil penalties, regardless of where the speech occurred. Speech on public property should not be restricted unless proven to be a danger to life, liberty or other protected individual rights. As vile as I find the Phelps message to be, as long as its said on public property, they have a Constitutional right to say it.

We most certainly were a Nation founded on the protection of speech that makes others uncomfortable, hence the first amendment.

Subby: There are clear and narrow exceptions on free speech. Namely one of them being fighting words, especially when directed to a particular person. It has to do with what the speech communicates and thus what is intended. The hate speech is CLEARLY been directed to specific individuals by Westboro Baptist Church. That is illegal.

NeoConvict: I would love to see the codification of ‘fighting words’. (Cannot believe I am going to defend the Phelps group) The message that the Phelps are bringing is not directed to any particular soldier, any particular individual. Their message is that their God is displeased with Americans embrace of homosexuality and as a result the US has lost favor in the eyes of their God. They are not carrying signs custom made to say “Your dead son was a homosexual and hated by God.” The message is clearly protected by the first amendment as both free speech and religious speech. Nothing they proclaim on their placards or message is an incitement to violence. They are not offering a reward for the killing of individuals, they are not advocating any direct violence against anyone. While disgusting their speech is protected and the case should certainly go in their favor.

The solution is to bury soldiers on private property and arrest these aholes for trespass rather than try to censor their right to free speech in public.

Subby: Yes Phelps has targeted several specific people before.

The solution is to do what at least 17 states have done or are considering. Either ban protests near funeral sites immediately before and after, or regulate these atrocious hate speech protests some other way as I have suggested, or do nothing. Forget the whole private property approach. You are making the victim, the family, have to choose and thus put in the effort of finding a way around hate speech. That is tip-toeing around the problem, namely the hate speech by Phelps, which is clearly seen as a problem within the United States.

Your view is out of the mainstream and seemingly useless.

NeConvict: What this case will do is make the laws in those 17 States unconstitutional, that is likely why they are hearing it. I don’t like Phelps message but I certainly do not want my speech curtailed if the electorate decides it should be censored on a whim of the majority. Free speech is easy if the message is one we all agree on.

Subby: Yes I realize that. But my stance is there is no need for the supreme court anyway, what the states are doing IS Constitutional. We will see I guess.

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