Freedom of Speech vs Right to Privacy

Recently the folks at Westboro Baptist Church have been back in the news with their high-profile, if tacky protests at military funerals around the nation.  The story spread like wildfire through the blogosphere about how the lunatics from Westboro Baptist Church were prevented from protesting at the funeral of USMC Staff Sgt. Jason Rogers, killed in action in Afghanistan on April 7th.

It’s an inspiring story about how the entire town came together to protect the family from the indignity of their son’s funeral being disrupted by a Westboro anti-war protest.  It’s not the first time this has happened, of course.  It just seems to be the first time the news has broken far and wide.

From a comment made on the story at… Garilynn Smith relates her own personal experience:

This group also tried protesting my husbands funeral, SFC Scott R Smith and they were shut down. They went around handing out fliers at local stores where they were told they should leave town because hunting accidents tend to happen a lot…  The next day at the funeral they showed up at the cemetery and were told sorry this is private property and so they moved to the road where state troopers said oh sorry this is a highway its too dangerous to protest here so they were forced to leave.. I told PGR (Patriot Guard Riders) I wouldn’t be held responsible for my actions if I saw one of them using my husbands name… I’m glad the people of Rankin allowed this heroes family the funeral he and they deserved…


What’s been fueling the wildfire under this story is how it was essentially a plan for dealing with future Westboro Baptist Church protests.

There is a time and a place for protests, and getting in the faces of grieving family members simply is NOT it.  Tacky signs like the one this woman is holding show how classless these people are.

A friend of mine commented on an internet news group recently that this is free speech, like it or not.  It is their right to protest against the war.  Don’t like it, tough shit was basically his attitude.

That surprised me.

Not because he advocates freedom of speech, because he and I agree freedom of speech is one of our fundamental rights, but because I expected him to comprehend the privacy rights of the grieving family to bury their son in peace take precedence.

His view is that Freedom of Speech trumps every other right, a position I find utterly absurd.

That’s like saying that my right (in the United States) to carry a firearm trumps the right of the store owner to say that no firearms are allowed in his store.

That’s ridiculous.

It’s his store, not mine.  He owns it, and he has the right to dictate what will and will not go on inside his establishment.  I don’t have to agree with it, but I do have to accept that his right to private property and the control over that private property trumps my right to carry inside his establishment.

Jim Hinter, the former president of Canada’s National Firearms Association got his knickers all in a twist years ago over actor Harrison Ford’s decision to not allow hunting on his private land.  Hinter’s claim was that Ford’s property was some of the best hunting territory in the state, and therefore hunting must be allowed.

Again, this is utterly absurd.

It’s Harrison Ford’s private land.  He and he alone gets to decide what will and will not transpire on his private property.  The fact that he’s rich enough to buy a huge parcel of “hunting territory” is entirely beside the point. It’s his land.  Period.

Does this mean I’m anti-hunting because I support Harrison Ford’s right to say what will and will not be done on his private property?

Hardly.  Yet that’s exactly what the then-president of Canada’s National Firearms Association tried to tell me.

When Rights collide, which one wins?  Who gets to decide?

This is hardly a debate I’ll be settling here, but there are some things I feel need to be said.

They’re not directed at Westboro Baptist Church specifically, although they are the catalyst for my deciding to write about this clash of rights.  It’s aimed at anyone who is struggling to figure out what happens when one right bumps up against another.

Contrary to what most readers here probably think due to my outspoken writings, I am an intensely private person.  While I have no problem writing about what I think on a wide range of subjects, my private personal life is generally off limits.

Personal Privacy is also a right, like it or not.

Let me be clear.  The members of the Westboro Baptist Church have the right to free speech.  That is not even up for debate, as far as I’m concerned.  They and their church have the right to speak out on issues they feel are important, be it homosexuality, the war or anything else that strikes their fancy.

I don’t have to agree with a word they say to believe they have the right to say it.

As Ezra Levant is so fond of saying on Sun TV these days, “Freedom of Speech is the only gift you MUST give your enemy if you want to claim it for yourself.

Ezra Levant is, of course, 100% correct.

That being said, rights do not exist in a vacuum. They must co-exist with other rights.  The right to privacy, for example, as in the case of the family trying to bury their dead son.

Families have the right to privacy as they bury their slain sons and daughters.

I don’t give a crap if you agree or disagree with troops fighting wars in foreign countries.  I don’t agree with it.  I don’t believe Canada should be bombing Libya and I don’t believe the United States should have troops in dozens of countries around the world.  It doesn’t change the fact that those are decisions made by people far higher up the food chain than me.

Does your disagreeing (or mine) with a war give you the right to invade someone else’s privacy to hold your protest?

I don’t think so.

I’m biased toward personal privacy, of course, and freely admit that.

In a battle between your right to call me nasty names when I’m burying my son at a private funeral service… you lose.  Period.  Absolutely.  Every single time.  No question.

Does that mean I’m preventing you from exercising your right to free speech?


You’re free to practice your freedom of speech almost anywhere else you like.  At your church, for example.  It’s your pulpit, and I have no intention of stopping you from saying anything you want from it.  I sure won’t be stepping foot inside it to listen to you though.

Do I agree with the people who vandalize Westboro Baptist Church property because they disagree with what’s being said inside the church?

Again, absolutely not. But this appears to be a case of “if it’s good enough for the goose, it’s good enough for the gander“, doesn’t it.

Westboro Baptist has to comprehend that their actions offend a great many people.  If offending others on their home turf is okay for Westboro Baptist, then surely offending Westboro Baptist on their home turf has to be okay too.

If WBC can disrupt military funerals with rude and insensitive protests, telling grieving families they are happy a soldier is dead, then a little vandalism and spray paint seems pretty mild in terms of retaliation.

What appalls me about the entire situation is that the membership and leadership of Westboro Baptist Church seem to forget that it is the soldier who fights and dies to protect their right to say their offensive things about dead soldiers.

Brave men and women have given their very lives to protect the right of  Westboro Baptist Church’s leadership and membership to be offensive and disrespectful.

It is the Soldier, not the minister
Who has given us freedom of religion.

It is the Soldier, not the reporter
Who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the Soldier, not the poet
Who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer
Who has given us freedom to protest.

It is the Soldier, not the lawyer
Who has given us the right to a fair trial.

It is the Soldier, not the politician
Who has given us the right to vote.

It is the Soldier who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.

© Copyright 1970, 2005 by Charles M. Province

Every right we so freely trample into the dust has been won by soldiers who fought and died so that we could debate the rightness and wrongness of it all.

We must never forget that.  We must also never forget those brave men and women are due respect for that ultimate sacrifice, whether or not we agree with the war that cost them their lives.

Your right to freedom of speech does not trump the grieving family’s right to bury their dead son in privacy and dignity.

And nor should it.



2 thoughts on “Freedom of Speech vs Right to Privacy

  1. Christopher has done a stellar writing job discussing the delicate thin line that divides the rights of one group from another.

    The English philosopher and economist, John Stuart Mill, best remembered for his political and moral works On Liberty (1859), wrote:

    “The only freedom deserving the name,?is that of pursuing our own good in our own way,?so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs,?or impede their efforts to obtain it.”??In other words, there would not be any problems if people have respect for their fellowman; show courtesy and dignity; adhere to a sense of decency and good character; exercise common sense; and, above all, observe the Golden Rule: Do Unto Others As You Would Have Others Do Unto You.

    Since the protesters were members of a Topeka-based Baptist Church, I would expect them to uphold these tenets as the main principles of their religion. Otherwise, I would assume they are using the wrong Bible.

    Then I discovered they don’t use a Christian Bible. Westboro Baptist is not even a church but, according to the posted image, is a building draped with a banner reading: God Hates

    The 70-strong congregation, described by some as a “hate group”, is a bunch of contemptuous bastards whose main thrust in life is to defile the American flag and no doubt the Holy Bible, picket anti-gay military funerals and other high-profile burial services where they can garner free publicity through media attention.

    As Christopher reminded them:

    It is the Soldier who salutes the flag,
    Who serves beneath the flag,
    And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
    Who allows the protester to burn the flag.

    Why they do these deeds is beyond me, other than these radicals, who may be seeking legal changes or are simply attention-getting peace-disturbers, have a right to voice their opinions in the United States of America–a country blessed by God and the U.S. Constitution–except when their hateful protests slip over into somebody else’s territory.

    In other words, loud mouths, your rights come to a screeching halt at the end of your noses when, as in this case, your rights to free speech are trumped by somebody else’s privacy rights.

  2. Very interesting subject , thank you for putting up. “Integrate what you believe into every single area of your life.” by Meryl Streep.

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