The verdict is finally in. Eight Supreme Court justices are raging hypocrites. Or perhaps they’re become senile or suddenly went mad.
How will the new ruling that allows anti-gay lunatics and bigots to picket even the funerals of soldiers who died defending their country affect Nashvillians? Obviously, it means that our right to privacy even at the most solemn of moments has been lost. Now, no Nashville funeral on public ground is safe from people who want to make political statements or just blow off steam at the most inappropriate of times imaginable.
According to Chief Justice John Roberts, speech may cause pain but, he ruled, “We cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker.” But this is not always true, since government employees have been fired (a severe punishment) for voicing racist jokes and slurs. Celebrities like Don Imus and Jimmy the Greek have also been fired for making racist remarks. Pedophiles and people who want to kill the president don’t have complete freedom of speech. Obviously, freedom of speech must have reasonable limitations.
Roberts went on to say that free speech is protected on public property. But courtrooms are public property. What would Roberts do if Fred Phelps (the Westboro Baptist Church leader overseeing the hatred) tried to exercise “freedom of speech” in his courtroom? Obviously, Roberts would tell Phelps to be quiet. If he persisted, Roberts would have him jailed for contempt of court. So would traffic court judges, if people started exercising “free speech” at whim.
So the question becomes: “Are traffic courts more sacred than the funerals of soldiers?” Of course not, and of course American judges routinely do exactly what eight Supreme Court justices just insisted cannot be done.
Classrooms are also public property, but we don’t allow students to exercise complete freedom of speech, or there would be chaos. Is the orderly conduct of a kindergarten class more important than the orderly conduct of a funeral? Obviously, both sorts of order are important: one for learning, one for grieving.
And what about the very citadels where American freedom of speech originates? Try exercising unlimited freedom of speech while Congress is in session. Chaos would reign and our government facilities would become towers of Babel if anyone could say anything at any time.
While freedom of speech is very important, so are order, decorum, propriety and privacy.
Is there a solution? Yes. Let people exercise their freedom of speech in church, outside city hall, on the Internet, in letters to the editor, etc. But not in highly inappropriate places such as courtrooms, classrooms and graveyards, where no one should ever speak out of turn.
Michael R. Burch is a Nashville-based editor and publisher of Holocaust poetry and other “things literary,” at www.thehypertexts.com.