I feel like I need to clarify the title of this column immediately before Central Michigan Life disowns me for hate speech.
I personally am disgusted by the message the Westboro Baptist Church preaches. More than that, I am offended by the fact that a group like this exists in our society. They are an ugly, exaggerated reflection of the discrimination our society continues to impose on the LGBTQ community.
I don’t believe any individual deserves the eternal torture Westboro condemns everybody to — if I did, they would be on the top of my list.
I believe the majority of people in this country, at least in part, feel the same way. So much so, if the United States government enacted legislation making such hate speech illegal and threw the Westboro participants in jail as soon as they step on this campus on Monday, I believe most would stand and applaud.
And we would be utter fools.
America is a conversation, but not a polite dinner conversation. Our nation’s conversation is passionate, convoluted, confused, messy, explosive, eccentric, sometimes angry, increasingly odd, and most of the time, wildly off topic.
It’s a conversation open to everyone, of all opinions, of all religions, of all societal backgrounds. And, with very few exceptions, you too can jump in and say whatever you want. The First Amendment is what sets our country apart, and it is a major component of the liberty we value.
No group embodies that conversation for me more than the Westboro Baptist Church. The very fact that we as a nation honor and protect their right to express their opinion, an opinion that even the KKK has separated themselves from, means my right to speak will also be honored and respected.
Furthermore, if we value the first amendment as we should value it, we need to recognize that we need to boldly defend Westboro’s right to speak. If our government were to start limiting our First Amendment rights, it would not start with speech that we value — it would start with speech that we are offended by, that we as a nation don’t want to hear.
Once that precedent is made, the government will then have a process to increasingly limit our First Amendment rights, and we would no longer have the freedom we so fully enjoy today. The first line of defense for our right to speak freely is groups like Westboro.
Of all the rights I have been blessed with, free speech is the most important to me. I love the fact that I am able to openly disagree with my society and my government.
I love the fact that I can fearlessly publish an article with such an abrasive title. I love the fact that in this country I am open to fully express myself, and fully embrace myself. This is a reality we all partake in.
But I think we all need to recognize that for that reality to happen, the Westboro Baptist Church has to be allowed the same right.