Thursday, March 3, 2011

"Hello Darkness --

-- my old friend."  Those lyrics by Simon and Garfunkel seem particularly appropriate today.  I have been struggling, once again, with my periodic bouts of depression.  Not because of anything new in my personal life, I don't think -- my health, although terrible, remains largely unchanged; the other frustrations in my life are neither better nor worse, so there's no real reason for the oppressive feelings that are overwhelming me lately.

I think it must be coming from the world at large.

I'm finding it hard not to be cynical about the goings-on in the Middle East.  I'm finding it hard not to be cynical about rising gas and food prices, which seem to me to be largely due to price-gouging and profit-taking.  I have never understood why gasoline that has been bought and paid for by the retailer must be IMMEDIATELY marked up to reflect that instant's increase in oil prices.  It seems grossly unfair, and as a former fat kid who was tormented ceaselessly in the schoolyard, I know unfair.  And I find it hugely depressing.

I think, though, that what put me over the edge this time was yesterday's ruling in favor of Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church by the United States Supreme Court.  I do understand the legal arguments, although I am less sure of why the Court ignored completely two of the three legs of the prosecuting arguments and focused only on the Free Speech aspects of the case.  I feel that Westboro's ugly protests at military funerals, claiming that our men in uniform are dying as God's punishment of the United States for its toleration of the existence of homosexuals, come under the heading of screaming "Fire!" in the proverbial crowded theater.  Yes, freedom of expression is important, but not at the expense of the rights of others.  Hate speech should not be covered by the Constitution.  And "slippery slopes" be damned.  We all know what ugly language is and we don't need fourteen pages of legal definitions to identify it.

The court should not have dismissed out of hand the subsequent cyber-harassment of the family of the slain serviceman, either.

I despair at times just because I'm a human being.  This is one of those times.  I guess I need to adjust my medication.  Again.


  1. Dear Tom,

    As much as I loathe and despise Westboro and its ilk, I do not want the government in the business of making it illegal for any of us to say loathsome and despicable things.

    “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” Texas v. Johnson, 491 U. S. 397, 414 (1989). Indeed, “the point of all speech protection . . . is to shield just those choices of content that in someone’s eyes are misguided, or even hurtful.” Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston, Inc., 515 U. S. 557, 574 (1995)."

    Falsely shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater is speech that is designed to imminently cause a panic or a riot. That is just not the same as deliberately causing emotional pain by what you say in public on public matters.

    Also, the reason the Court didn't address the Internet claim is because it wasn't raised by Mr. Snyder's attorneys in the petition to the Supreme Court. That might have been a strategic decision decision by counsel for the Snyder, or an oversight. But our law makes it clear that if you don't raise an issue when you ask to be heard by the highest court of the land, you've waived your chance to argue about it.

    As sad as I am for the Snyder family, and as much as I hate what Westboro did, I just don't think that people should be able to sue other people for lawfully picketing in public unless the picketing causes an imminent danger to public safety, or defames someone.

    We may have to agree to disagree on this one, my friend.

  2. I believe there was defamation. Most of the people with whom I have discussed this case mistakenly believe the dead soldier to have been gay. Not that it matters, but he was straight. Westboro's disgusting claim is that their God is punishing the United States with dead soldiers because as a nation it tolerates the existence of homosexuality. I believe that this defamation qualifies as hate speech. I know the legal arguments, K, and the ACLU member in me agrees with you, but sometimes I just wish that we as a species could simply do what's right, not what's legal. Of course then most of Wall Street would be in prison trying not to bend over for the soap....