Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Fallen Soldier and the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court announced three cases it will be hearing in the fall. One is the ability for parents to sue manufacturers of vaccines. Currently it is illegal to sue for any damages that may be caused by the shots, the logic being few pharmaceuticals will be willing to create the vaccines if they are spending gobs of money defending against lawsuits. The law is in place for the “common good”. Another case is based on the extensive background checks performed by NASA in order to obtain employment. The third is privacy vs. free speech issue.

The Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas is a fundamentalist Baptist church. As fundamentalists they take a very dim view of homosexuality. They showed up at the funeral of Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder of Westminster, MD. He was killed in March of 2006. These church members have gone to military funerals all over the country wearing shirts that say and carrying signs with slogans such as God hates America, Thank God for IED’s, Thank God for dead soldiers, and Priests rape boys.

Their belief is that soldiers dying in Afghanistan and Iraq are a punishment from God due to America’s acceptance of homosexuality; a vile and hateful point of view. The fallen marine’s family was understandably disturbed and filed a lawsuit on the grounds of privacy violations. The jury awarded the family $11 million for severe emotional distress; the sitting judge lowered the award to $5 million. The church appealed the judgment and the fourth district court threw out the verdict and the award on the grounds of free speech. In the written decision the court said in part “imaginative and hyperbolic rhetoric” is protected by the first amendment.

At stake in this case are fundamental constitutional rights: freedom of speech, the right to assembly, and a basic right to privacy. The soldier’s family expected to be able to mourn in private. Soldier’s families rightfully feel violated and appalled at the behavior of Phelps and his parishioners. These people give good Christians a bad name when they spew this irrational hatred. Especially when you consider children as young as 10 are being brought to these protests. It is beyond despicable.

Our soldiers are heroes. They willing put their lives on the line to defend our constitutional rights. They do this for little money and not much glory. Soldiers deserve our eternal gratitude.

When the Iraq war was not going well, there were protests all over the country. Many took place in my own backyard of Washington, DC. I spoke with a guy who at the time was a Marine. He was recently back from Iraq. He was involved in the initial stages of the invasion; his job was to protect the oil fields. At this time the accusations of war crimes were being hurled by the likes of John Murtha. His response to me was that although he was personally hurt and offended by the comments he would rather live in a country that people were allowed to speak freely than in one where you could not. That was the reason he joined the military in the first place. At the time, I was a little stunned and didn’t fully appreciate his point of view, but eventually I realized he was right. All speech must be protected from censorship; even when it comes from people who are as vile of the members of Westboro.

I would think that we can set up a protest free zone for the families of the fallen so they can say their good-byes in a respectful fashion without violating the rights of free speech that their loved ones died to protect.

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