Fred “God Hates Just About Everybody” Phelps is an offensive man with deeply hateful beliefs. Rest assured that when he finally passes I’ll have a good riddance just for him. Recently, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a judgement against Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church. The original judgement awarded $5 million in punitive and compensatory damages, but this was thrown out. And I think that this was the correct decision. As much as I think that Phelps is a vile person, it is absolutely essential for a free society that he and his church be allowed to do what they are doing.
Why? Here are four reasons:
- Being offended is part of life. I am often offended by things I see, but I have no right not to be offended. And neither do you. Get over it.
- As Fred Clark at the Slacktivist shows, they have freedom of religion. The fact that they have freedom of religion shows that same-sex marriage is not going to infringe on anyone else’s freedom of religion. They therefore serve a useful purpose, allowing the debunking of the argument that marriage equality infringes on religious freedom.
- They may make opposition to same-sex marriage and LGBT rights so toxic that people switch sides. After all, who the hell would possibly want to emulate Fred Phelps?
- A society’s respect for freedom of expression is demonstrated by its protection for speech that people disagree with. People have to be allowed to express vile and hateful opinions, people have to be allowed to burn flags, the worst opinions by the worst sorts of people have to be protected. That is how a society measures it commitment to freedom of expression. Speech you agree with is always going to be protected. If you disagree with this claim, then don’t complain when your political opponents win an election and use all that censorship power you gave the government against you.
Via Dispatches from the Culture Wars.