When Freedom of Speech Collides with Human Decency: Picketers Disrupt Dead Soldier’s Funeral; Court Then Demeans Father for Suing Disrupters

You may have been following the story about Albert Synder. He is the father of Marine, Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, who had been killed in Iraq. He sued picketers for disrupting his son’s funeral and burial. After winning, an appeals court not only reversed the lower court’s decision; they also required Mr. Snyder to pay part of the picketers’ appeal costs.

Attending Cpl. Snyder’s burial were members of an anti-gay group, led by the pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka Kansas, that pickets military funerals. This group holds the belief that U.S. military deaths are God’s punishment for America’s tolerance of homosexuality. Among the inflammatory signs they waved at Cpl. Synder’s funeral was one that summed up their position quite well: "God Hates the USA."

Albert Synder sued this group for interrupting and poisoning his son’s funeral and burial. A federal jury awarded him $11 million in damages, based on having determined that the group had intentionally inflicted emotional distress on Snyder’s family during the burial of their Marine son. That award was subsequently reduced to $5 million. That revised award was ultimately overturned by the 4th U.S. Circuit of Appeal. Not only that. As hard as this might be to believe, they also required Snyder to pay Fred Phelps, the leader of the picketing group, $16,510.80 to cover a portion of the appeal costs this hate group incurred.

This case is, for me, the center of a cylone of absurdity: an ultimate example of what happens when religious fanaticism and an utter absence of common decency crosses paths with freedom of speech. As I’ve alluded to in another IntegrityWatch Blog post, when self-responsibilty and social responsibility deficits combine with attempts by fanatics and other special interests to hijack or misuse our Constitution, government over-regulation is the unavoidable result.

What do I mean when I say that? A number of state legislatures have enacted, or are considering enacting, “Rest in Peace” legislation. The new regulations require protesters to keep specific distances from a designated buffer–varying from funeral church services, processionals, and burials. (The buffer distance generally ranges from state to state, but is generally from 200 to 500.)

How did we get to the point where individual freedom has been pitted against common decency? How did we get to the point of such virulent political and ideological polarization and hatred? How did we get to the point where the government is forced to step in with yet more regulation?

I believe we got here because we as a society don’t make a high enough prority of teaching human literacy (in contrast to language, math, science and other academic or technical literacy) in our families, places of worship, schools, service organizations, businesses, and the mass media:

  • Self-responsibility and accountability
  • Civility and social responsibility
  • Ethics and constitutional responsibility
  • Critical thinking and fact-checking skills that equip us to make informed decisions and inoculates us against being manipulated by spin.

Three Fundamental Things I Believe In

I believe government has lost its way in a maze of self-irresponsibilty, social irresponsibility, constitutional irresponsibilty, journalistic irresponsibility, and integrity deficits that have come to pervade all parts of society. Democrats and Republicans alike have lost their way by:

  • Resorting to over-regulation when a far more effective use of government is to fund fundamental education in basic human skills, not merely in basic academic skills (The New IQ provides just such a curriculum, by the way.)
  • Compromising individual freedom through fruitless attempts to control the choices we make as individuals, businesses and advocacy groups
  • Absorbing the financial costs created by irresponsible choices instead of holding individuals and businesses accountable for their choices by rewarding self-responsibility and social responsibility, and by requiring that irresponsible individuals, advocacy groups, and businesses cover the costs their irresponsible choices create
  • Becoming ideologically polarized instead of combining the inherent wisdom in both the conservative and progressive perspectives

I believe in not attempting end runs around the law of cause-and-effect.

  • I believe in taking responsibility for the consequences of my choices.
  • I believe in celebrating the effects of personally and socially responsible choices.
  • I believe in not rescuing people, special interests or businesses from experiencing and correcting the consequences of personally and socially irresponsible choices.
  • I believe that blaming our problems on government over-regulation is laying blame on the symptom while avoiding taking responsibilty for correcting the cause.

I believe in Freesponsibility (as I call it in The New IQ), not merely freedom. Freedom in the absence of responsibility (personal or social) is indulgence and entitlement. Responsibilty in the absence of freedom is tyranny.

  • I believe that individual citizens, businesses, advocacy groups, civic groups, religious groups, educators, therapists, health professionals, coaches, the meida, and the government are ALL responsible for modeling and teaching Freesponsibility and the laws of cause-and-effect in choice-making.
  • I believe that when we collectively rise to the principles of Freesponsibility, government over-regulation will simply cease… most likely of its own accord, but if not, through high levels of public demand.

How about you?