Friday, March 8, while most students were packing up their cars and heading off to sunny lands for spring break, I attended the visitation of Navy Diver 2nd Class Ryan Harris in Kansas City, Mo.
Harris graduated two years ahead of me in high school, was in Boy Scouts with both of my older brothers and recently died in a training accident in the Aberdeen Proving Ground in western Maryland.
Although I was never close with him, our families had known each other for a long time, and, like any normal, heartfelt human being, I felt I should pay my respects to someone I had once known and had died serving our country.
Unfortunately, members of the Westboro Baptist Church are not by any means normal or heartfelt human beings, and planned to protest the funeral of Harris on Saturday, March 9, stating in a March 8 news release that “PO2 Harris gave his life for the Constitutional right of WBC to warn America. To deny us our First Amendment rights is to declare to the world that PO2 Harris died in vain, and that America is a nation of sodomite hypocrites,” and that “Military funerals have become pagan orgies of idolatrous blasphemy, where they pray to the dunghill gods of Sodom and play taps to a fallen fool.”
I know a lot of people have written off the Westboro Baptist Church as a bunch of crazies, and try to ignore them, as giving them attention is what they want and only emphasizes their hate. While I have always been quietly infuriated by what they do and what they believe, that anger rises to a whole new level when their hate is being directed at someone you knew.
I like to consider myself very open-minded — I am well aware that everyone has his or her own personal and religious beliefs and I believe that every single person in the world should be able to do so.
I’m all for the basic freedoms we all enjoy like being able to believe whatever we want to believe, and having the right to say whatever we want to say as guaranteed by the First Amendment laid forth in the Bill of Rights.
And I fully understand the irony of me calling out someone else’s First Amendment rights in a newspaper column.
But at what point does the freedom of speech go too far?
I believe it goes too far when people who run a website called “God Hates (gay expletive)” and write “Open Letters to Elect Jews” stating that “All the nations are going to fight against Israel and persecute the Jews like never before in their history, until the indignation of the Lord is fulfilled.”
It goes too far when people stand outside military funerals from a “respectful, lawful proximity,” as stated in their press release, holding signs that say “Soldiers die 4 (gay expletive) marriage.”
I don’t think any distance is a respectful proximity to preach hate, no matter what your beliefs.
It isn’t about just the protesting of military funerals, regardless of the regulations put forth in doing so; it’s about what kind of hate speech should be deemed legal and what personal, religious beliefs should be able to be imposed on other people.
The Westboro Baptist Church can believe whatever they want to believe, just as I fully enjoy the right to be able to think that they are some of the most crazy and hateful people in the world; but there should come a time when the First Amendment shouldn’t protect the hate in their hearts, and we should no longer have to tolerate intolerance.
And that time should be now.