As much as I do not want to say this, I feel as if all speech has to be allowed BY LAW. So, someone talking hate speech can't be arrested. However, we as individuals and groups can rise up and fight against their hate speech, whether by demonstration or through some economical means.
In short, no, I don't believe "speech" is absolutely free. Rather, I feel the expression of ideas and opinions is totally free, and other types of speech are free to the extent that they do not cause harm. Hate speech and speech that incites violent are typical examples of when it isn't completely "free."
For example, I can say that "I don't like gay people" and I'm perfectly within my rights to state that opinion, but as soon as I say something like "I think everyone should attack gay people "I'm no longer simply expressing an opinion, I'm inciting violence.
(Disclaimer: Obviously, those statements don't reflect my true opinions, just using them as examples of statements people might make)
Now let's look at the specific example of that video. While it may be acceptable under many circumstances for a group to express their opinions about homosexuality, in this case it was clearly harassment. In my country, those "protestors" would have been arrested, undoubtedly. Here, anything like that would be considered outright hate speech, which is illegal. Also, homosexuality is protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, so any person who questions someone's right to equality is effectively committing a crime.
You make a very interesting point Jerry. I would agree that if there is a separate law which makes Hate Speech illegal that would be a very good thing. I luv Canada and that is one of the reasons. Has there been a lot of litigation with people arguing the subtleties of what is and isn't hate speech?
I'm going to play devil's advocate here and say, as much as I hate and loath what people, like those of the west boro church, are doing, they have a constitutional right to do so. A right protected by LAW to say exactly what they think and feel. A law written by our founding fathers who felt we should have the right to speak against the injustice and inequities around us.
Do I believe this is exactly what they intended when they wrote the constitution? Not even close. Does this mean I condone what the members of the west boro church are doing to family members of the deceased? Absolutely not! I am in the camp of "just because it can be said, doesn't mean it SHOULD be said. And because I feel this way and I have the right to protest back, you will find me in the ranks of the bikers, revving their engines to block out the noise of the protesters.
And remember, hate groups such as west boro and the KKK have a right to speak; no one said we had to listen!
I believe in the right to free speech, and see an issue if you start banning bits & pieces of it...that starts a bad precedent of weeding away at a fundamental right. Plus who determines what is banned?
While I consider protesting outside a funeral is a level way below distasteful and disrespectful, at the same time as much as I hate the idea I would say its protected by free speech...now if they actually get inside and disrupt a funeral, then that I see as both harassment and invasion of privacy. In which case they should be arrested.
This is such a tough one. And the subject has been coming up alot. I heard gloria Feldt (Fmr President of Planned Parenthood) addressing freedom of speech vs. hate speech when she was discussing Rush's hateful comments about the woman who testified regarding contraceptives. She seems to feel there is a fine line between free speech and hate speech and is leading a movement to sue Rush and bring him down (in the court of law) based on the fact that he crossed the line of free speech into hate speech - and that there is a difference.
On the opposite side, there is the ACLU who says that defending freedom of speech is easy when the message is not that difficult to hear, however, the defense of freedom of speech is most critical when the message is terrible and difficult to hear.
I sorta feel once we start trying to draw a line between hate speech and free speech then free speech comes under take and vulnerable to interpretation. At that point it can change in the wind depending on who is the judge or how the law is interpreted.
I think the most powerful way to fight against the Westboro Church is for activists to show up in such great numbers - and in a peaceful way - so as to block out the hate message and to offer comfort to the grieving families. This concept is, I think, what Firespot was talking about in his post. Only less negative - not shouting hate at the church - causing more stress - but singing comforting hymns to the family, holding candles and drowning out the hate with the positive.
I got to say this though, any acceptance on the attempt to reduce any rights of any individuals from any group can go against itself. Words are just stick and stones which does absolutely nothing if you actually learn that (I been through verbal assaults and I shrug it off easily unlike physical bullying which I tend to get angry at.). Words can be used like a sword for those who's vulnerable and words can be used as a defense system. But words will not affect those who seem to be not caring enough to be affected by it.