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Hypothetical on Freedom of Speech/Freedom of Religion and Homophobia 
9th-Oct-2010 08:56 pm
Hypothetical: Assume that a gay teenager has committed suicide. At his funeral a group from a local church protests the funeral. The protesters do not directly interfere with the funeral in that they protest from 100 yards away and do not physically impede those attending or participating in the funeral or set foot on the property where the funeral is taking place. No direct threats or violence occur. The protesters carry signs and shout chants such as "God hates fags", "Your son is burning in hell" and other similar messages. Their chanting can be heard inside the church where the ceremony is taking place.

Poll #1629736 GodHatesProtesters

In the hypothetical above, should the protesters' actions be protected as a valid exercise of their right to free speech?

Yes. Freedom of speech isn't just for popular speech, it's for all speech, whether we like it or not.
Yes for some other reason.
I'm not sure
No. The protesters' right to free speech should be secondary to the family's right to grieve.
No for some other reason.

Assuming that the protesters sincerely believe in their own minds what they are saying and that the bible calls upon them to take this action, should their action be protected under their right to freedom of religion?

Yes (tell us why)
I'm not sure
No (tell us why)
10th-Oct-2010 04:10 am (UTC)
I voted no on both questions (he said answering his own poll question first.) The way I see it, freedom of speech is not an absolute right. There are some times in a peaceful society when speech is curtailed due to some higher principle. For example, freedom of speech doesn't allow one to threaten violence, slander or create other harm (such as the classic "yelling fire in a crowded theatre".) Harming a family's right to grieve should also be another case where speech should be subject to lawful restraint.

On the second question, to me freedom of religion means that I am free to believe (or not believe) in a higher power of my choosing and to worship that higher power. These concepts (belief and worship) do not require harming others, such as the family and friends who have come to mourn.

10th-Oct-2010 05:08 am (UTC)
Inspired by the case the US Supreme Court just heard? Strange and interesting case, that one.
10th-Oct-2010 12:00 pm (UTC)
Actually, the inspiration for this poll stems from the fact that Tuesday will be 12th anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard. The events leading to his death took place on October 6th and 7th. I read that at his funeral, Rev. Fred Phelps organized a protest of this nature and my first thought was how his parents must have felt, having their son murdered and then having to endure the Phelps protest.

Here is the account of the protest, according to the Wikipedia article:

The anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, led by Fred Phelps, picketed Shepard's funeral as well as the trial of his assailants, displaying signs with slogans such as "Matt Shepard rots in Hell", "AIDS Kills Fags Dead" and "God Hates Fags". When the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled that it was legal to display any sort of religious message on city property if it was legal for Casper's Ten Commandments display to remain, Phelps attempted and failed to gain city permits in Cheyenne and Casper to build a monument "of marble or granite 5 feet (1.5 m) or 6 feet (1.8 m) in height on which will be a bronze plaque bearing Shepard's picture and the words: "MATTHEW SHEPARD, Entered Hell October 12, 1998, in Defiance of God's Warning: 'Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is abomination.' Leviticus 18:22."

As a counterprotest during Henderson's trial, Romaine Patterson, a friend of Shepard's, organized a group of individuals who assembled in a circle around the Phelps group wearing white robes and gigantic wings (resembling angels) that blocked the protesters. Police had to create a human barrier between the two protest groups.[45] While the organization had no name in the initial demonstration, it has since been ascribed various titles, including 'Angels of Peace' and 'Angel Action'
10th-Oct-2010 04:03 pm (UTC)
Aha. That's pretty neat, too. Here's a link to the SCOTUS case I was talking about, where the father of a soldier sued Phelps after the WBC protested at his funeral. At the trial level, Mr. Snyder won on, among other things, an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim, and the main question is how that's to interact with the freedom of speech. What's perhaps especially bizarre about the case is there isn't a whole lot of legal precedent and the case that Phelps is citing in his favor in this case is one where he lost back in the 80s.
12th-Oct-2010 06:09 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much for this link. I was fascinated reading the transcript of the oral argument.
13th-Oct-2010 01:06 am (UTC)
I love reading oral argument transcripts. You get a much better feel for the justices that way - Justice Breyer, for example, is known for proposing outlandish hypotheticals, and they're really much more interesting than the final decisions IMO because of the personalities involved. Although of course some are more interesting than others...
10th-Oct-2010 04:30 am (UTC)
I voted no for both questions.

1. I consider what these imaginary religious people are chanting to be hate speech. I don't believe that is covered under the right to free speech.
Also, I believe the family has the right to grieve in private, away from haters and religious zealots. Which brings me to:

2. Everyone has the right to freedom of religion. They do not, however, have the right to attempt to forcefully cram their own beliefs down the throats of others. They certainly do not have the right to spew hate speech in the name of religion.
10th-Oct-2010 05:20 pm (UTC)
10th-Oct-2010 04:37 am (UTC)
I am of two minds on this subject. I am strongly in belief of freedom of speech, but when that freedom imposes upon others rights to grieve, celebrate, etc, I find a conflict. So, let them have the freedom to protest across the street, but also let the grievers the freedom to kick their asses.
10th-Oct-2010 04:51 am (UTC)
I voted no for both because I think its inhumane and insensitive and disrespectful to protest about that during a funeral - and about the dead person. It is hard enough to lose your child and attend his funeral and I think that should be respected out of pure human decency. Besides, the child is already dead, and can't change his sexual orientation now. What purpose do these protesters have in shouting hurtful things such as your child is burning in hell other than to harass the family?
10th-Oct-2010 05:53 am (UTC)
Freedom of speech is very important, and is useful even when it is used for unpopular things.

But I think personal decency is more important. And I think verbally offending (because honestly, how else could they take it?) a mourning family is very indecent.

And partially unrelated, but perhaps worth considering in the debate, most countries allow religions to have some sort of tax free statue or receive tax benefits - in my understanding, usually they have to show that they provide for (or support, or do something similar, something positive) for the community at large. What religion believes picketing at a funeral is benefiting the community?
10th-Oct-2010 06:34 am (UTC)
Regardless of whether the protest is in poor taste, tactless, and offensive, it's still free speech.
10th-Oct-2010 12:00 pm (UTC)
Hate speech is free speech, now? Ouch.
10th-Oct-2010 02:39 pm (UTC)
Yes. And in my mind, that is quite a large part of it: no one should be required by law to censor opinions, hateful or otherwise. It veers too close to thought crimes for my tastes.

That said, such a protest would be absolutely disgusting and make me question the sanity of any participant.
10th-Oct-2010 07:00 am (UTC)
Everything in me disagrees with the premise of the protest, but at the end of the day it is still under the purview of free speech. Whether it should be considered harassment, however, is a different sort of interpretation (in my non-legal opinion, etc).
10th-Oct-2010 07:41 am (UTC)
The haters have the right to protest, and the Hell's Angels have the right to rev their cycles and put up flags blocking the signs of the haters.
10th-Oct-2010 10:04 am (UTC)
I said "yes" to both, knowing full well that the local PD will, more often than not tell them, "we can't stop you if you keep to public property, we're not obligated to guard you, either. My men will be instructed to protect themselves, not you, if things get that really ugly."
10th-Oct-2010 12:00 pm (UTC)
I voted no to both questions.

The law exists to prevent people from deliberately inflicting harm upon others. The protesting church is deliberately inflicting emotional harm on the grieving family by underscoring just the sort of hateful bigotry that drives a gay teen to commit suicide. Their actions are completely unconscionable.

Now, though, if the case were that the protesting church were at the funeral of some heterosexual soldier because they just happened to see some spurious link between his/her death and homosexuality, I'd say give them a little more leeway... but at the end of the day, it's still harassment and hate speech, which are not legal in this country.
(Deleted comment)
12th-Oct-2010 03:50 am (UTC)
Playing devil's advocate...

The Bible pretty specifically condemns homosexual behavior, saying it's evil and wrong. This, in turn, has been the driving force against homosexual acceptance in the US. At what point does the Bible's derogatory view of homosexuals, and the resulting discrimination thereof, result in these teachings being classified as 'inciting hatred'? I think it's pretty clear that the Bible's anti-homosexual teachings are affecting society, which is your stated criteria...so should the freedom to spread its teachings be curtailed, as you imply?
12th-Oct-2010 07:32 am (UTC)
I think where they cross the line in this scenario is making it a personal attack. If they want to march through town waving banners that say "homosexuality is wrong", then I can see how that would be their right. But spewing personal abuse is a whole 'nother thing, and the fact that it takes place at a funeral just makes it all the more reprehensible. If the person were still alive I'd almost think of it as slanderous to publicly paint them as being an abomination.

I don't know much about laws, and less about American laws, but it seems to me the situation should ideally fall under some kind of "disturbing the peace"-like law.
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