Archive for Thursday, March 10, 2011

Phelps ruling disappointing but right

March 10, 2011


It is not easy being America. Maybe that’s why America often finds it hard to do.

Being America requires more than simply existing between certain geographic lines. Rather, it requires vindicating a set of ideals that are downright dangerous.

This would include the notion that all men and women are created equal and have from birth the right to live, be free and pursue personal happiness. Also that they enjoy freedom of — and from — religion, freedom to assemble, freedom from random search and seizure. And, most dangerous of all, that they possess the absolute freedom to speak their minds.

What makes those promises dangerous is that they entrust people — not the smart people, not the good people, not the right people, but the people — with power. Enough to challenge authority, make trouble, thwart police — even enough to restrain government itself.

So yes, sometimes America finds it hard to be America. History is dotted with the big failures: the Alien and Sedition Acts, slavery, the Trail of Tears, Plessy v. Ferguson, the Japanese internment, the Red Scare, COINTELPRO.

Arguably more insidious are the smaller failures, the everyday acts of moral cowardice that come and go in the rush of daily events: terror mosque panics and Hispanic bashing, driving-while-black traffic stops and the banning of books from public libraries.

The reason it’s not easy being America is that there is always a temptation to avoid the demands of dangerous ideals, a temptation to find a more expedient way. That is what adds the taste of bittersweet to last week’s emphatic Supreme Court ruling in favor of Westboro Baptist Church.

Westboro, of course, is no more a church than the Playboy Mansion is. It is, rather, a boil on the buttock of reason, a tiny, Topeka, Kansas-based congregation of diseased minds whose entire raison d’etre is to spread the following bizarre thesis: America has grown too tolerant of gays; therefore, God has turned against America. He gets His point across by killing American soldiers.

Westboro members spread this hateful perversion of the gospel by showing up at military funerals bearing signs that depict images of anal sex and slogans like: “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” After this carnival of repugnance desecrated the 2006 funeral of a 20-year-old Marine, Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, his father, Albert, sued and won a $10.9 million verdict.

Westboro appealed. By a vote of 8 to 1, the Supremes vindicated the “church.” While noting that the protesters’ activities added to the “incalculable grief” of the Snyder family, Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, said we may not respond by punishing them.

“As a nation,” he wrote, “we have chosen a different course — to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.”

And I don’t mind telling you: I had hoped the justices could find some loophole, some technical, legalistic way of restricting Westboro’s grotesque assaults while leaving intact the constitutional guarantee of free speech. Part of me still wishes they had. But another part of me knows we do that all too often, seek, for reasons both admirable and repulsive, to compromise our own freedoms, weasel out of defending those dangerous rights.

Small wonder. Sometimes, those rights protect wrongs. But the thing is, rights too freely abridged are not rights at all, but privileges. And privileges can be taken away.

Last week’s ruling, then, repulsive as it was, disappointing as it was, was also correct, also a needed reminder that freedom is a messy thing. It is a reminder that strips innocence away like tree bark. Yes, it’s painful when America fails its own ideals. But sometimes, it’s painful when America does not.

— Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CST each Wednesday on


Liberty_One 6 years ago

"Being America requires more than simply existing between certain geographic lines. Rather, it requires vindicating a set of ideals that are downright dangerous.

Most dangerous of all, that they possess the freedom to own firearms.

What makes those promises dangerous is that they entrust people — not the smart people, not the good people, not the right people, but the people — with power. Enough to challenge authority, make trouble, thwart police — even enough to restrain government itself."

I'm guessing Pitts wouldn't like this change. Liberals are often all in support of the "dangerous" freedom to criticize the government, but this freedom is waaaaay too dangerous, you know, the freedom to actually resist the government?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

Why, yes, a gun is completely equivalent to a "God Hates Fags" sign.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

I don't, of course-- I was merely paraphrasing you.

But you knew that.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

If I missed your meaning, it's because it was so obtuse, or maybe just not there at all.

But I think I pretty well got it the first time around.

Liberty275 6 years ago

Is a death threat equivalent to a sign opining which people god hates? Yes, I understand one doesn't have a stick in it.

"Among the threats the Justice Department is investigationg is one that was emailed to Republican Senators Wednesday night. Newsradio 620 WTMJ has obtained that email.

The following is the unedited email:

Please put your things in order because you will be killed and your familes will also be killed due to your actions in the last 8 weeks. Please explain to them that this is because if we get rid of you and your families then it will save the rights of 300,000 people and also be able to close the deficit that you have created. I hope you have a good time in hell. Read below for more information on possible scenarios in which you will die..."

The email is longer, go read it.

Of course, I'll need to chime in a little more. Unless it is discovered that the writer had the ability to carry out his little murder spree, and it can be proven this wasn't merely an empty threat, I view it as free speech, just as protected as that of the phelps clan. Imagine that, bozo, I will even "liberally" defend the free speech rights of your ilk, the union thugs in Wisconsin.

Getaroom 6 years ago

Oh so mesningful - Not! but you just had to say something because Pitts wrote it.

Getaroom 6 years ago

Another incomprehensible bit of babble from Texas. I guess it's tough to sleep with all those wild Texas LIBERALS wielding their slings and arrows against our perfect government - eh?! What not enough newspaper blogs in TEXAS for you to sit on?

JustNoticed 6 years ago

I get now. You're just a crackpot.

Liberty275 6 years ago

L1, would you please have a seat next to Nicolas Tesla in the crackpot corner? You are on time-out for inflicting emotional harm on the lesser intellectuals that drift by.

JustNoticed 6 years ago

There is nothing hateful about simply noting that you are full of crap.

who_said_it 6 years ago

I pissed on the surrounding walls of the Phelp's estate last felt good for a lot of reasons

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

Kind of redundant though, given what a pisshole it already is.

Liberty275 6 years ago

Wow. You relieved yourself on a wall. That is so cool. Did you write your name with urine and take a picture of it to memorialize your achievement?

Maddy Griffin 6 years ago

Thank you Leonard for another wonderful piece. I was born and raised in Topeka, Kansas and it makes me sick that THIS is what comes to most people's minds when I say that.Kansas is the "Land of Oz", but Topeka is the home of WBC.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

For trolling to be truly effective, it needs at least a shred of reality.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

"You missed the riots in Madison last night?"

No, the actions of the Republican Senators was pretty repugnant.

"During my short stint on this site,"

You mean under your current troll guise?

Liberty275 6 years ago

""We're prepared to do whatever it takes to kill the bill or shut it down," said Daniel Ginsberg of Milwaukee, an organizer with Students for a Democratic Society."

"Students for a Democratic Society"... where have I heard that before? It makes me think of Chicago and the weather underground... and bombs. Look it up bozo bright boy, you are a cheap copy so you should at least become familiar with what you wish you had the guts to be.

mom_of_three 6 years ago

and conservatives never say anything stupid....coughcoughcough - right.

jonas_opines 6 years ago

There might be a point here. They say stupid things openly at this point, on the air and to the people, and are cheered for it by their base. They don't hide it from the cameras at all.

Kirk Larson 6 years ago

And the NPR rep kept telling the "Muslim educators" that the couldn't accept the money.

Corey Williams 6 years ago

Oh yes. A secretly taped video from the mind that brought you the doctored acorn tapes. And the phone sabotage in Louisiana, wasn't it? And then a houseboat with sex toys to entrap a female journalist? Yeah, I'd believe anything that came from him.

Liberty275 6 years ago

When people don't do what you tell them to, do you kick dogs?

Liberty275 6 years ago

Leonard, thank you for fighting through and defeating the cognitive dissonance. If only all liberals had your fortitude, they wouldn't be such blatant hypocrites.

Corey Williams 6 years ago

Yes, like the republicans in the great Kansas legislature now? No more nanny state? Oh, but only as long as it suits them, huh?

Sigmund 6 years ago

Sure hope Pitt's feels the same way when some Aryan skinheads starts protesting black churches with "God Hates N-word" signs, but I doubt it.

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