Posts Tagged ‘Supreme Court’

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Why Restricting Westboro Baptist Church’s Protests Wouldn’t Harm Free Speech

10.06.10

Westboro Baptist Church could be one of the more offensive groups in the country today.  These people protest fallen American troops’ funerals to promote their anti-homosexual message.  To most anyone outside their congregation, it’s beyond appalling.

The lawsuit brought on by one of those deceased soldier’s families has caused the question of whether or not these protesters have the right to do what they’ve been doing.  The original verdict found in favor of the family, awarding them millions of dollars in the judgment.  However, this was then overturned by an appeal, citing that the Church’s right to free speech had been infringed upon.

Now it’s at the Supreme Court.  And they’re not having an easy time figuring it out, either.  Where is the line?  At what point do you say that your free speech is not allowed because other people find it offensive?

I’m a huge fan of the First Amendment and despite finding the actions and teachings of the Westboro Baptist Church outrageously wrong, offensive, heartless, and cruel, I worry about depriving citizens of free speech simply because I disagree with their stance on homosexuality.  I wouldn’t want my right taken away to voice my opinion on homosexuality — I mean, that would pretty much take away this entire blog!  The right to free speech is maddening at times because it requires us to hear things that we may not find acceptable whatsoever.

Take for instance pornography.  It was illegal for years — adult performers actually jailed for their participation in these films — due in part to the moral stance of the majority against promiscuity and what was deemed perversion.  Agree or disagree with porn, but it’s a person’s right to engage in that form of expression due in part to the freedoms in the First Amendment.

That said — you can’t just express your freedoms by stripping down and getting busy in front of a cemetery — regardless of whether or not a funeral is going on.  I imagine that would break some lewd conduct laws, no doubt (my lawyer friend feel free to chime in here for just what laws would be broken), just like I can’t walk down the street naked claiming that I’m expressing myself.  In that case, why can’t there be a law that restricts protesting at cemeteries during funerals? Isn’t the emotional sensitivity owed to those mourning the death of a loved one worth restricting free speech in a limited capacity? Surely if we accept that people must wear clothes when in public spaces, we can accept that people must keep their opinions to themselves while people do something as sacred burying their dead.

And on a final note, I just had to include this baffling reasoning by the WBC:

Church members say their broader message was aimed at the unspecified actions of the military and those who serve in it. They believe U.S. soldiers deserve to die because they fight for a country that tolerates homosexuality.

What does it say about them that they live, work, and are active, taxpaying (I’m assuming) citizens of this same country for which our troops fight? How are they somehow separate? The amount of cognitive dissonance is mind-numbing — that is, if any thought is even going into their rationale to begin with.

Image courtesy of NoHoDamon’s Flickr Photostream.

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Miranda Rights Get Conservative Treatment by Supreme Court

08.03.10

The Supreme Court recently altered the Miranda rights requirement that police officers must inform a suspect upon arrest:

The high court has made clear it’s not going to eliminate the requirement that police officers give suspects a Miranda warning, so it is tinkering around the edges, said Jeffrey L. Fisher, co-chair of the amicus committee of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

“It’s death by a thousand cuts,” Fisher said. “For the past 20-25 years, as the court has turned more conservative on law and order issues, it has been whittling away at Miranda and doing everything it can to ease the admissibility of confessions that police wriggle out of suspects.”

The Miranda rights have been tweaked numerous times over the past decade or so, many times with overwhelming if not unanimous support from the justices, which spans liberal and conservative minds.  This latest change requires those taken into custody to break their silence in order to inform the police that they will in fact be remaining silent.  Simply remaining silent will not count as observing one’s right to remain silent. It passed on a 5-4 vote.

I agree with Justice Sonia Sotomayor who said about the ruling:

Criminal suspects must now unambiguously invoke their right to remain silent — which counter intuitively requires them to speak.  At the same time, suspects will be legally presumed to have waived their rights even if they have given no clear expression of their intent to do so.

It’s hard to see how this is a conservative move, though.  Conservative in terms of the current political climate in the GOP and Tea Parties, yes; but, it doesn’t seem so as far as small-c conservatism goes.  This change gives more power to the state, to the authorities, to the police, and while it doesn’t necessarily take away any rights from the individual, it does make those rights more confusing to understand and enact, and, given the lack of civics knowledge amongst the general populace, puts those who are deemed innocent until proven guilty by a jury of their peers at the disadvantage.

For a political movement that champions smaller government and individual freedoms, this move is just the most recent in a long line of bi-polar decisions that undermine personal liberties under the guise of added security to ensure their passing — the Patriot Act, the Arizona immigration bill, etc. — that actually run contrary to the notion of having an empowered citizenry against a limited government.

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13 And Life

11.15.09

I didn’t even know it was happening in this country, but apparently 13-year-olds can be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

That means that at the age of 13, your life could effectively be over.  Over well before it really even started.  And not even for homicide.  There’s a kid behind bars without any chance of release for armed robbery.

I am not the only one who finds this to be completely unacceptable.  The Supreme Court is investigating whether or not these sentences are constitutional or if they are cruel and unusual forms of punishment.

I have touched on this subject numerous times, usually with regard to capital punishment, and I always find myself wrestling with just what we are trying to accomplish with incarceration.  It’s most certainly a form of punishment.  I would like to think that we could do a lot more in the way of rehabilitation, especially with the non-violent offenders.  There should definitely be a debt paid to society for crimes, and these debts should escalate according to the severity of the crime committed.  But, it’s so much more complex than that.

But here are some places to begin:

Read the rest of this entry ?

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Yeah, Iowa!!!

04.03.09

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I love Iowa.  I loved it when I visited it last month on tour.  And I loved it when I was there last year for my friend’s wedding.

And I now I love it because it has – unanimously – become the third state in the union to legalize gay marriage.

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled that the ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional.  And they were unanimous in their decision.  That’s just amazing.  The Heartland of America truly shows its namesake by voting against discrimination.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that everyone in Iowa agrees with this decision.  I would even guess that a majority will not like this ruling.  But, not many people were stoked about losing their slaves or letting women vote.  Yet it was still the right thing to do.

We do not live in a majority-rule society.  This is a common misconception because we’re constantly calling our government a democracy, which it is not exactly.  America is a constitution-based federal republic.  Thankfully, much like the federal constitution, its state counterparts protect the same liberties – including that of freedom from discrimination.  Even if the majority of the voters morally disagree with homosexuality and marriage equality, the constitution prevents that kind of intolerance from becoming law.  Until lately, unfortunately, some peoples’ moral arrogance has kept an entire population of Americans living in shame and treated like second-class citizens.  With this ruling in Iowa, we are now 6% of the way toward having all states denouncing bigotry and instead embracing equality.

It’s a huge step forward.  But we still have a long way to go.