The Cost of Freedom
Vol: 102 Issue: 31 Wednesday, March 31, 2010
No parent should ever have to bury his child. It is unnatural. For most parents, children are the culmination of a lifetime of sacrifice and sweat and hopes and dreams.
Parents vicariously relive their lives through the children, carefully instructing them about life’s pitfalls, praying they won’t make the same mistakes their parents did.
The death of child therefore robs a person’s life of much of its meaning. The sacrifice of one’s child is a tragedy so incomprehensible that only a parent who has made such a sacrifice can understand its depth.
Albert Snyder’s son Matthew Snyder was just twenty years old when he was killed in Iraq in the service of his country.
The funeral of L/Cpl Matthew Snyder, USMC was one of the many picketed by the reprehensible Phelps family-run “Westboro Baptist Church.”
The Westboro Baptist Church is, in reality, a hate-group masquerading as a Christian ‘church’. Among its website addresses is ‘godhatesfags.com’ and ‘godhatesamerica.com’.
(I only listed the web addresses to support my assessment that they are a hate group – please don’t support them by clicking through.)
Under the 2nd Amendment, a person is a ‘minister’ when he declares himself one, and a church is a church when it starts calling itself a church. There is no doctrinal standard – and that is as it should be.
If the government could set a doctrinal standard it actually would violate the ‘separation doctrine’ – but as we know, (or should) freedom isn’t free. There is always a price. In this case, part of the price is the existence of such abominations as the Westboro Baptist Church.
Westboro’s ‘pastor’ is a former lawyer; disbarred in 1979 by the Kansas Supreme Court, ruling that Fred Phelps had ‘little regard for the ethics of his profession’. Phelps has, in the years since, proved beyond all doubt that has even less regard for the ethics of ministry.
The Westboro Baptist Church is almost entirely made up of Phelps family members, many of whom are also lawyers who, unlike daddy, managed to keep their law licenses. They support themselves by staging the most offensive protests imaginable and then suing for having their rights violated when their protests are shut down.
In 2007, Albert Snyder turned the tables on them, successfully suing the group after they disrupted his son’s funeral, carrying signs and shouting such things as “Thank God for IED’s” and “God hates your tears”.
The court decision found that the Westboro group had intentionally set out to inflict emotional damages (duh) and awarded Albert Snyder $5 million in damages.
The Westboro group successfully appealed and the Court of Appeals for the Fourth District overturned the verdict against them.
The appeals court essentially ruled that the Westboro group’s right to free speech had been violated by Albert Snyder — and ordered Snyder to pay the Westboro Group’s legal fees, totalling more than $16,000.00.
It is a difficult verdict to stomach, but it is in some weird but defining way, a victory for freedom of speech and a hard lesson on the real costs of freedom (Don’t bail on me just yet — hear me out first and then cancel your subscription.)
The Phelps family’s conduct is reprehensible beyond description and the insult inflicted by the court on Albert Snyder, compounded by the injury of making him a debtor to his tormentors in unconscionable.
Moreover, I have every confidence that had the Westboro Baptist Church been a genuine Christian church picket an abortion clinic instead of an obviously deranged family of haters picketing the funeral of a patriot, the appeal would likely have failed.
I would be hesitant to put down in writing my own opinion of the Westboro group or how I’d like to see the situation with them handled.
But I will risk saying that my fantasy remedy wouldn’t involve the government. And it probably would provide the (surviving) members with solid grounds for legal action.
And it would make me feel better.
One of the things about truth is that it is often distasteful. But the truth here is that if Fred Phelps and his unbalanced family haven’t the right to free speech under the Constitution — no matter how hateful –then neither does anybody else.
What is ‘hate speech?” It is a subjective term that has no force in law under the Constitution — the Constituion protects opinions, but it doesn’t express them.
In a Constitutional Republic, “hate speech” describes speech that some people hate, not speech that the government hates. Or even speech that the majority hates.
America is NOT a democracy – it is a representative republic. The majority doesn’t rule — the Constitution does.
In America’s representative Constitutional republic, individual rights take precedence over the rights of the majority.
The individual has the Constitutionally-guaranteed right to offend the majority without fear of government interference. Other individuals have the individual right to call them jerks.
The government isn’t permitted opinions.
Let me explain the distinction, using the recent Ann Coulter debacle in Ottawa as an illustration.
Canada is a parliamentary democracy. In a parliamentary democracy, the majority is supreme, not the Constitution.
When Quebec’s language laws were ruled unconstitutional by the courts, Quebec invoked what is called the “notwithstanding clause”.
Quebec said, in effect; “Constitution notwithstanding, the majority rules” – and so, therefore, does Quebec’s self-proclaimed exception to Canada’s Constitutionally-mandated bilingual requirements that still bind the other nine provinces.
In Canada, individual rights are extended by the government, not by the Creator. What the government grants, the government has the authority to restrict.
Coulter was warned by university officials that Canada’s ‘hate speech’ laws could subject her to criminal prosecution, effectively using the government to silence her — before she said a word. That the effort succeeded is evidenced by the fact the event was canceled before her speech.
The problem is that ‘hate’ is subjective – it depends on the perspective of the beholder. “Hate speech” is speech that offends. Freedom is objective — it MUST include the freedom TO offend — or all opinion is subject to legal sanction.
By definition, freedom is the absence of restrictions and ‘hate speech’ is a matter of subjective individual opinion, not subject to regulation by Constitutionally-objective and impartial law.
Imposing restrictions on speech subject to selective interpretation dependent on a particular perspective means speech is not free. The liberals in Ottawa didn’t like Ann Coulter’s perspective – that was all it took to silence her.
Limited freedom is like limited pregnancy — one can be a little bit free the way one can be a little bit pregnant.
Like being ‘a little bit pregnant’ being a ‘little bit free’ only lasts a little while. Once freedom has been compromised a little bit, what’s left is equally subject to compromise according to selective interpretation.
Everything about the Westboro group sickens me. But my freedom of speech depends on theirs. Freedom isn’t free. But that doesn’t mean Albert Snyder should bear the physical costs of our freedom alone.
He’s already paid far more than anyone had a right to ask.
Note: If you feel led of the Lord to help Al Snyder bear the financial sacrifice that freedom now demands of him, you can send a contribution to his lawyer, (who is representing him pro-bono) Contact Barley Snyder LLC Attn: Al Snyder Fund, PO Box 15012, York, PA 17405-7012 or visit Matthew Snyder’s website.