(The following post was written by Rev. D. Douglas Gebbie, Pastor of the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Chesley, Ontario)
Mr. Albert Snyder’s appeal has come before the Supreme Court. The issues are the Westboro Baptist Church’s right to free speech over against Mr. Snyder’s right to bury his son in a dignified ceremony without the additional distress of a provocative demonstration and its accompanying media circus.
Now, neither of these rights is absolute. On the one hand, there are laws of libel. On the other, the public interest can be sufficient reason for a rightful invasion of privacy. Justice in this case is finding the balance between a constitutional right to free speech and a common law right to privacy. However, I fear that justice will not be done. The constitutional issue will override common sense, common decency, and equity of the common law.
Yet, in all the legal posturing, the point might be missed that the right to free speech is not a right to free publicity. The Westboro Baptist Church gave advanced notice to the media that its members were going to hold a protest at the funeral of Mr. Snyder’s son. Had the media thanked the church for the information and told them that their news teams were washing their hair that day, it is certain that there would have been no media circus, and it is doubtful that there would have been any demonstration. Starved of the oxygen of publicity, the agendaed activist is a prune-like and rather pathetic person.
It is true that with such things as 24-hour news channels, the media moguls need something to fill the gaps between advertisements while they wait for a man to bite a dog. Nevertheless, it is also true that editorial policies and editorial choices degree what is news. Perhaps it it time for the media to say to the likes of the Westboro Baptist Church, “If you want us to help you exercise your right to free speech, buy an ad.”
As far the Westboro Baptist Church is concerned, the media have told me who they are and what their agenda is. I do not need to know of their antics. I do need to know that the funeral of Mr. Snyder’s son was discreetly covered by the media so that I am reminded of the family’s sacrifice and the family is reminded that a grateful nation is interested in them and touched by their loss.