Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Little Free Speech Fun

Fred Phelps faces no consequences for (metaphorically) pissing on the funeral services of soldiers killed in abroad. Those soldiers’ families and friends have to deal with his chanting and his posters because they don’t have a choice--although I’m certain that the urge to pop him a good one right in the nose has to be overwhelming.

“Thank God for Dead Soldiers”
“Fags Die God Laughs”

I wonder whether protesting funerals is actually protected speech (although the Rocky would disagree with me on the subject)? Protected speech is a way of preserving the rights of the people to protest actions of the government and public figures, not a way of ensuring that a person can say whatever they want, whenever they want, in whatever forum they want. Phelps wouldn’t be welcome (or protected) if he stepped into my home and began protesting: God Hates Daves. Phelps wouldn’t be protected if he were to storm into a church during a wedding--an occasion more similar to a funeral than might first seem evident--and protested the union.

So Phelps doesn’t have the right to say whatever he wants, whenever he wants, in whatever forum he wants. The only question is where that line should be drawn, and I have no problem with the idea that it should be drawn far enough away that the grieving parents and spouses and children shouldn’t have to hear Phelps’ vitriol.

I’m prepared to admit that I’m just justifying my own bias, but it would still take an explanation of where that line between free speech and harassment should be drawn. Especially when a political activist can be sentenced to 45 days in jail for wearing shirts that were meant as a political protest during a court appearance.

Outspoken activist Shareef Aleem has found himself in the Adams County jail, but his sentence is more about what he wears than what he says.
Aleem wore a T-shirt to a March 1 court appearance that had a picture of executed Crips street gang co-founder Stanley “Tookie” Williams, with the words “Should have been saved” and “Redemption.”

Adams County District Court Judge Katherine Delgado asked Aleem to change his shirt at his hearing for allegedly assaulting a police officer at a University of Colorado Regents meeting last year.

Aleem, who has criticized police and claimed unfair treatment of minorities, refused the judge’s request, saying it violated his First Amendment rights to free speech.

Delgado found Aleem in contempt of court, and on Wednesday sentenced him to 45 days in jail for wearing the shirt, which was replaced during the hearing with another that said “U.S History 101” and depicted lynchings.

Shareef Aleem says (and wears) things that I don’t agree with, but aren’t nearly as reprehensible as anything Fred Phelps has said. Both of them are engaging in some kind of political protest, though. I just find it interesting that violating the dignity and decorum of the court is punishable with a short stint in jail while violating the dignity and decorum of a funeral is a form of protected speech.

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