Wednesday, October 6, 2010

How Far Tolerance? Uncomfortably Far.

Family Asks Supreme Court To Limit Protests At Soldiers' Funerals : NPR:

The U.S. Supreme Court takes up a case of high emotion and high principle Wednesday. At issue is whether the father of a soldier killed in Iraq can sue picketers who showed up at his son's funeral with signs that read 'God Hates Fags' and 'You're Going to Hell.'
This Fred Phelphs character, he makes my head hurt. If there was a ever a fella deserving of a Glasgow Kiss, it's him. Remember how in "Punch-Out!" the Bald Bull would back up, hunker down, then charge you with knock-out blow you'd better dodge? Imagine a Glasgow Kiss instead of an uppercut being the coup de grĂ¢ce and you have an idea of the headbutt I'd like to deliver that goon with my own furrowed brow. (I'm not bald, but the Salt-n-Cinnamon Bull doesn't pack the same alliterative punch.)

The Bald Bull
That said, this is a thorny issue. The First Amendment is designed to protect speech that needs protecting, and this is the bitter pill, not on its merits, but because of its intolerability. The key here is Phelphs and his mirthless band of misfits are toeing the line, but seem to be restricting their demonstrations to public space, not actually interfering with the funerals they attend. Should the parents of fallen soldiers have to endure Mr. Phelps's brand of religious hatred and the circus he creates? No, they really shouldn't. A parent's grief shouldn't be exploited by attention-seeking cultists. But it can be, and so, as sad and tragic as it is, it's a price that needs to be paid. I completely understand Mr. Snyder's anger, he's suffered too much to be expected to put up with this kind of shit. What he's feeling though, when he sees Mr. Phelphs and the signs they carry, is discomfort (on top of a mountain of grief) not suffering. The extent to which it angers him is the extent to which he allows it to anger him. His recourse here is to shame Mr. Phelps, to expose him for asshole he is; unfortunately, civil or criminal penalties shouldn't apply here.

I know, I know for a fact, that I would have to be physically restrained from doing bodily harm to Mr. Phelphs were I in Mr. Snyder's shoes. I'm six feet tall and 230 lbs. I'm not athletic but, with a couple hundred feet of runway I wouldn't be surprised if, the efforts of friends and family initially, and one or two distracted police officers later notwithstanding, if I couldn't be stopped from doing physical harm. I would need to be billy clubbed or tased into submission to be restrained from beating the living piss out of that guy. And then I would be charged with assault and convicted, rightly so. I'd be in the wrong. I don't pretend this speaks well for my character. The way we live together in a just society is to solve our disputes peacefully, under the rule of law. Not by lashing out, not with violence. It's a lucky thing I'm just a blogger with a little soapbox, and not in Mr. Snyder's shoes, because while I believe the law is on the side of Mr. Phelps and sit here in comfort while saying so, I know too that -- as the Mighty, Mighty Bosstones once said, "I've just never been tested / I'd like to think that if was I would pass / look at the tested and think, 'there but for the grace go I,' / might be a coward / I'm afraid of what I might find out." I can't blame Mr. Snyder for challenging Mr. Phelps, I think he deserves credit for doing it in a civil way. It's probably Mr. Phelps that should knock on wood. He's lucky Mr. Snyder is a better man.
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