Freedom of speech is a hugely global issue, which spreads controversy alongside any who abuse the right to expression. However, the misuse of free speech takes many forms; ranging from North Korea to ‘Murica.
This image clearly shows some conflicting perspectives. It depicts a loop of protesting and counter-protesting from members of both Westboro Baptist ‘Church’ and the LGBT community. If you’re aware of the members of Westboro, you’ll know they’re renowned for their controversial method of opposing homosexuals, soldiers, politicians, and anyone who opposes their ideology. They’ve built up a reputation by picketing events, using their signs to express extreme messages of hate.
The use of language on the signs is intentionally offensive; designed to provoke a strong reaction, and gain attention. ‘Fag’, ‘Death’ and ‘Doom’ all initiate a deeply emotional response; but in this photo, it appears this particular emotional response wasn’t quite what Westboro was going for. In the foreground of the shot, we see a man draped in a rainbow flag (who is draped on another man). The brightly-coloured cape (and its significance as a symbol of gay pride) draws attention away from the negativity behind them. In this peaceful protest, the two couples fight hate, with love.
A similar tactic was employed after the recent death of Westboro’s former leader, Fred Phelps, aged 84. The family (who are usually eager to attend funerals) decided not to “worship the dead” (CNN 2014) by having a ceremony. Instead, they announced they were to picket Lorde’s upcoming concert. They were met with many protesters:
The free speech debate isn’t just happening in America. Australia is currently challenging the idea of racism conflicting with the right to speak out. What are your thoughts about the proposed reforms to the Racial Discrimination Act; is it bigotry or liberty?
Wilson, M 2013, Protesters, image, Huffington Post, viewed 5 April 2014, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/27/doma_n_2952712.html>.
Burke, D 2014, Westboro church founder Fred Phelps dies, viewed 5 April 2014, <http://edition.cnn.com/2014/03/20/us/westboro-church-founder-dead/>.
NBCActionNews 2014, First protest following passing of Westboro pastor, online video, 21 March, NBC Action News, viewed 4 April 2014, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RT9sS8U2fUQ>