Today’s United States Supreme Court 8-1 ruling that members of the Westboro Kansas Church have a constitutional right to their repugnant protests of military funerals is offensive to most people who have any sense of decency–but that does not mean that the Supreme Court is wrong. In fact, in its defense of the cult’s right to protest, the Court has reminded us of the most fundamental right of the American people: to speak their mind even if their mind is twisted, perverse and wicked.
Chief Justice John Roberts, citing previous Court rulings that protected protesters’ rights to burn the American flag or distribute offensive cartoons of political figures, said that the government cannot punish words or ideas “simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” That’s exactly right.
When religious or political extremists use their freedom wrongly many people would prefer that the government shut them up. Why should we allow them to attack innocent people with their hate speech? Because we’re Americans, that’s why. Contrast the Court ruling with the assassination yesterday in Pakistan of Shabazz Bhati, Pakistan’s outspoken Minister for Minorities. Bhati, a devout Christian, had long defended the constitutional right of Pakistan’s Christians and other minorities to worship in freedom.
Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban have claimed responsibility for his murder. And the Pakistani government, which increasingly finds the ideas and words of people like Bhati too dangerous to protect, is unlikely to do anything about it. And while President Obama, along with Pope Benedict, the Archbishop of Canterbury and other world leaders all condemned the killing, our Supreme Court has today issued the most prophetic response to Bhati’s murder.
The right to speak freely, the right to think wrongly, the right to believe the most absurd and disgusting things are just that: human rights. And they are not to be abridged. Not in America. May it always be so.