In line with its historical reluctance to penalize even egregious forms of speech, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that members of the Westboro Baptist “Church” (I use the quotes for the same reason I put quotes around the word “father” whenever I cover a story about a father abusing his children), based here in Kansas, have the right to protest at the funerals of U.S. soldiers around the country, waving signs and chanting, condemning the deceased and rejoicing in their deaths as supposed divine retribution for America’s tolerance of gays and lesbians. It’s sad on many levels. I’m all for freedom of speech, but I think that the visceral reaction that virtually all Americans have to these protests — intended to disturb the peaceful mourning of bereaved families — reflects an inherent and legally-distinguishable wrongfulness in the protesters’ behavior. In an 8-1 decision, however, Justice Alito is the only justice who voted to allow the “church” to be held liable for the emotional distress that it causes. I’ve seen such protests in person, and while I personally dismiss the adult protesters’ messages as the inane and utterly-irreligious rantings of an apocalyptic nut and his nutty followers, it’s heartbreaking to see their minor children participating. I think it’s actionable child abuse to incite children to such behavior before those children have the cognitive capacities required to knowingly choose whether to participate. It’s the kind of thing that I believe could induce lifelong feelings of guilt (albeit misplaced) and of victimization in someone who participated in it as a child and only later in life realized the wrongfulness of the behavior. Again sadly, it’s nevertheless consistent with allegations made by his own now-adult children that the congregation’s spiritual leader was profoundly, disgustingly abusive, both to them and to their mother, for years outside of public view. I’d refer interested readers to my recent piece entitled “What Attacks on Gays Say About the Attackers,” dated 10/10/10.
While I’m here, an update on another “Father of the Year” candidate, Charlie Sheen: Seems I was right on both counts when I speculated earlier today about why his two-year-old twins were removed from his home by law enforcement. Sheen allegedly violated a court-ordered custody schedule by failing to return the children to their mother, and the court also apparently believed that there was reason to doubt Sheen’s ability to parent safely and effectively at this time, given his recent disintegration before our eyes on national television, resulting in an emergency order granting temporary sole custody to the children’s mother. See what I mean? The best thing that I think could’ve happened to this guy would’ve been a couple of years in jail back when he was charged with violently assaulting the children’s mother. I don’t think anyone’s going to talk a guy like this out of substance abuse, and I don’t think he’s going to quit on his own either. I think people like this often need steel bars between them and their substance for long enough periods of time to get it out of their system, to reflect upon how much worse it made their lives and the lives of others, and to internalize responsibility for the damage done by it. That’s why I often say that jail is a better “rehab” than a resort-style facility where the “guests” can check in and out at will. If he’d had “rehab” Dr. Brian-style instead of rehab Dr.-Drew style, I think Sheen might realistically be planning a successful return to television, and more importantly, to parenting his kids, later this year, with of course the prospect of an extended return stay in “rehab” Dr. Brian-style to help keep him clean and sober thereafter. (People with malignantly-narcissistic — both narcissistic and antisocial — inclinations often do the right thing only if/when they perceive that it’s in their own best interests to do so, which means that it often takes the constant threat of external consequences, like lengthy jail stays, to keep them out of trouble.)