Opinion: To Speak Or Not to Speak

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By Rachel Cyprus – Cougar News Contributor

I believe in our Constitution as the foundation of our way of life in the United States. We amend it only when we feel far-reaching benefits are needed. Recently, the Supreme Court addressed the court case of Snyder v. Phelps, and in an 8-1 decision upheld Phelps First Amendment right to free speech.

I read the majority opinion where Chief Justice Roberts stated that speech should not be “restricted simply because it is upsetting or arouses contempt” and that, “debate of public issues should be robust, uninhibited, and widespread.”

I do not think “debate” defines what happened at the funeral of the fallen gay Marine.

I believe that it is right to limit public displays in certain situations. In this case, it was not debate but picketing, which even the majority of the court acknowledged that, “Westboro’s choice added to Mr. Snyder’s already incalculable grief.” We are talking about the final resting of a Marine who paid the ultimate sacrifice for his country and picket signs that contained wording Justice Alito stated in his dissent were like fighting words, which are not protected under the First Amendment.

I agree with his statements that “In order to have a society in which public issues can be openly and vigorously debated, it is not necessary to allow the brutalization of innocent victims” and “our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for vicious verbal assault.” Our emotional safety, as well as our physical safety, should be as strongly championed on our soil as it is by our armed forces overseas.

I strongly feel that limiting the ability of protestors to express their opinions, even if they are 1,000 feet from the funeral site and on public ground, is not unreasonable. We limit people to yell “fire” in a theatre or scream “nigger,” even if it is not directed at a particular person but only their statement of an unpopular view. Why then is it OK for this group to harass a grief stricken family who lost a son in the service of his country by picketing near his funeral with signs negative to a gay lifestyle?

We need to protect free speech. The Marine died for this right, but we need to also show the work we value our military personnel and their right to a final, dignified rest.

Would protecting funerals from protestors really infringe on our First Amendment rights? I don’t think so.