Have you heard yet about what the town of Brandon, Mississippi did? Westboro Baptist had them targeted for a protest of local hero Staff Sgt Jason Rogers’ funeral. They showed up en masse. But when the funeral was over, they left town, having never uttered a harsh word or brandished a single sign.
The thing is, the city of Brandon got their collective heads together and joined forces to thwart all of Westboro’s efforts. Lots of city trucks mysteriously got left unattended behind every car with Kansas plates. All the town’s tow trucks were busy until after the funeral. The few Westboro faithful who managed to get to the cemetery were detained for questioning until it was determined that they had no part in some unnamed crime.
Oh… and did I mention that one of the Westboro faithful said a little too much at a convenience store a few days earlier? He got beaten pretty badly, and nobody in the crowd managed to get a good look at his assailants.
There are a lot of people cheering for Brandon, but I’m not one of them. I understand the frustration of soldiers’ families, and I feel badly for the ones who have to endure the abusive protests. But the Supreme Court has ruled (appropriately, I believe) that they have a Constitutional right to speak their bigoted angry minds. And what Brandon authorities did was no less than vigilante justice in the face of a ruling they don’t agree with.
And they could do the same thing to atheists.
Free speech is a fundamental part of American values, but we sometimes forget the most important thing: Free speech isn’t for those with whom we agree. It is for those who make us insanely angry. It is for nut jobs and quacks and bigots.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying people shouldn’t utilize any legal measures at their disposal to make things difficult for Westboro. I would be in favor of keeping them well away from the funeral itself. Such measures were made famous at the last Republican Convention, when anti-Bush protesters were essentially put under a bridge half a mile from the site.
But I’m not in favor of vigilante justice. I don’t condone police enforcing their views of who should and shouldn’t be allowed to speak, even though I happen to agree that Westboro is repugnant. I don’t agree with city services colluding to prevent people from driving where they want when they haven’t committed a crime. And I certainly don’t like the police being OK with an entire crowd obstructing justice and withholding evidence of an assault and battery.
There are better ways to do this.