Free speech isn't paramount

March 16, 2010

Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me? Baloney! Social scientists, along with those invested in the field of mental health, have determined through respected documentation that verbal battering is no less harmful in its literal destruction of the mind as is physical abuse to the body.

So there you go on the editorial page, defending Pastor Fred Phelps' right to express his organization's venomous tirades, even at the funerals of our military sons and daughters, clearly orchestrated to do irreparable harm ("Free speech is paramount," March 13). To prove your point, you highlight a young Jewish lawyer who 30 years ago defended the American Nazi party's march in Skokie, Ill. This only brought to mind a conversation I had with a young idealist who agreed wholeheartedly with the ACLU. My response to him was that if the German government declared public Neo-Nazi demonstrations unlawful, understanding through its own historical experience the awful destructive power of vitriolic rhetoric, why would we see such behavior in the light of "free speech"?

And, to validate my argument to him and to you, if the Snyder family was denied the right to bury their son with the military dignity and honor due, were not their freedoms compromised? More than that, if mental anguish or physical illness to the family were exacerbated by epithets such as "Thank God for dead soldiers," would we not be able to build a case for mental or physical abuse? Why shouldn't the Snyder family have judicial recourse against the likes of Mr. Phelps and his band of fanatics?

Devorah Brooks

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