Back when the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes had a feature called “point/counterpoint” featuring conservative pundit James J. Kilpatrick and liberal Shana Alexander, Kilpatrick opened a defense of the First Amendment rights of pornographer Larry Flynt by saying:
There’s an old saying that when you lie down with dogs you get up with fleas. Well I’m about to defend Larry Flynt and I’m itching all over.
Kilpatrick’s defense of Flynt’s Hustler magazine was simple: What the guy published may have been disgusting but his right to publish the garbage was, and should be, protected by the First Amendment.
Kilpatrick’s dilemma came to mind this past week when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of a group of gay-bashing right wingers to demonstrate at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and claim that their deaths were punishment from God because gays are allowed to serve in the military under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
Homophobic haters like those from Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, and its gay-bashing minister Fred Phelps may represent the worst of American society but the same constitution that gives this web site the right to criticize our leaders also protects the right of others to dispense hate.
While it’s sad that the First Amendment gives such hate groups the right to protest at the funerals of soldiers who died protecting such freedoms, it’s also a fact that an amendment that protects the right of us to speak out minds must also protect those who use that right to dispense hatred, bigotry and intolerance.
As a member of The Patriot Guard, a group of motorcyclists — mostly veterans — who attend the funerals of soldiers killed in action and serve as human shields to keep the protests out of the view of the families, I use that same First Amendment to act in favor of those who served our nation.
And while I despise those who use the deaths of those who served our country as a platform to spread hate and homophobia I must reluctantly support their right to do so because if we allow selective application of that amendment to only those whose positions we support we defeat the entire concept of freedom of speech in this nation.
So in order to protect those who serve the best interests of our nation we must also protect those who choose to dishonor it.
Freedom comes at a high price and cases like the gay-bashers at Westboro Baptist Church reminds us of just how high that cost can — and must — be.