Whenever I see the Westboro Baptist Church in the news, I feel the need to take a long hot shower. These people show up at the sight of extreme pain for some family who has just lost a child, or a young woman, or a soldier. They stand on a corner somewhere within earshot of a private funeral and begin chanting the most vile, hateful filth, the intent of which is to provoke a reaction. They carry signs claiming that God is delighted with the death of yet another pervert. It makes me want to hop on a plane, fly out there and wipe the street up with them.
But, do I want them silenced? Do I want my government to be vested with the power to lock them up for their ignorant rantings? No. A million times, no. Why? Because I do not live in Castro's Cuba or Stalin's Soviet Union, Mao's China or the Germany of Adolph Hitler. The most precious thing in the founding documents of my country is the Bill of Rights, and the first of those rights is Freedom of Speech. If this guarantee has any meaning at all, it must protect all speech, especially the ignorant and vile. We do not need a Bill of Rights to protect the public reading of a Shakesperian sonnet or the soaring speeches of Martin Luther King. We need a Bill of Rights to protect us against a government who arbitrarily decides what kinds of speech it wants to silence. The price of this freedom, this dearest of human rights, the right of self-expression, is the tolerance of opinions that we loathe.
That's why I am against any high-minded attempts to carve out exclusions, to cordone off certain groups, to mark as off-limits any group, no matter how marginalized or dangerous they may be. Sorry, that's just the way it has to be in a free society.
So, let the Westboro folks carry their signs. Let the full light of day illuminate their wickedness for all of us to see. We can all make our own judgements on what we think of them. We are free people and that's what free people do.