In the words of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, speech is powerful. Speech is also, however, protected by the First Amendment. In keeping with the First Amendment rights granted to Americans, the Supreme Court has ruled 8-1 in favor of Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan.
Members of the church travel the country protesting political issues, most famously their message of “God hates fags.” While most people find their message reprehensible, members Westboro Baptist Church have rights. This includes the right to free speech.
In the lawsuit filed by Albert Snyder, the father of a fallen Marine enraged by the church’s protest at his son’s funeral, the court ruled that all free speech is protected “even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.”
“Speech is powerful,” Roberts said. “It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and – as it did here – inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker.”
As journalists, we must agree with the court. While we do not agree with the church’s views or the way it chooses to express them, we respect the church’s right to speak its piece.
Freedom of the press and censorship have long been issues for journalists. As such, we understand the need to protect free speech for individual citizens.
This issue is even more relevant considering last week, March 13-19, was Sunshine Week, which has been celebrated every March since 2005 as a national event to promote discussion about the importance of open government and freedom of information.
Freedom of information, as well as freedom of speech, is important to ensure that the voice of the people be heard and to avoid the people from being overpowered by those not in agreement with their views or actions.
All speech is important, although not all of it is pleasant. As a society, we need to understand that if we want people to listen to us, we must also be willing to listen to them. By refusing to allow or acknowledge views that differ from ours or make us uncomfortable, there is a whole range of perspectives and points of view that we lose access to.
Without taking into account other perspectives, we are as ignorant as the next group who chooses to censor a dissenting opinion.