Tolerate Westboro-type rhetoric no longer


To the Editor:

In the past I agreed with the concept that freedom of speech has to allow for the most hideous and prejudiced opinions, as most people in society would shun those like the Westboro Church. Today, however, that does not seem to be the case.

Just as our politicians lack basic civility in debate today, those filled with hate and prejudice are no longer afraid to spew their vitriolic and vulgar slogans, as there are no legal restrictions and no individual responsibility to hold these goons accountable unless the speech "incites" people to violence — however the legal pundits define "incitement."

I’m sorry, but I think society in the United States is becoming very mean-spirited and irrational. We have forgotten common-sense values about respect for the dignity of others and responsibility of the individual. Freedom without responsibility is simply a form of anarchy. It is high time that we Jews insist that those who vilify us must bear the burden of proof. In that respect, the tests that apply to sexual harassment — namely it is not what the person says but how it impacts/affects the victims — should be the determining factor.

In Europe, members of groups like the Westboro Church could be convicted and jailed for inciting hatred. At least in England and Germany, individual responsibility for what you say in public can be used against you in court. That we in the United States continue to tolerate anti-Jewish and other forms of religious hatred and racial discrimination under the guise of freedom of expression is a pathetic comment on just how base and uncivil American society has become.

It is time to say enough is enough, that we will not tolerate it any longer. For our society to continue to evolve and progress, the status quo on what is acceptable in terms of freedom of expression must be redefined to fit modern circumstances.

Kerry M. Berger
Fayetteville, Ark.

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