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.

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I think that one of the problems in this country is that our legal system has become a system of behavioral micromanagement. We're taught by society not to care what is moral or immoral, but what is legal and illegal. More progressive nations's laws are essentially "common sense" laws, which are very broad in scope. While we do have our own set of "common sense" laws, most of our laws dictate the legality of actions down to the point of absurdity. Meaning that because there isn't a law making it very clear that what your family does is illegal they'll continue to do it. And your family certainly knows the guidelines of the law.
Well put.
Seems that free speech was easily forgotten when people tried voicing opinions contrary to the Bush administration. I was in such a protest group, and saw how dissenters were kept 500 feet away from every function Bush conducted, but those who supported him were allowed access as had formerly been the case with even dissenters.

I now see how such persons as the Phelps family/church ought to be kept a distance away so as to preserve the Peace. Disturbing the Peace is worthy of punishment.
Hi Nate, I thought about this post a couple hours last night and woke up with it on my mind, so I thought I better try to put something together. Stuff sticks in my head, I hate walking away without taking a jab at sputtering something out. Thanks in advance for your patience.

It might even seem like quibbling, but I think there might be an important difference between "With rights come responsibilities" and the way you put it later, citing the sole responsibility civilized people have being that of consideration of the rights of other free people.

Making "responsibility" plural to me makes me think "uh-oh, look out there's a whole list coming". Makes me uncomfortable. I think "responsibilities" could be abused.

Beyond that, and I know this is close to home, I'm sorry but it's important: I believe kids have rights, probably foremost among them the right not to be physically (or emotionally) attacked. They have that right p e r i o d, without having to assume a single responsibility in order to possess it.

In the case of kids I think that's true even if they seemingly violate the Golden Rule, which is all this really is about, but it's important to recognize. Rights do exist without regard to "responsibility". There's something dead wrong about "I'll respect your right to not get smacked around so long as you take the garbage out."

Actually that applies even to adults. Except in self-defense, nobody has a right to hit or attack. The only "responsibility" a battered woman has is to herself, that being to do her best to get herself the heck out of Dodge.

I don't mean to twist the problem into something it's not. It's just that I don't see the rights/responsibility thing as completely tit-for-tat on every level.

Anyway. Summerhill, A.S Neill"s famous free school in the UK, uses as maybe its fundamental axiom: "Freedom--not license." I think it might even be emblazoned into their fireplace mantel or something. Freedom not license is the first thing I thought of when I read your post.

Of the dozens of reasons I think anyone who doesn't already know about it would find Summerhill interesting and Neill's philosophy compelling, the one that applies most to this topic is that they--a place based pretty much literally on "Freedom not license"--recently had to battle the British government--in court--for their right to even exist. The kids did most of the work, too, which was very cool, and not necessarily at all beside the point.

There are videos floating around out there about it, both a documentary as well as a made for TV dramatization. The book "Summerhill School: A New View of Childhood" is a compilation intended to best reflect his thoughts as they stood toward the end of his career and experience, important because like any functioning human being, he changed.

Best of luck with your own book, I hope it knocks people's socks off.


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