Measured Against Reality

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The WBC decision

By now I'm sure you've heard of the huge settlement the Westboro Baptist Church has been forced to pay (although it will be appealed, and we have no idea what will happen then). Most people seem to be very pleased with this, after all, this is a very disgusting group doing very disgusting things, frankly they had it coming.

But I don't know how I feel about it. My main worry is that they were actually within their first amendment rights. The article doesn't give any specifics on this, so I don't know if they did something that nullified their free speech protection. If they did, then they should be punished, and a huge fine seems appropriate.

Still, if this fine is for them being huge douchebags, I can't say I agree with it. It seems especially troubling as I am a member of a vocal and hated minority (atheists) who frequently upset people. A religious person could easily claim that many of the things I've written or said were emotionally damaging, and if that's the basis for this decision, it is wrong.

I feel quite strongly that we as a nation need to toughen up and learn how to react to offensive speech/actions with sanity. After all, offensiveness is completely subjective (I, for one, am offended by nothing, I think it's a stupid reaction under all circumstances). It seems like there's a new offender in the news every week, someone who said or did something that other people don't agree with and is suffering for it (James Watson comes to mind, but that's slightly different). If you think that someone said something hateful and should suffer for it, you should use your speech to condemn them, but keep the legal system out of it.

So if the WBC is only on trial for saying mean things, they should be acquitted, absolutely. I would hate to live in a country where people couldn't say mean things, because freedom of speech is an absolute necessity in a free and good society, while freedom from being offended is an impossible pipe dream, and a stupid one at that. Offensiveness is what happens at the boundaries of dialog, and we can't have dialog without it.

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