You Have the Right to Remain… Totally Confused

Christen Mullett

Soldiers fight and die to protect them, protesters scribble misspelled signs demanding them, political parties go to war over them, and every political talk show host has an opinion about them, while everyday Americans struggle over how far our Constitutional rights really go.

Perhaps most of you have heard about the so-called “ground zero mosque.” I know many oppose its construction for emotional reasons, calling it a matter of “common decency.” Although I sympathize with them, I have to say that they are, unfortunately, misguided. We cannot make the mistake of equating an entire religion with the handful of radical terrorists who carried out the atrocities of 9/11. This is comparable to lumping all Christians with the Westboro Baptists who picket soldiers’ funerals or linking all Germans with Nazis.

We all know that type of stereotyping is wrong. And although many people still carry scars from 9/11, we cannot start denying nearly 10 million Americans their right to freedom of religion because a group of zealots with a warped view of Islam decided to attack us.

Bear with me now.

You may have heard about an upcoming court case filed against the Westboro Baptist Church by the father of a deceased soldier. The members of this church protested at the son’s funeral, carrying signs saying “Thank God for dead soldiers,” among others. Later, they posted a video on their website, specifically targeting this man’s son, saying his parents “raised him for the devil.” The man sued the church for emotional damages, but the fight continues because many believe their right to free speech is at stake in this case. My immediate reaction was in favor of the soldier and his family, but I had to check myself. How can I so vehemently support the Park51 build for the sake of freedom of religion, while at the same time vigorously opposing the Westboro Baptists’ freedom of speech? Don’t these two positions conflict?

The problem is how best to interpret the extent of the rights given to us in the Constitution. If one person’s rights infringe on another’s, then no one is truly free. Do we have the right to build a mosque near ground zero despite the emotional damage it may inflict on others, however misguided they are? Do we have the right to deny freedom of speech to protesters who cause emotional damage to military families, however harsh their words are? How do we determine the answers to these questions? How do we determine where one individual or group’s rights end and another’s begin?

I don’t think the answer is simply to leave emotions out of the equation. I think these two situations, though related, are fundamentally different. Those who oppose Park51 do so because they make the mistake of equating radical terrorist ideology with mainstream Islam – a peaceful religion that condemns the killing of innocent people. Those who oppose the protests of Westboro Baptists at military funerals do so because they understand the respect due to those who serve our country and words can make the wounds of a loved one’s death that much deeper.

Although this answers no questions, and perhaps leaves us with yet more questions, I only hope it will begin the dialogue that will eventually lead to a solution.

Christen Mullett is a senior psychology major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].