Here’s the thing: I’m not normally a fan of my state’s Attorney-General, Ken Cuccinelli. He’s far, far too conservative in my view - I was embarassed by his memorandum instructing state institutions not to include sexual orientation in their anti-discrimination policies, and his decision to reprise Ashcroft’s “boobgate” thing was just plain odd.
That being said, he’s just taken a position that I heartily agree with - and it’s a sufficiently difficult position to take that I truly respect him for it. The Westboro Baptist Chuch, as we know, likes to protest the funerals of dead soldiers. This gets a lot of people, understandably, very very upset, and the family of one of these soldiers has filed suit against them. That suit had wound its way up to the Supreme Court, and 48 states have signed amicus briefs on behalf of the plaintiffs.
Not the attorneys-general of Maine or Virginia, though. Cuccinelli has taken pains to say that, while he thinks what the Westboro Baptists have done is hateful and horrible, he doesn’t want to chill free speech rights with this litigation. And he’s right. Absolutely right.
A right to free speech that does not protect speech the majority of people find detestable is not a right at all - it’s a privilege, to be taken away whenever the majority wishes. Much of the point of freedom of speech is not that it’s a democratic value - it’s a check on democracy, a guarantee that the will of the people can never stiffle dissent, no matter how distasteful.
Cynics might suggest that Cuccinelli is refusing to sign this amicus brief because he doesn’t truly oppose what the Westboro Baptist Church stands for. I don’t believe that for an instant. Yes, Cuccinelli may well be a homophobe. He’s certainly very very conservative. However, he’s not an evil man - and Fred Phelps almost certainly is. I think Cuccinelli is taking a position that may well cost him a lot of his conservative base, and he’s doing it in the name of a core American value.
Well done, sir. I may vociferously disagree with you tomorrow - in fact, it’s all but certain - but I’ll never doubt that you are a man of principle and integrity.
ETA: Oh, and here’s the Post’s coverage: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/virginiapolitics/2010/06/friends_foes_hit_cuccinelli_ov.html?hpid=newswell