Protest Sparks Speech Debate


We at the Rampage are no strangers to the First Amendment right to the Freedom of Speech. In fact, it is the First Amendment that allows journalism to thrive and provides the public with a diverse array of perspectives and viewpoints. Still, we are constantly faced with the question of what is appropriate to print in our society, even on a student level.
Journalists are expected to have journalistic integrity, meaning that we must seek the truth and report it honestly and courageously. Without journalistic integrity, newspapers, from The Rampage to The New York Times, would be taken as jokes.
The Rampage’s journalistic integrity came into question during the Nov. 10 Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) pickets at RHS. WBC is a Kansas-based unaffiliated Baptist church and registered hate group, which protests topics, such as same sex marriage and abortion.
Groups like WBC are protected under the First Amendment, just as any other group is protected. Despite how harmful their words may be, WBC has the right to protest and to express their beliefs. Attempting to limit this freedom infringes on their civil liberties, even if this liberty is the cause of hardship in lives of others.
We were hesitant to cover the group’s protests as RHS administration urged students to carry on as if that day was a normal Tuesday. We understood that bringing attention to the group would only satisfy their negative agenda. However, it was still a major event within our tight knit community, with the potential of telling an intriguing story.
New questions surfaced: do we want to cover the event due to its shock factor or because it is genuinely news? After much discussion, we decided that it would be most appropriate to cover the protests in an online news piece, which was posted the same day. However, the article is not in this issue of The Rampage nor will it be in later issues. We hope that in this way, we were able to give our community necessary, relevant information while limiting the glamorization of a hate group, who were just exercising their First Amendment right to Freedom of Speech.
If we stick our heads in the ground and ignore current conflicts around us, regardless of the group that perpetrates them, then we as journalists are ignoring our calling. Rather than demonizing others, we must combat the opinions of others with logic and reason, having respect for other beliefs.
In our community, when WBC arrived with the rising sun, some parents and teachers posed a counterprotest, using their First Amendment right to express their opinions. If those who demonized WBC for their actions on that Tuesday morning truly want to make an impact in expressing their beliefs of tolerance and acceptance, they must be respectful and realize, our constitution applies to all of us.