After the Supreme Court’s 8-1 ruling that the First Amendment protects the Westboro Baptist Church’s right to picket military funerals with anti-gay signs and hate-filled speech, b, a daily magazine from the Baltimore Sun, sought feedback from Baltimoreans. Jeremy Johnson ’12, sociology, public relations director for The 6th Branch (a veteran-led community service organization) said: “I’m a U.S. Navy veteran and as much as it pains me to admit, the decision in the Westboro case is a victory for all Americans on the judicial front. Hurt feelings are not a reason to abandon free speech. American military members promise to support and defend the Constitution and while many of us find the behavior of the WBC vile and contemptuous, the sad truth is that there is no real tangible damage in the free speech they exercise. Society has a role to play in condemning this kind of behavior, rather than expecting laws to do all the work for us. Sadly, coverage of Westboro sustains them and this court case gave Fred Phelps and his kin exactly what they want. Every time their name is mentioned outside the walls of their ‘church,’ they consider that a victory. If we are to remove their power, we must stop talking about them and carry on as if they do not matter.”
Johnson is also featured on iReport, CNN’s public journalism site. They recently posted a powerful letter through which he ended his decade-long military career by coming out to his commanding officer in 2007. Johnson shared the letter because he wanted others to understand how coming out in the military feels, and the piece is now up for a CNN iReport award in the category of “personal story.” Read it and vote at http://ireportawards.cnn.com/nominees/22.