The Rev. Fred Phelps, pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church and owner of GodHatesFags.com, has been encouraging his followers to protest the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq. According to FOX News, the church members stand across the street during burial services holding profane signs ("Thank God For Dead Soldiers") and screaming that the deceased will burn in Hell.
We all agree, these people are vermin. Few among us will shed a tear when Rev. Phelps passes away, and few among us would sob if these protestors were delivered a swift beating by the families of these deceased soldiers. And that's the context of the following hypothetical, which will serve as your final exam in Principles of Free Speech.
You're impaneled on a jury, charged with deciding the fate of a widow who grabbed a cemetery trowel and killed a man who was screaming obscenities during her husband's burial. The prosecution's case is indisputable and includes a video recording. But the widow refused to plead on principle, because she thinks she's right and she's betting a jury won't send her to prison; so the prosecutor was forced to press for the maximum, and now this widow's fate lies in your hands. She is 28, with two young children.
Now, her fate is your decision — whether to take this woman away from her children, whether to lock her away from fresh air and sunlight for 12 years. Do you convict or nullify?
It's easy to say that you'd defend a bigot's right to free speech. It's more difficult to imagine an instance where you would have to. But stand it up against the rule of law, and you've got yourself a fair fight.