The shooting in Newton was a tragedy of the worst sort. However, like all tragedies, you have the vultures that try to benefit from it as much as possible, or use it for their own agendas. Enter Westboro Church, who I refuse to call Baptist because I’m not even sure where their theology is from at this point.
Apart from their complete lack of Biblical knowledge, they seem to have a funeral fetish. They want to use any tragedy to show that God is judging this land, and they do so by shouting how He hates mainly gay people, but this hate seems to extend to everyone. Since they forget the idea of sin and death infecting all creation and “the rain falls on the righteous and the wicked”, they insist all their ideas are Biblical. Here is where the big controversy comes in though.
Some people want to have them placed on a hate group list, pretty much stopping them protesting. However, others insist that this will prevent their free speech, and thus could extend to any of us. But that won’t happen.
There is a difference between expressing your opinion and harassing other people. I could sit around and shout all day about hating people as much I want, and that would be okay. If I went up to someone and started telling them how much I hate them, even if I was standing a good distance away, I could still be arrested for harassment. "Harassment covers a wide range of behaviours of an offensive nature. It is commonly understood as behaviour intended to disturb or upset, and it is characteristically repetitive. In the legal sense, it is intentional behaviour which is found threatening or disturbing" (from Wikipedia) and "the act of systematic and/or continued unwanted and annoying actions of one party or a group, including threats and demands. The purposes may vary, including racial prejudice, personal malice, an attempt to force someone to quit a job or grant sexual favors, apply illegal pressure to collect a bill, or merely gain sadistic pleasure from making someone fearful or anxious." (Harassment)Why, then, is Westboro’s actions protected under free speech but the other is not? Simply put, people don’t want to fight their lawyers and prove that it isn’t protected after all. What Westboro is doing is harassing large groups of people under the claim that they have permission to protest. But if everyone at the funeral stated they felt harassed, could Westboro not be told to stay away? It won’t prevent them protesting, but it will prevent them from protesting near the funeral.
So don’t use the term free speech to defend the actions of the evil. If they can find loopholes, so can we.