If you are of a certain age and cultural background you will immediately get the cultural reference of the title of this post. If you are not, then I will tell you that The Thin Blue Line is a 1988 documentary film about Randall Dale Adams, a man convicted and sentenced to die for a murder he did not commit. Adams’ case was reviewed and he was released from prison approximately a year after the film’s release (Wikipedia, The Thin Blue Line). The phrase “thin blue line” was used by the prosecutor to describe the police as the thin barrier between a governed society and anarchy. It has been adopted to mean any line of law that is the barrier between governing and anarchy (and note, I did not say government).
The Supreme Court ruled recently that the Westboro church may continue their protests at military funerals as to bar them would be a violation of their freedom of speech and assembly as is guaranteed by the first amendment. There was only one dissenting opinion. It stands, along with other court decisions, as an example of the complexity of perhaps the simplest statement ever made in US history:
“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.”
That is the actual text of the first Amendment. You can see where the problems begin because although it sounds very specific it actually uses a lot of ambiguous words like: freedom, speech, exercise and right.
Complicating the pot even further is an Amendment that is rarely talked about but which comes into play in many of these cases:
“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”
That is the ninth amendment. Both of those quotations are taken directly from the archived transcript of the original Bill of Rights document.
In other words, what the court is weighing is that in the pursuit of protection of one right, they must make sure that another has not been violated.
Every pundit and analyst the world over is in agreement with the Court’s decision and they also are in agreement that while yes, the Westboro church has a right to freedom of speech on public properties even in front of or timed to funerals of soldiers; that their speech and actions are deplorable, despicable, hurtful, hateful and shameful.
The thin blue line that is drawn in this instance involves the rhetoric of hate. It is a protected right to stand in public and shout at the top of your lungs that “God hates F*gs.” It is important to understand that it is not a protected right to accost an individual in public and shout “God hates you, you F*g.” Just take a look at what is happening to that doofus from Dior.
One is an expression of an opinion and belief, like it or not. The other is a personal attack and that, is against the law in most places but not all.
We have the right to assemble in public areas to express our opinions, which is called freedom of assembly. We have the right to voice those opinions in juxtaposition to events (private and public) as long as we follow the letter of the law regarding the governing of assembly on public property. This is part of our freedom.
While I wish with all my heart they had been prohibited from this, I recognize that it is part of our freedoms, freedoms that I enjoy as well in the expression of my own opinion. It pains me to see many people who profess a love of freedom and liberty now standing and denouncing those freedoms because they are protecting something that is not liked by them or agreed with by them. Funnily enough they don’t seem to get that their very right to do so is strengthen by the decision to allow Westboro to continue their protests.
Hate gains strength when it is protected by anonymity and sheltered by seclusion. Many of us may not want to see and hear this hate spewed on our streets but in protecting the freedom to do so we also allow the hate to be seen, heard, and discussed. More people, because of all this, have had to come to their own decision and opinion about the issue and about the rhetoric of homophobia then any learned discussion about equal rights. The majority of the people have decided that Westboro and its message are hateful, hurtful and wrong.
The politics of Political Correctness has turned into a hate factory of its own, oppressing dissenting views, eschewing the reality of our sometimes ugly society in favor of a forced rosy view that does little to actually work to uproot hate and to allow people to grow into more balanced and mature views of the world. You cannot legislate mentality or beliefs, only actions.
The question left for the courts now is what constitutes a military funeral? Is a soldier considered the property of the Armed Forces even after they have died? Does the moment the body come back to the family excuse them from duty and make of the funeral a private thing? Even if it does, Westboro would still have the right to protest – as long as the permits are in place and they stay off the lawn.
Freedom is not a guarantee of peace and security. Freedom is the ability to create and choose change.
c.2011 Cassandra Tribe. All Rights Reserved.