PATSY R. BRUMFIELD: America’s speech free, good or bad

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
– First Amendment, U.S. Constitution

It’s difficult to react rationally when the folks across the street are out of control.
It may seem difficult to understand why the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday voted 8-1 to allow members of a fundamentalist church to scream vile words and wave provocative signs during the funerals of American soldiers.
Then again, it is not difficult – when you calmly look at our country’s Bill of Rights so brilliantly embraced by our Founding Fathers. At issue was the degree of constitutional protection for speech about a private person.
The father of a dead Marine sued the church members after they picketed his son’s funeral. Later, the man discovered the church’s website attacked him and the soldier’s mother for the way they brought him up.
At trial, he won his emotional-distress lawsuit. Later, a federal appeals court threw out the verdict in favor of the church members’ rights to free speech.
Forty-eight states, 42 U.S. senators and veterans groups sided with the father, asking the court to shield funerals from the protestors’ “psychological terrorism.”
Why, you may ask, did a conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court side with a bunch of lunatics who show up at military funerals and shout incendiary views that U.S. deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq are God’s punishment for this nation’s tolerance of homosexuality?
It reminds me of the post-Katrina statements that God punished New Orleans with the storm and floods because of The Big Easy’s easy morals.
Frankly, those views may be deeply held by some of our countrymen.
But a wonderful thing about America is that you’re entitled to them.
Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court, except for Justice Samuel Alito, said that the Kansas church picketers are entitled to “special protection” under the First Amendment – the amendment that protects freedom of speech. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court that this protection “cannot be overcome by a jury finding that the picketing was outrageous.”
Outrageous, it is.
Those picketers’ right, it is, despite its repugnance to others. Despite its completely inappropriate nature. Despite its irrational origins.
Voltaire’s words come to mind that he may vehemently disagree with you but defend to the death your right to say it.
Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized in the strictest terms that we cannot draw a line and say “this speech” is to be restricted, while “this other speech” is not. Once you draw the line, it’s a line. An abridgment. A limit.
Today, it might be “them.” Tomorrow, it could be you.

Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or patsy.brumfield@journalinc.com.