A whitehouse.gov petition that wants to “legally recognize Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group” has, as of this writing, garnered over a quarter of a million signatures. It reads, in full:
This group has been recognized as a hate group by organizations, such as The Southern Poverty Law Center, and has repeatedly displayed the actions typical of hate groups.
Their actions have been directed at many groups, including homosexuals, military, Jewish people and even other Christians. They pose a threat to the welfare and treatment of others and will not improve without some form of imposed regulation.
There are a few problems with this petition.
The first problem is a rather fundamental problem: there is no such thing as the legal recognition of a “hate group” in the United States. No such legal concept exists. The most popular list of hate groups is maintained by a private organization, The Southern Poverty Law Center. Its list has no legal standing. The federal government cannot act on this petition because the action that is being requested is not available to that government.
The Executive Branch
If the term “hate group” did have legal standing, the executive branch would arguably not be the branch of government to determine that. We don’t give the executive branch the power to censor. That sort of action typically requires a law, or a court order.
Should We Restrict Hateful Speech?
Even if such a concept did exist, and even if the executive branch had power to designate it, would that be a good idea? Read the comments on the coverage of this petition on the Huffington Post and witness the appalling lack of respect for freedom of speech. The speech of the Westboro Baptist Church doesn’t harm anyone. They don’t violate anyone’s rights. The only thing they do is make people mad. You don’t have a right to stop people from offending you. The fact that the rest of us are a bunch of evil sinners going straight to hell offends them — are we all violating their rights with our ungodly ways? Nonsense.
Freedom of speech is useless unless it includes the freedom to offend others. No one is jailed in Cuba or Iran for speech that offends no one. It is only once speech offends someone that its freedom can truly be tested. In this way, the Westboro Church is a test. We fail the test if our impulse is to use guns to shut them up.
The Free Marketplace of Ideas is Working
Does anyone want to argue that the Westboro Baptist Church is convincing people? That they’re winning support for the positions that “GOD HATES FAGS” or that “SOLDIERS DIE; GOD LAUGHS”? Or is their minuscule, hateful band of brainwashed dumbfucks just the last pathetic gurgles of a dying strain of religiously-motivated hatred in America? Reason is winning. Tolerance is winning. Love is winning. We denigrate ourselves by treating them as a problem worthy of rethinking our fundamental principles on the subject of human rights. They’re certainly not worthy of upheaval. They’re not worthy of introspection. They’re not even worthy of our hatred. They’re worthy of a national rolling of the eyes.
Please, join me. Roll your eyes, stop paying attention to powerless idiots, and go hug someone you love.