For two very different reasons, freedom of speech has been on my mind a lot lately.
The first is that my only study break between Monday and yesterday was to read the Court's Snyder v. Phelps opinions (and bang out an abstract so I could write an essay after the SSB final) over a 20-minute dinner break (before returning to drilling cord lesions—woohoo!).
The second is that yesterday night I got my feelings hurt—really, really hurt—by a comment about me that a friend posted (without my name) on FB.
Here's the abstract:
I am a terrible, terrible person.
Because I hate—really and actively hate—Fred Phelps, one of the most viciously inhumane, destructively cruel human beings I’ve come across in years of studying torture and genocide. The fact that his methods are verbal doesn’t make the atrocities he commits any less atrocious.
And because, even though I hate Fred Phelps, I agree with the Court’s decision.
What kind of person does that make me? To put human feelings and suffering aside for an abstract principle embodied in a case which almost certainly, in this case, violated at least some of the boundaries established by precedent?
I feel guilty. As though I should apologize to Mr. Snyder. Maybe I should.
I can’t stand myself right now. To stand on the same side of a line with Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist? I despise them and everything they represent. If tomorrow I read that Phelps had died, it’d make my entire day.
But I still agree with the Court.
There are times I find it hard to reconcile my sense of integrity with my humanity. This is one of them.
Ironic, in light of what's happened.
Because last night for several reasons I was—as Alito described in the dissent with which I disagree—in “a time of acute emotional vulnerability.” And because of that vulnerability, I got upset enough by my friend's public statement to have to leave a restaurant at which I was dining with several people (an event unprecedented in the past 10-15 years; melodramatically as I may converse, I loathe even the vaguest hint of actual public histrionics) lest I start bawling over the entire matter (crying in public—“death of Bambi's mother” movie moments aside—being the single thing I detest more than public drama).
My friend and I discussed the matter briefly before I left, and I told him—probably prompted in part by the abstract I'd written just the day before—that he shouldn't have to apologize for expressing his opinion, that that wasn't what friendship was supposed to be about.
I came home and slept. Woke late this morning. Didn't get on FB till early evening.
Found that the words which had upset me so badly last night were still posted.
Felt as though I'd been kicked in the stomach.
(Yes, I actually do know how that feels.)
So on top of being inhumane, I'm now a hypocrite.
Because if I'd meant the words I said to my friend last night—and I really and truly did think I meant them when I said them—I wouldn't now be convinced, against my own logic, that my feelings aren't as important to my friend as his opinion of them. Instead I would see that he chose to let his opinion stand, as is his right. That he was merely taking me at my word—as I fully intended him to do when I spoke those words to him. That he shouldn't have to choose between my feelings and his opinion of me.
How tangled up in her ethics does a person have to be in order for her own hurt feelings to offend them?
Whatever level of twistedness is required, I've reached it. (No wonder my other hobbies include quantum chromodynamics. That stuff is so much simpler.)
“...Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and—as it did here—inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a Nation we have chosen a different course—to protect even hurtful speech...to ensure that we do not stifle public debate...”
Chief Justice Roberts, delivering the opinion of the Court: Snyder v. Phelps, 580 F. 3d 206, affirmed.