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March 10, 2011

To Agree or Not? – That’s The Question

Amanda Haddaway

The Supreme Court ruled on March 2, 2010, that members of the Westboro Baptist Church have a constitutionally-protected right to protest at military funerals. The vote was 8-1, with Justice Samuel Alito dissenting.


The justices are tasked with being the guardians and interpreters of the Constitution and, as such, removed the emotional and visceral reactions to the Westboro wackos from the case to uphold the First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly. This could very well be one of the toughest and most emotionally-charged cases that the justices have heard, or will hear during their service to the court.


The justices were ethical in making this decision and did their jobs with integrity, but it doesn’t make the ruling any more palatable for many Americans, especially the military families, or the families of law enforcement officers who have lost loved ones in the line of duty. I am sickened each and every time these vile people show up and try to spread their messages of hate that have nothing to do with the loss of our great American heroes.


The Westboro Baptist protestors have been met with counter-protestors holding American flags and people or buses blocking their views of the funeral processions. It is important to note that the Supreme Court protected the rights of these average Americans doing the right thing, too.


Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the court cannot adhere to the tenets of the Constitution and restrict the free speech of one group, but allow it for another. This can be a bitter pill to swallow. How can a nation so great tolerate such hatred from a group like the Westboro Baptist organization? I can hardly bring myself to even reference them as a church. Perhaps that thought is worth someone’s time to investigate: Is Westboro Baptist entitled to the legal definition and status of a church?


Despite the legality of the decision allowing continued antics from this group, one can only hope that the protests remain relatively small and peaceful.


Also on the topic of free speech is the individuals’ right to have an opinion that may or may not agree with one’s political party. Thankfully, the Constitution also allows this type of freedom of speech. Humans, by their very nature, are complex and cannot be pigeon-holed into one specific set of stringent ideals. The Constitution allows us all to speak our own particular truths.


There is a growing trend, particularly locally, to subscribe to “groupthink” or the concept of “going along to get along.” Just because you voted for someone does not mean that you are required to agree with every word that they utter during their elected term. In fact, some discussion, civil disagreement and dissenting opinions can be productive in promoting the community to become a better place.


The idea that the proverbial tent is big enough for everyone as it relates to political parties is a nice adage, but it’s far from true. Those close to the local political scene are quickly banished and chastised when “speaking out of turn” on an issue or topic that doesn’t conform to the way “their” party would want them to respond. Apparently, free thinking and outward expression of opinions are only acceptable when the person speaks the party truth, not necessarily their personal truth.


Perhaps Dr. Seuss said it best in his statement “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.” Sadly, this resonant truth now includes Westboro Baptist.


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