Pronunciation: \ə-ˌmer-ə-ˈkä-nə, -ˌmər-, -ˌme-rə-, -ˈka-nə\
Function: noun plural
1: Materials concerning or characteristic of America, its civilization, or its culture ; broadly : things typical of America
2: American culture
In this series, I’d like to explore various aspect of life in North America. Each topic will be illustrated by a black and white picture.
Freedom of speech is the right to speak freely without censorship or limitations. In the U.S.A, The First Amendment to the Constitution prohibits — among other things — the Congress from making laws that infringe the freedom of speech or the freedom of the press.
Free speech is a major part of the foundation of American society and many stand up to protect the core American values. But the First Amendment also brings up questions: are there limits to the freedom of speech? If a group instill racism, sexism, and homophobia or other questionable views, should it still be protected under the First Amendment?
I first heard of the Westboro Baptist Church after this summer’s bizarre murder in a Greyhound bus in Canada. The Globe and Mail reported at the time that the Church members, from Topeka Kansas, were going to picket the funerals of the kid who was murdered, because he was, I quote, “a fag”.
Obviously, I was curious and researched this church a bit. Turned out they are a bunch of lunatics who condemn: “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people (LGBT), Roman Catholics, Muslims and Jews, as well as populations supporting the aforementioned groups, including Swedes, Canadians, Irish, British, and Americans“. They have catchy placards proclaiming “God hates fags”, “Thanks for 9/11″, “Thanks for Katrina” or “God hates America”. And they specialized in picketing funerals of all these they think are “fags” (pretty much all of us).
Fortunately, they have been banned from entering Canada for hate speech. In the U.S.A, they are entitled to their views, but may not be protected by the First Amendment because their statements are extreme and outrageous. So far though, there isn’t much to do. A group was formed to shelter and protect the funerals of US soldiers (because of course, “God hates U.S Army soldiers“) from protesters from the WBC and some lawsuits were occasionally filled.
Some would love the Westboro Baptist Church to be sued for hate speeches, while some say (without supporting them) that groups like them may be the ultimate test for the First Amendment and free speech.
I tend to believe John Stuart Mill’s harm principle, which places the following limitation on free expression: “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.“