Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Pondering free speech...

The Westboro Baptist Church may have the right to say whatever they want but do they have the right to say it wherever they want?  Was the First Amendment intended to cover speech outside that which is against the government or those in a capacity as elected officials? 

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

When the Founders were writing the Constitution, they understood that one of the most important things tasks to tend to first was making sure Americans had the right to express dissent, no matter how unpopular the dissent, and particularly in regards to government, since after all it was government they were concerned would try and put and end to that dissent. And of course it was first because without free speech the rest of the Constitution really wouldn't matter much now would it? Besides, the foundation of a free society lies in the ability of the people to speak out against their government. The government. Don't view the creation of the First Amendment from a 2010 perspective, view it from a 1791perspective. That said, the First Amendment was created in a time when the government attempted to limit the free speech and expression of the people and of course the press. 

Now fast forward to 2010 and the Westboro Baptist Church. First, should the Westboro Baptist Church protests at funerals be protected by the First Amendment?  Second, should local and state governments have the right to enact laws which prevent disruptive speech from taking place at or within a certain distance from specific venues?  Bear in mind the second question doesn't ask if they can silence speech,  but rather disruptive speech only at certain locations.

Think back to the events taking place in America when the Constitution was drafted and the reasons the Founding Fathers had to even include a Bill of Rights in the first place. Compare the differences between the need to protect speech in 1791 and in 2010. Free speech then meant the ability of people to criticize the government, which was directly threatened. Free speech now extends to areas none of us ever though would be considered speech and by that I include speech other than that which is direct at government officials.

Given the fact America has evolved and changed so dramatically since the time of the Founding Fathers, can we even take into consideration their intentions when attempting to interpret the law now?

It just makes you wonder, that's all.

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