As we watch millions of people around the world struggle for democracy, like a butterfly emerging from a restrictive cocoon, it might be easy to look around at our own nation and relax with complacency. 'Cause we've got it all figured out here, right? Until something happens, like the announcement of yesterday's Supreme Court decision, ruling in favor of free speech rights for the Westboro Baptist Church protesters. Watching television coverage of their protests, carrying hateful and incendiary signs like "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," it would be easy, and much more satisfying, to shut them down. To silence them forever. To throw them in jail for their abhorrent beliefs that God hates America for our tolerance of gays and lesbians. To let the government decide that what they say is wrong, and that they shouldn't be allowed to say it anymore.
Except isn't that exactly what the people in North Africa and the Middle East are fighting ? A government that decides for its people what can and cannot be said? That's when democracy gets tricky. I spoke with a constitutional law professor from California Western Law School named Glenn Smith, and he agreed that the Westboro case is filled with irony. The men and women in our military fight for us, they fight to uphold the Constitution, and they may die in that effort. And when their families hold funerals to mourn their loss, the very Constitution the fallen heroes fought for the despicable Westboro Baptist Church to picket their funerals with signs that disparage them.
I chatted on the KPBS radio program These Days this morning about the case. You can take a listen by clicking here.