An appellate court recently overturned the $5 million dollar verdict against my family for picketing at a soldier's funeral in Maryland. In spite of the civil jury's decision that certain torts had been violated by my family, the appellate court decided that the prevailing issue was protecting my family's right to say what they want, where they want, and when they want.
I understand the American inclination to protect that particular Constitutional right. I understand it in the sense that I lived in America for 46 years. I heard the arguments and even participated and owned them. I also scoffed at those countries that had weakened their own free speech rules by qualifying some of that speech as hate speech and disallowing it.
Then I moved to Canada. This topic became one of the most volatile in my relationship with my fiance Angela. Without getting in to too many details, her response to my American ideal of free speech at any price was simply...with rights come responsibilities. I discovered fairly early that I have a tendency to cling tenaciously to an idea, often times without honestly considering other opinions. So I must remind myself to step back and seriously consider other view points before rejecting them.
When I read the stories of the Court's decision in favor of my father, I felt shame and guilt at abandoning my American ideals concerning the sacred nature of our freedom of speech. Before long I just felt shame...for America. I'll say it again, I understand free speech. I understand Ben Franklin's point that "He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither." But I also understand that not one of those men who gave their input about the contents of the Constitution ever imagined a place and time when a group of humans would decide it was okay to violate the sanctity of a funeral with belligerent, crass signs and words attacking the dead.
With their right to say what they want comes the responsibility of considering the rights of others. I have struggled long and hard over this issue and in the end I believe Americas rights would not suffer irrevocable harm by limiting the place and time for such destructive words so that the grieving can bury their loved ones in peace.
This topic may not perfectly fit this forum, but there is a connection and I know there are passionate feelings on both sides of this issue.