I’ve spent a fair amount of time over the years studying, debating, and working to understand the creation, distribution, and use of information. I strongly believe in the freedom of information. Freedom of speech, thought, and conscience are not just nifty ideas they are the foundations of a just society and a happy life. Information and knowledge yearn to be free. Ideas have a need to grow and spread or wither and die based on their validity and usefulness.
Recently there have been some asshats from the fundamentalist Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka protesting at military funerals because the soldiers died defending a nation that accepts homosexuality. They are apparently happy about the soldiers’ deaths and believe God is punishing the United States. These are people are clearly so far gone that they have no real concept of what is right or wrong in this world. Politicians have rushed to pass laws restricting their right to hold ‘protests’ at the funerals. This is a mistake. The group called the Patriot Guard Riders, a motorcycle group with about 22,000 members has taken a better approach. They are attending the funerals, such the one for Army Cpl. Nyle Yates III, and forming a human wall, chanting and singing to drown out the protesters and block them from the view of the grieving friends and family.
The same approach was taken in the past in dealing with other lunatic fringe groups such as the KKK or neo-nazi groups that wished to make public embarrassments of themselves. Instead of trying to limit their freedom of speech or prevent them from marching or protesting we let them have their say. And in response the nation rises up to publicly ridicule them for being complete morons, though the comparison may be unkind to morons. Reasonable people can gather and protest what these hate groups spew forth. The Patriot Guard does that and does it well. In the end the whole nation sees a few pathetic fools being drowned out by the voices of good.
Freedom of speech means that we tolerate others to say vile, offensive, stupid things. They can hate gays, blacks, Jews, Protestants, native americans, immigrants, technology, or whatever they want and they can tell the whole world about it. They can talk all day in favor of the absolute worst ideas humanity has ever dreamed up. We may hate hearing it, it may make our skin crawl and our stomachs turn. However, it’s only by publicly exposing these ideas to ridicule and discussing how stupid or vile they are that we can truly kill them. Racism and homophobia are not stopped by refusing to talk about them, they’re stopped when people are shunned for advocating racist or homophobic ideas and publicly exposed as fools and jerks. When their intolerance is put under the light of day and withers before widespread public scorn. Banning the idea cannot kill it, only widespread exposure can truly kill these vile ideas and stop the people that spew them forth.
Freedom isn’t always fun, sometimes it means that people are free to do things you don’t like or agree with, even things you hate and you can’t punch them in the mouth, fine them, or throw them in jail. It’s not always easy but real freedom makes us all better off in the end.