Advertisement

In Theory: Free speech or abuse?

January 27, 2011

In the wake of the Jan. 8 shootings in Tucson, the Arizona state legislature has passed emergency legislation to prevent the Westboro Baptist Church from picketing victims' funerals, including that of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green. The church's leader, Fred Phelps, has posted a video in which he thanks God for the Tucson gunman, calling Loughner a "soldier hero" for God. The law, based on one passed in Ohio in 2006, prohibits any group from protesting within 300 feet of a funeral. The ban applies one hour before the funeral, during the funeral, and for one hour after the funeral. Breaking it is punishable by fines and possible jail time.

With news of the law's passing, several Arizona radio stations offered the church airtime to discuss its members' views in exchange for not protesting the funerals. The church has accepted the offers. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has slammed the stations for giving the church airtime, saying that doing so is the equivalent of negotiating with terrorists, and that "Westboro is being incentivized by being provided with an outlet to broadcast their hate to thousands of others." Even talk-show host Mike Gallagher, whose show reaches an estimated 10 million listeners, says he doesn't like giving the church the satisfaction of getting time on the air.

Advertisement

Is Arizona in the right to pass such a law, or does it contradict the 1st Amendment protection of free speech and the right to religious freedom?

Is giving airtime to a group notorious for its hate and spite a good trade-off if it keeps the funerals free of protesters? Or is it unjustly rewarding their beliefs?

And are you worried that if a national law were passed banning such protests, it could set a precedent that would allow for more restrictions on religious activities?

What about freedom of speech? While we do have freedom of speech in this country, we also are not permitted to yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater. In my opinion, for the state of Arizona to pass a law restricting freedom of speech at funerals, that's okay. Just as one must not overstep his bounds in yelling "Fire," so must one not overstep his bounds and compound the grief of family members who have lost a loved one.

La Canada Valley Sun Articles La Canada Valley Sun Articles
|
|
|