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Chan Lowe: Anti-gay funeral protests


What the Westboro Baptist Church people are doing is so repugnant, so outside the bounds of human decency, that many of us hoped the Supreme Court would blow them out of the water.

Surely, we thought, their vicious hate speech and bizarre antics at military funerals⎯mocking the idea of military service to one’s nation and subjecting the families of the dead to further misery⎯constitute an abuse of the First Amendment.

Navigating their way through this fog of anger, however, eight justices of the Court realized that the beauty of the First Amendment lies in the fact that it can’t be abused. Other than crying “Fire!” in a crowded theater or inciting to riot, just about anything goes.

They made a compelling argument, too, as to why Westboro’s right to spew its ugliness is just as precious as Martin Luther King’s right to give his “Dream” speech on the National Mall: The church members are addressing an issue in the national discourse, and they are doing it in a place that enjoys a particularly sacred status in the Constitution…the public street.

It is at these very moments, when almost one hundred percent of us hate what we hear, that the reaffirmation of freedom of speech is so important. The ACLU realized this when it fought for the American Nazi Party’s right to march in Skokie, IL⎯and lost much of its financial support in the process. The content-blind principle must be applied to all situations at all times, or else human nature’s natural impulse to cherry-pick issues becomes irresistible.

Justice Alito ought to be respected for issuing his dissenting opinion, but he was allowing his heart to get in the way of his head. It’s an understandable slip, particularly in this extreme case. Burning the American flag as an act of protest is just as offensive to our sensibilities, and that is exactly why flag burning should not be made an exception to the First Amendment.

We can love the First Amendment or hate it, depending on the circumstances, but it’s ours. The inherent and inviolate broadness of the protection it provides is one of the many things that continue to make our country the envy of the world.

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This entry reminded of Michael Douglas' speech as President Andrew Shepherd in the mocvie "The American President".

"America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can't just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the land of the free."

If reasonable people had the time, they might spend it protesting everywhere the Westboro church members go, urging all businesses to refuse them service, calling them hateful loons, and saying they will go to Hell for the actions they are committing. Unfortunately, only loons have that kind of time to dedicate.

There are people in jail right now for selling porn because it's obscene. Don't give me this free speech non-sense. This country has decided that only certain speech is protected and apparently harassing a dead soldier's family out in public is more protected than selling porn for viewing in your own house. It seems to me that this ruling flies in the face of the ruling given during the Bong Hits for Jesus case.

Bravo Chan!!
Even though I disagree with the majority of your editorial, you nailed the nail with the hammer! It is so vital that we protect the Constituition and all it's values as the founding fathers envisioned. Although there are some viewpoints that we disagree with, we always know that we all have the right to speech without persecution of our government and it's protected BY the government.

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About the author
Chan LoweCHAN LOWE has been the Sun Sentinel’s first and only editorial cartoonist for the past twenty-six years. Before that, he worked as cartoonist and writer for the Oklahoma City Times and the Shawnee (OK) News-Star.

Chan went to school in New York City, Los Angeles, and the U.K., and graduated from Williams College in 1975 with a degree in Art History. He also spent a year at Stanford University as a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow.

His work has won numerous awards, including the Green Eyeshade Award and the National Press Foundation Berryman Award. He has also been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His cartoons have won multiple first-place awards in all of the Florida state journalism contests, and The Lowe-Down blog, which he began in 2008, has won writing awards from the Florida Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists.
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