Just before a talk on campus by members of the Westboro Baptist Church on Monday, Central Michigan University student Ryan Fitzmaurice published an insightful op-ed in Central Michigan Life titled, "Why I Love the Westboro Baptist Church." After clarifying that he does not actually love the Westboro Baptist Church, he explains that what he loves is their First Amendment right to participate in the American "conversation":
America is a conversation, but not a polite dinner conversation. Our nation’s conversation is passionate, convoluted, confused, messy, explosive, eccentric, sometimes angry, increasingly odd, and most of the time, wildly off topic.
It’s a conversation open to everyone, of all opinions, of all religions, of all societal backgrounds. And, with very few exceptions, you too can jump in and say whatever you want. The First Amendment is what sets our country apart, and it is a major component of the liberty we value.
No group embodies that conversation for me more than the Westboro Baptist Church. The very fact that we as a nation honor and protect their right to express their opinion, an opinion that even the KKK has separated themselves from, means my right to speak will also be honored and respected.
Furthermore, if we value the first amendment as we should value it, we need to recognize that we need to boldly defend Westboro’s right to speak. If our government were to start limiting our First Amendment rights, it would not start with speech that we value — it would start with speech that we are offended by, that we as a nation don’t want to hear.
Once that precedent is made, the government will then have a process to increasingly limit our First Amendment rights, and we would no longer have the freedom we so fully enjoy today. The first line of defense for our right to speak freely is groups like Westboro.
FIRE is pleased to see that Ryan understands the importance of hearing ideas with which we disagree, and we hope more students in the future will embrace his admirable appreciation for free speech.