Free speech is a tricky thing to teach your kids. There are certain things we don’t want our kids to say, yell, scream or declare in public. Most of us try to make sure our children don’t swear, call people names or spew hateful vitriol onto the world. But while we want to guide them in the right direction, they should also know about the American right of free speech, which has – again – been protected by the Supreme Court, this time in defense of the Westboro Baptist Church. What happened?
The Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 saying that the Topeka Kansas-based Church can still hold their anti-gay protests at the funerals of soldiers. At the 2006 funeral of Matthew Snyder they held up signs that said, “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” and “You’re Going to Hell.” As a result of the Westboro Baptist Church’s actions, Snyder’s father sued for emotional damages. First he was awarded $11 million, which was then reduced to $5 million, but then it was appealed, and the case ended up in front of the Supreme Court. But they threw the verdict out, saying it was a case of free speech protections.
“Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and – as it did here – inflict great pain,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote. “On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker,” he said.
“As a nation we have chosen a different course – to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate,” the chief justice wrote.
How do you explain to your child that they shouldn’t say certain things but on the other hand explain that they have the legal freedom to say whatever they want? It’s just another fine line that, as parents, we must explain to our kids while making sure we guide them to say the right things.