Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, U.S. Marine Corps, died defending the Constitution of the United States and all Americans. As a retired Marine myself, I am proud of Matthew for his service in which he made the ultimate sacrifice of his life. He is one of a long line of American service members who have given up their lives so that all Americans can live in Peace with our Freedoms.
In my opinion, the behavior of the members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, who take it upon them selves to picket and protest at the funerals of service members killed in action, is highly inappropriate. I personally cannot understand how they envision that they in any way represent either the teachings of Jesus Christ or Almighty God.
BUT, I believe the eight members of the Supreme Court of the United States who ruled in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church were correct in their decision. The 1st Amendment of the Constitution of the United States is sacrosanct, and our Freedom of Speech is in the bedrock of what it means to be an American. It is precisely what gives the United States its strength. I pray that Matthew Snyder’s parents will also see it that way some day.
When we defend our Freedoms, we defend opinions we hate. But what would happen if we did not? What would happen to our values as Americans if we failed to defend the right to express hated opinions? The risk is that very soon we might find our own opinions hated by a majority of people, who want to silence us. All we have to do is look around the world to see the long-term performance of countries whose people are silenced by their governments. Too many of their people live in poverty, and harbor resentments that explode in revolutions like those seen in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, and now Libya.
And what will be the result of those revolutions? Will they produce environments where people can speak their mind and hold to their beliefs, no matter how idiotic? Or will they revert to governments and systems that punish dissent? If the latter is the result, we know what the outcome will be. Those peoples will continue to live in countries that condone slavery, bigotry, and religious intolerance. They may succeed for a time, especially if they are blessed with natural resources, but will they serve their people well in the fullness of time? I don’t think so, nor do most Americans.
None of this means that the controversy of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas is finished. In the same sense that those Americans can exercise their Freedom of Speech, so can Americans who believe their behavior is inappropriate and damned by God now speak up and give that “church” a taste of its own medicine. As a retired Marine, if I lived in Kansas, I would be happy to stand my watch, picketing those people. Indeed, I believe many upstanding Christians, not to mention Americans of other Faiths, will be happy to show the members of the Westboro Baptist Church how they have lost their way in the sight of God, exercising their own Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly in the process.
I often say that the process that made the United States of America is a process like tempering steel. In that process impurities are removed from the iron until it is steel. When one group brings up a bad idea, the rest of us can shout it down and out of our system. It is time for the members of the Westboro Baptist Church to hear the rest of us exercise our Freedom of Speech.
Skip Conover is an International Executive, Author, and Artist. He has written a novel, a published current affairs book, and a published journal. He won the Bronze Star Medal in Vietnam, while serving with the 1st Marine Division. He turned his long time interest in Jungian Archetype into the Archetype in Action Organization.