Free Speech at Funerals or Unethcial behavior? In Ethics where do you draw the line?

October 6, 2010

Is it possible that what is ethical behavior for one person or group is unethical to another?  Now the question doesn’t relate to dramatically different cultures – the question relates to Americans vs Americans.  Beyond the issue of ethics – the question of law is being raised today related to that very issue.

According to a CNN news report:

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Wednesday in a legal battle that pits the privacy rights of grieving families and the free speech rights of demonstrators.

In 2006, members of the Westboro Baptist Church protested 300 feet from a funeral for Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder in Westminster, Maryland, carrying signs reading “God hates you” and “Thank God for dead soldiers.”

Among the teachings of the Topeka, Kansas-based fundamentalist church founded by pastor Fred Phelps is the belief that the deaths of U.S. soldiers is God’s punishment for “the sin of homosexuality.”

Albert Snyder, Matthew’s father, said his son was not gay and the protesters should not have been at the funeral.

The case centers on Free Speech and whether the members of the church have the right to express their opinions at the funeral(s) of US Servicemen.  My question focuses not so much on the legality of the issue, but more on the ethics of their choices.

ETHICS defined is that branch of philosophy dealing with values relating to human conduct, with respect to the rightness and wrongness of certain actions and to the goodness and badness of the motives and ends of such actions.

So here’s the question:

Is the free expression of a religious belief that interferes with comfort associated with a dignified funeral an “ethical” action?  If not, how does one reconcile ethics on one hand with free speech on the other?

Chime in and register your opinion!


Freedom of Speech or Consequences of foul language – You tell me! Isaac Rosenbloom vs. Barbara Pyle

May 19, 2010

Don Troop, an author featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote the following – presented in full:

An F (Bomb) in Oral Communications

Isaac Rosenbloom was among a small group of students who stuck around after speech class one day this spring at Hinds Community College to discuss their grades with the instructor.

After seeing that he had received a 74 on a late assignment, Mr. Rosenbloom testified in a recorded disciplinary hearing, he turned to one of his peers and said, “this grade is going to [expletive] up my entire GPA.” He says the instructor, Barbara Pyle, heard him and “went into a screaming fit,” telling him that she does not tolerate offensive language and threatening to send him to detention.

“I told her, ‘This is college, and I’m 30 years old,'” Mr. Rosenbloom testified. “‘There is no detention.'”

After being summoned to the dean’s office, Mr. Rosenbloom sought the assistance of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the free-speech advocacy group, which issued a statement defending the right of adults to use naughty words.

“It is quite absurd that a college has decided that a 29-year-old man who uses a four-letter word out of frustration after a class should be officially punished,” FIRE Vice President Robert Shibley said in a statement. “College students don’t lose their free speech rights when they arrive on campus. Will Hinds be sending its students to bed without supper next?”

While Mr. Rosenbloom is actually being disciplined for “flagrant disrespect,” FIRE wrote President Clyde Muse to tell him that the college’s speech policies are unconstitutional and were “applied unconstitutionally to punish Rosenbloom for his protected speech outside of class.” The college bans “public profanity, cursing, and vulgarity.” Violators can be fined $25 to $50 or, for a third offense, be suspended from college.

According to FIRE, Mr. Rosenbloom was banned from Ms. Pyle’s course and given 12 demerits (three short of suspension). In addition, a description of the case is being placed on his permanent record.

An appeal to President Muse is pending.

So…as I often report on choices and consequences…and ethics, this article seems interesting.  It raises an excellent question or set of questions.

  1. Should an adult have the freedom of speech to express his/her frustration without retribution or negative consequence?
  2. Is it constitutional for an institution of higher learning to impose a limit on speech for it’s students or employees?
  3. Was the instructor’s reaction to the words uttered appropriate?
  4. Lastly, if what you say offends me, should I have the right to limit your freedom of speech?  If so, where is the limit drawn between what offends me and your rights to express yourself?

I would hope that readers might be willing to express themselves and weigh in on whose right carries the greatest weight.