Daily Archives: March 24, 2006

Fred Phelps and Free Speech

A question from the e-mail:

Your opinion has always shown to be thoughtful and expressed very well, even for those few instances where I disagree with you. For that reason, and I know request week is over, that I feel obliged to seek your own particular view on something. Recently, a lot of attention has centered on Mr. Fred Phelps. Several states have begun legislation to ban his protesting at the funerals of soldiers. A recent article, which was submitted at fark.com discusses the legal implications of the legislation and the precedence for and against it.

I always have respected the right to free speech, despite whether I agree with the protester. However, being a soldier myself, I find the fact of Mr Phelps protesting funerals of soldiers and causing such grief on their families to be horrible. The personal freedom of Phelps vs the right of the families is a delicate one with the right to privacy and speech both threatened by a situation such as this one.

So, basically, what do you think? Is this man invading the families’ rights? Your opinion would be much appreciated.

First off, as a procedural note, you don’t have to wait until a request week to ask me about my thoughts on topics — shoot me off an e-mail any time. Every time someone suggests a topic, that’s an entry where I don’t have to wonder what I’m going to write about. And that makes me happy.

Now, on to Fred Phelps: Personally I think Fred Phelps is a rat-bag son of a bitch, and if someone decided that pummelling the bastard into a coma was worth a stint in jail, I wouldn’t shed a single tear for Phelps, and would possibly bake the assailant some cookies. Having said that, I’ve also said that I believe the best test of free speech is one’s willingness to let the most odious person you know shout vile crap at the top of his lungs. Phelps is easily one of the most vile people around, and Lord knows he shouts a lot of crap.

My own feeling on the matter is similar to Eugene Volokh’s in the article linked to above (which is on the National Review site, not on the Fark.com site, although I’m sure it was indeed linked to there). I think it’s reasonable for states and/or communities to legislate some distance between the funeral and the protestors, but I think you have to let them protest. Volokh worries particularly about expanding the home-based ban on protesting (carved out in Frisby v. Schultz) to apply to funerals because of the slippery slope problems it entails, and I would have to agree with that — it’s one thing for a presumption of peace in one’s home, but it’s another at a funeral in what is essentially an open and public space, and being laid to rest isn’t the same as being at home. I see the slippery slope here as being pretty slippery.

From a legal point of view, as much as Phelps disgusts me, and regardless of how much I look forward to him and his odious clutch of followers feculently rotting in Satan’s rectum for all eternity some time in the geologically near future, I don’t see how you can deny him his right to protest. However, there is nothing to say that Phelp’s protests can’t and shouldn’t be counteracted, and indeed this has been something that’s been done. For example, a group of motorcycle riders known as the Patriot Guard Riders attends the services of fallen service members (at the invitation of the families), and shield the families thought the clever use of flags, songs and motorcyles. Makes me want to go out and buy a motorcycle, it does.

Is Fred Phelps invading the privacy of these grieving families? Of course he is; that’s his intent. And Phelps, while being a tightly-puckered sphincter of pure hate, is also not exactly stupid; he knows what he can get away with. No matter what restrictions are placed on funeral protests, Phelps and the babbling pack of fecal smears whom he claims as followers will sit right at the legal edge and do their thing. Short of their bus careening wildly off the Interstate on their way back to Topeka, crushing the lot of them into a howling mass of insensate tissue, their souls pulled screaming toward Hell, there’s little that will stop them.

What is heartening is that people like the Patriot Riders and others will show up on their own dime and stand to remind the families of the fallen that the vast majority of Americans, whatever their political beliefs or feelings about the current conflict, honor the service these men and women have given to their country and the sacrifices that they made — and that the vast majority of Americans stand with the families of these fallen, and grieve for what has been lost. That’s why Fred Phelps loses every time he shows up. There are more good people than people like him, and they’re happy to show up to make that point. And that’s a fine use of free speech, I think.

News, Various Thoughts Thereof

Some thoughts running through my head about various things I’ve seen in the news and on blogs:

* The totality of my thought about the Afghani who is likely to be killed for converting to Christianity, is, gee, it sure is nice we spent so much in time, money, and human life ousting those intolerant Taliban! This is admittedly not a sufficiently complex line of thought on the matter, but I’m willing to live with that at the moment. I’m pretty consistently for religious freedom and against religious intolerance, no matter where it is, and I’m not impressed by a bunch of jackassed imams hooting that Allah gets His feelings hurt every time someone converts from Islam, and therefore someone has to die. I’m even less impressed with a government that has that as a baked-in practice. And even less impressed yet that this is a government we helped establish, and then ourselves hooted about democracy flourishing, and so on, and so on.

* As an aside this reminds me again of a little rule of thumb I use to decide just how seriously I need to take a religious or political leader, which is know at what point he decides women have had enough of that whole “rights” thing. If the answer is “at some point less than the rights of men,” then I don’t entirely feel the fellow has the moral standing to lecture me about a single goddamned thing. The fellows above, hooting for the death of this convert, strike me as the sort who would get concerned about the evils of women wearing slacks, so you can imagine what I feel is their level of moral authority. Of course, let’s not get too proud over here, shall we. We’ve got lots of folks who are happy for women to wear slacks, true enough, but don’t trust them to run their own bodies.

* Speaking of which, the hot new thing on the Internet is how the President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe on the Pine Ridge Reservation, Cecilia Fire Thunder, has said she’d open up a Planned Parenthood clinic on the reservation to serve South Dakota’s women, and there’s not a thing the South Dakota government could do about it because the reservation is sovereign land. This is a lovely story; alas, not every state has a reservation in it. But I also suspect that if this came to pass (and, additionally, that the Supreme Court, in a fit of madness, reversed Roe v. Wade and allowed the South Dakota law to go into effect) that South Dakota would try to find a way to get around it; the state and the US have a very casual relationship with the sovereignity of the reservations within their borders, if memory recollects correctly. Although the sight of armed South Dakota law enforcement invading the Pine Ridge Reservation to take over a Planned Parenthood clinic would certainly be a hint to people that women were once again second class citizens, both in the US and in the territories in which it could exert its influence.

* Somewhat related, the jackassed “Roe v. Wade for men” thing, in which some schmuck named Matt Dubay wants not to have to pay child support because he didn’t want to have a kid, and his girlfriend said she didn’t want to have a kid, but then she became pregnant and decided that she did. Aside from assuring that he will never again have heterosexual sex with any woman who is not clinically bugfuck insane, Dubay is a perfect example of how people seem to have forgotten that sex isn’t fun with the incidental side effect of producing kids, it’s fun because the primary purpose is to produce kids.

Guys, here’s the deal: If you have a sex with a fertile woman, you may just fertilize her. It’s implicit in having sex, even if you’ve done everything short of not having sex to avoid it. If you want to have sex without the risk of fertilization, get a vasectomy, boink post-menopausal women, or have sex with men. Those are your options. Lord knows I’m not a prude, but I’m also not stupid, and as a practical matter my personal rule of thumb regarding heterosexual sex (which is, I must admit, my preferred sort) has always been not to have it with someone I wouldn’t want to have a kid with. This has kept me from having sex I could have had, I admit. On the other hand, I’ve never regretted being with anyone I’ve been with, either, so there’s that benefit — and also there are no little Scalzis running around that I don’t know about, which is even better.

The argument here, as I understand it, is that if a woman has the choice to end a pregnancy, a man should have the choice not to pay support for a child he didn’t want. The problem is that these are not equivalent issues. A woman can end her pregnancy because it involves her person, and every person should have the right to say what happens to his or her body, up to and including hosting another human inside it. Paying child support has not a single thing to do with that; it has to do with some twit not wanting to deal with the consequences of his actions. Certainly the woman has to deal with the consequences of her actions: she must either have the child, and then support it or put it up for adoption, or she must end her pregnancy. For some dick to walk away from all responsibility on the weak excuse of “hey, I didn’t want that,” is monstrous. God knows men already do that; the last thing we need to do is give them legal cover.

The good news is the chance of this lawsuit not getting stuffed is almost non-existent. Personally I think the judge should up Dubay’s monthly child support payment as punishment for attempting to be such a weasel in the first place; that and to be made to wear a T-shirt that says “I filed suit to be a deadbeat dad” at least once a week for a year. Yes, I’m into creative sentencing.

* I’m not a huge fan of Dick Cheney, but I admit to being confused as to why his hotel room requests are such a big deal. For being the second most powerful man in the world (de jure), his requests are charmingly modest: Some fresh-brewed decaf, some soda, water, newspapers and lots of light. Fair enough. There seem to be some chuckles at the idea that he wants all the TVs in his suite tuned to Fox News, but aside from it being utterly unsurprising that a member of this administration watches that particular “news channel,” if this is the most extreme of his demands, as celebrities and VIPs go, Dick Cheney is the proverbial cakewalk. Cut the man some slack, already. Lord knows there’s enough legitimate reason to snark on him.