Hate speech, free speech, what a mess.

jbone at place.org jbone at place.org
Tue Oct 28 21:57:16 PST 2003

I'm all for free speech.  I'm extremely conflicted about religious 
speech in public places --- but I see a free speech argument there, 
maybe, perhaps, sometimes, with constraints.  And I'm sickened by hate 
speech.  Ugh, what a mess this is.  If nothing else, it clearly points 
out the horrible, ugly cancer at the heart of the fundy far right.



Free speech, hate speech clash

By Pete Williams, NBC News

Five years after University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was 
killed, touching off a national dialogue on gay rights, an anti-gay 
hate group wants to put up a monument to Shepard's murder in hiss 
hometown. The city doesn't want it, but it is caught in a legal tangle 
that involves, of all things, the Ten Commandments.

AT SHEPARD'S FUNERAL in his hometown of Casper, Wyo., an anti-gay hate 
group demonstrated in a park across the street, led by the Rev. Fred 
Phelps, a Baptist minister from Kansas.

Now members of Phelps' group are back in Casper pushing to be allowed 
to put up a granite monument in the same park where they picketed at 
Shepard's funeral.

The proposed monument would say, "Matthew Shepard entered Hell, October 
12, 1998."

That was the day that Shepard, 21, died of injuries and hypothermia he 
suffered five days before when two men beat him with a gun butt and 
left him to die while tied to a fence post in zero-degree weather, 
after meeting him at a bar in Laramie. Both of the men were later 

"Our message is a message of God's hate, not human hate," said Marge 
Phelps, the reverend's wife, also of the Westboro, Kan., Baptist 
Church. "And the concept of God's hate is found in the Bible. And all 
it means is that people are going to go to hell if they disobey God."

The city of Casper, home to about 50,000 residents, wants to say no but 
may not be able to.

The city park where the anti-gay group wants to put the Shepard 
monument already has a monument, this one honoring the Ten Commandments 
from the Bible. And under the law, if the city wants to keep this 
Shepard monument out, then the Ten Commandments will have to go, too.

Why? Because, legal experts say, the city unwittingly invited other 
monuments when it put up the Ten Commandments in a public park.

"By putting the Ten Commandments in the park, they created a sort of 
public forum for speech and debate," said Tom Goldstein, a First 
Amendment attorney and appellate court lawyer. "And once the city does 
that, it can't discriminate against other viewpoints, no matter how 

Casper Mayor Barb Peryam said she was offended by the Kansas group's 
tactic. "The fact that Reverend Phelps, or Mr. Phelps, would come into 
Casper and try and put that filth under the guise of the Ten 
Commandments is total idiocy."

Bob Crosby, president of the local Eagles Club, which donated the Ten 
Commandments, said the Eagles reluctantly offered the city a way out: 
"We would hope they would donate it back to us, and we can display it 
in an appropriate place."

Now the city council must decide what to do about this monument, 
concerned that the Ten Commandments could be used to force the city 
into accepting a message of hate.

Pete Williams is NBC News' chief justice correspondent.

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