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Monday, December 17, 2012

Think Before You Silence the WBC

Along with most of America, I felt disgust and outrage when I learned that the Westboro Baptist Church planned to picket the vigil planned in Newtown, Connecticut. I felt saddened that we as a nation boast more than enough evil to go around. I felt the same way after the shooting in Tuscon and when I later heard that the WBC planned to protest the funeral of a nine year old following that tragedy. I feel the same way every time I see their name and messages plastered in the background of any military funeral.

Personally, I find the overall message of the Westboro Baptist Church disgusting. They preach that God hates homosexuality - which is true. But the important thing to remember is that God also hates the little white lies you told last week, the stop sign in the quiet neighborhood that you always run and the fact that you didn't quite wait until you were married to practice the Clinton definition of "not sex." But they also preach that "God hates fags" - which is not true. God's love extends to all sinners, because if it did not Heaven would be empty. To claim that God raises a hand of judgment against one group of sinners apart from all others is to teach false doctrine and to replace the judgment of the Lord with the judgment of a finite and fallen human being.

Despite my personal feelings about the WBC, I find myself equally appalled by those who are calling for physical violence and God's judgment against them. How is us judging the WBC for their actions any different from them judging the actions of any other sinner? How can we as Christians advocate violence against someone whose sin we find abhorrent - when the sin in question is advocating and cheering violence against someone whose sin those in the WBC find abhorrent? 

But my disgust also extends to those who seek political action against the WBC. Why? Because I am something of a free speech purist. In the words attributed to Voltaire, "I may not agree with what you say - but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

The WBC won their Supreme Court Case by claiming that their speech, however abhorrent and hateful, was protected under the First Amendment. AND IT SHOULD BE. The First Amendment was written to protect offensive speech. There is no need to protect speech if it is not offensive. If all we did was fawn before our elected officials and spew popular sentiment, there would never be a need for any protection of any speech. But the founders realized that sometimes what is necessary to say may not be popular, and what is truth may be offensive. That's not to say that what the WBC says is either true or necessary, but in order to protect one you must necessarily allow the other.

I am especially disturbed by those who associate with Tea Party groups or ideas who are calling for violence against members of the WBC or demanding that they be silenced. They of all people should be sensitive to the notion of being silenced by those who disagree politically. When Steven Crowder was cold cocked by a union member last week in Michigan, the media maintained radio silence. When 2500 occupiers got arrested over the course of six months (compared to 0 Tea Party activists in over three years), the media covered the occupiers' message but not their actions. Politicians are actively pushing policies like "The Fairness Doctrine," which will effectively impose tv/radio silence on anyone who dares to disagree with the progressive majority.

But the real problem is this: even if we were to all agree that certain kinds of hate speech SHOULD be silenced, who gets to make the determination as to what constitutes such "hate speech"? Will the definition of "hate speech" change every time the balance of Congress shifts? The balance of the Supreme Court? And what is to stop said authority, once given the power to silence one group or individual, from silencing any group or individual they choose to, whether based on arbitrary whim or political favor?

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