Free Speech

Discussions about free speech come up regularly in our house. We all have strong opinions, follow politics and current events, which leads to wide-ranging topics.

The most recent was prompted by the plans of Westboro Baptist Church to protest at the funeral of the slain Chardon students. Trying to explain why these Christian people think that every bad thing that happens (from 9/11 to hurricanes) is “Gods way of smiting fag America” is difficult enough. Going on to explain why their right to protest military funerals and other events has to be protected takes even more patience.

In many ways it is preferable to talk to a teenager about free speech because they still have a grasp of the “fairness” we all start with that dilutes as we age and settle into our thinking grooves. The explanation that protecting free speech means everybody, and especially those people you disagree with, made more sense to our 13-year old than to most adults I have discussed it with.

Folks usually want to add a “Yea, but…” for whatever they think is exceptionally offensive. Like carrying signs that say “God Hates Fags” at a student’s funeral. It’s hard to support their right to say it without appearing to support their message. Part of the problem may be the You’re Either With Us or Against Us attitude which is reinforced by our simplistic, sound-bite news cycle. I blame Bush for taking us down this road in the post 9/11 war mongering.

The letters to the editor in our local paper (I can’t seem to stop myself from reading them), continue to be inflammatory, reactionary and just plain ignorant. One person referred to the shooter as “the genuine face of evil”. My daughter, outraged by this for a jumble of reasons, understood he had a right to his opinion just like she has a right to respond to his letter by writing one herself. I don’t know if she will write one but she cut his out and left it on her desk.

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