By Darlene Pham
One of the first and foremost rights the American people have is the right to free speech. People have the right to voice their opinion without oppression and scrutiny. At the same time, is it the responsibility of society or certain groups of people to voice these opinions in a delicate manner and to be careful not to trample on other people’s emotions during a critical time of mourning?
Recently, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church. Members of this church, led by Pastor Fred Phelps, protested at the funerals of U.S. military members. The group believes that God is punishing the United States for tolerating homosexuality by killing the soldiers. Many of the signs display the group’s beliefs, such as “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “God blew up the troops.” But no matter how hurtful and offensive the group is, according to the courts, they still have the right to express their viewpoints.
While I do believe the church members are protected, they are by no means supported. Just because we have the right to express our opinions, we should use our discretion to withhold from saying things that cause emotional pain. It is our responsibility to teach compassion and tolerance to a younger generation, not hate and animosity.
It was distasteful for the group to protest at a sensitive time for the deceased soldiers’ family and friends, especially to those who gave their lives to fight and protect for the same rights that allowed the church members to protest.
While some may argue that this was simply a one-time event from a group of radicals, it has shown us blaring intolerance is still present around the nation. Especially at Carmel, where many of us are protected from discrimination and intolerance, we do not understand the need to spread empathy and acceptance. As the faces of the future generation and models to a younger generation, we need to practice these ideals, to practice tolerating those who may be a little different, to practice understanding others’ cultures or way of living.
Without learning to be open-minded, our society will cease to move forward and will be subject to live in a world of hatred. Just like the saying goes, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In other words, don’t protest at other people’s funerals if you don’t want the members to protest at yours.
So, yes, the Westboro Baptist Church has a right to profess its beliefs, no matter how unpleasant, degrading and offensive they are. But beyond their right to protest, the moral question is should they have done it? No. As people who claim to just be spreading the word of God, it’s ironic how hateful they are.
The next time you have something offensive to say, remember that while you have the right to say it, it doesn’t mean you should. It doesn’t mean you are prohibited to say what’s on your mind, but just know that words can hurt and cause unnecessary pain. It seems to me that many hurtful things that are said are not worth saying at all.