Saturday, March 05, 2011

Free speech vs. Good Taste

This past week, the US Supreme Court made a decision that caused plenty of controversy. A church in Kansas known for picketing funerals of US soldiers and homosexuals (among others)--saying the souls of these people were bound for hell--had to defend itself months ago in an important First Amendment case.

Now, this church--made up of Pastor Fred Phelps and a few dozen members of his immediate family--doesn't have good taste. Really, picketing nearby a funeral protesting people you don't even know in what appears to be more attention getting for yourselves than trying to proclaim the gospel of Christ? Nowhere in the Bible are we are instructed to needlessly offend. After all, 1 Peter 3:15 says we're supposed to have an answer for everyone and to give it to them when we're asked, but verse 16 adds we're to do it with gentleness and respect. Ephesians 4 says to offer up truth in love. Amazing, some of the very people Phelps pickets are the ones who are defending his very freedom to say they are going to hell. I just don't see a compassionate attitude with Phelps and his followers.

Yet the Supreme Court made the correct decision, voting 8-1 to say that, despite a hateful message, citizens have a right to Free Speech. If the Court had made the opposite decision, then we have to wonder where the line should be drawn. Perhaps someone is offended when I hand them a Christian tract. Should they be able to have me arrested for hate speech? What if I publicly disagreed with an ordinance having to do with abortion or homosexuality and someone said that my opposition was hateful? In fact, let's suppose 95% of the public said I was wrong about whatever it was that I was saying. Does this mean I should be silenced since the majority disagreed? I don't think most Americans would really want it this way.

This country was founded by our Founding Fathers who intended to allow speech that would be considered controversial and might go against the flow. To stifle this freedom because some abuse it is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I might not like Rev. Phelps and his fanatics along with the message of hate that they spew. As a matter of fact, I think what they do is unbiblical and produces antagonism against the gospel. But I'll just have to do my best to ignore them if I ever run across their picketing activities. As an American, however, I must defend their right to say what they believe to be true, even if I think their ideas are ludicrous.

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