The Cost of Free Speech

Writers’ Trigger:

Roadside signs and bumper stickers are excellent story triggers. In particular, I like the sign in front of Hussey’s General Store in Windsor, Maine.

Talk about one-stop-shopping! If you want it, Hussey’s has it. Or, along the same lines, their motto is “If We Ain’t Got It, You Don’t Need It.” Check out their website at

Try writing a piece that revolves around Hussey’s. Bonus points if your characters buy a gun, a six-pack, and a wedding gown. If you do complete this “assignment,” post it under comments.


The news has been full of how the Twitter Generation and the Internet are changing the nature of protest. Free speech is running rampant across North Africa. And we in America raise our fists and shout, “Yes! Good for them!”

And yet, last Wednesday when we heard the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church protests, our enthusiams for free speech wavered. As much as we believe in free speech, we were offended by the court’s ruling. Where, some wondered, do we draw the line?

The Westboro Baptist Church is virulently anti-gay. So much so that members have been picketing the funerals of deceased soldiers. One might question the connection between soldiers dying in service to their country and homosexuality.

I can’t get my head around it. The connection is Alice in Wonderland curious and curiouser, but to Fred Phelps, leader of Westboro Baptist and his followers (many of whom are relatives), the soldiers’ deaths are God’s punishment for America’s tolerance of homosexuality.

Fred Phelps is not as dumb as this very tenuous connection would lead you to believe. His “smarts” come into play in that he is very careful to observe protest etiquette. Prior to staging a protest, he notifies local authorities of his intent to do so, and on the day of the funeral, he and his followers are careful to stand the proscribed 1,000 feet from the church doors.

The signs range from “God hates fags,” to “Thank God for dead soldiers.” And, of course, no protest would be complete without “God Hates Obama!”

March 2, the court ruled 8-1 in favor of Free Speech. Chief Justice John Roberts acknowledged that the protests were “hurtful,” but added that the government “cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker.” That line works for me.

Free Speech may be hurtful, but how grateful we are to pay the price.



About timeout2

I have lived 100 lives. I write essays, short stories, poetry, grocery lists and notes to myself. If I am ever lost, look for a paper trail, but be careful not to trip over any books that lie scattered here and there. I am a reader. I am a reader in awe of writers. When I don't live in Westcliffe, Colorado, I live in London where I am a long-time member of Word-for-Word - Crouch End.
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