OUR OPINION: Freedom of speech ends at the border
One thing's plain. The Westboro Baptist Church isn't welcome to take its hate-filled message to Canada. Members of the Kansas-based church were turned back when they tried to cross the international border Thursday. Canadian officials said their ...
One thing's plain.
The Westboro Baptist Church isn't welcome to take its hate-filled message to Canada.
Members of the Kansas-based church were turned back when they tried to cross the international border Thursday. Canadian officials said their planned activity would violate Canadian laws against hate speech.
The group had planned to picket at the funeral of a man murdered on a bus near Portage la Prairie, Man. The stabbing and beheading has gotten widespread media attention, including several stories in the Herald.
Church members wanted to be at the funeral to tell Canadians that his decapitation and murder was God's response to Canadian policies concerning abortion, homosexuality and adultery. Except that Canada allows same-sex marriage, these are not much different than American laws on the same subjects.
What is different, however, is Canada's approach to free speech.
The U.S. Constitution protects free speech unless it constitutes a direct threat. Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes expressed this famously. His dictum is often paraphrased "You can't shout 'fire' in a crowded theater."
In Canada, you can't shout things that "willfully promote hatred." The law specifically forbids hateful attacks based on color, race, religion, ethnic origin and -- a later addition -- sexual orientation.
Most famously, the law has been used to prosecute people who deny that the Holocaust happened.
That sort of thing wouldn't get past an opening argument in an American court.
Americans are familiar with Westboro Baptist Church. It's the group that pickets funerals of members of the armed forces.
In the U.S., individuals have stepped in to prevent disruption of funerals. Several well-known cases have involved motorcycle clubs, which rally to block access to churches where funerals are being held.
Something similar happened Thursday, when individual Canadians brought pressure on their government to close the border to the Westboro group.
The difference, of course, is that the Canadians had a legal weapon to use against the Westboro fanatics.
South of the border, Americans must tolerate their disgusting behavior. The precedent is absolutely clear. Unless the threat is a clear threat, it's allowed.
Of course, most Americans wouldn't have it any other way. Free speech is the bulwark of American democracy, a thing so valuable that almost no exceptions are allowed -- even in the face of scurrilous, vile and offensive talk -- the kind of talk that the Westboro Baptists talk.
-- Mike Jacobs for the Herald