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One Woman’s View

Free for all

Contributing writer

Although managing editor Susan Berg expressed my opinion of the Supreme Court verdict in the Westboro Baptist Church case, I cannot resist adding my two cents’ worth. President Harry S. Truman expressed my conviction eloquently when he said, “In the cause of freedom, we have to battle for the rights of people with whom we do not agree, and whom, in many cases, we may not like. These people test the strength of the freedoms, which protect all of us. If we do not defend their rights, we endanger our own.”

A case I consider parallel to this one occurred in the spring of 1977, when the largely Jewish village of Skokie, Ill, obtained a circuit court injunction to ban a demonstration in their city by the National Socialist Party. In the following series of appeals, the American Civil Liberties Union defended the Nazis. The ACLU stuck to its guns in spite of the fact that 15 to 20 percent of their members left the organization in protest. In the Illinois affiliate, 30 percent resigned.

Ironically, the executive director of the ACLU at the time, Aryeh Neier, was Jewish. He said, “As a Jew, and a refugee from Nazi Germany, I have strong personal reasons for finding Nazis repugnant. Freedom of speech protects my right to denounce Nazis with all the vehemence I think proper. Despite my hatred of their vicious doctrine, I realize that is in my interests to defend their right to preach it.”

The mayor of Skokie claimed that the demonstration, particularly the display of swastika, would cause serious unrest and possibly result in bloodshed. The ACLU maintained that if extra police power were needed to keep the peace, it must be used to protect free speech — even the speech of Nazis.

Neier’s adjective “repugnant” certainly applies to the rantings of Fred Phelps and his followers. Also hateful, immoral, obnoxious, sickening, un-Christian, and almost any other negative adjective I can think of, I approved whole-heartedly of the legislature placing a limit on how close such demonstrations could be to a church during a funeral, However, Phelps stayed within those limits.

I sympathize with the viewpoint of the grieving father who initiated the suit against Phelps and his church. He should not have been subjected to the heckling of demented demagogues in his time of grief. Nevertheless, if he could have won a suit against the man for his exercise of his right to free speech, then the minister could quite possibly win a suit against me for the opinions I’ve expressed in this column. Believe me, I am not ready to give up my right to express my dismay with the Topeka man and his church, and I doubt if many people in this state are.

Last modified March 17, 2011

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