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Just because you can doesn’t mean that you should | Opinion
In a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the justices ruled 8-1 that the Westboro Baptist Church and its congregation are protected under the First Amendment when they held a mocking protest at the funeral of an American soldier.
That ruling was handed down despite the fact that any reasonable person viewed the messages of hate spewed by picketing members of the Westboro Church as cruel, disgusting and offensive.
The key word is “reasonable.”
The Westboro case was a test of the great power of the American Constitution and the understanding that our right to free speech isn’t always pretty.
“Speech is powerful,” said Chief Justice John Roberts. “It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and — as it did here — inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker.”
Enter the Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve.
While certainly not comparable to the Westboro congregation, COER has the knack for doing and saying things to get under the skin of those who disagree with their position.
For that matter, each side does its fair share of taking jabs at the other. Such is the nature of public discourse.
COER is clear in its mission — to end landing practices at Outlying Field Coupeville and eliminate the Growler presence on Whidbey Island. Understandably, this doesn’t sit well with those in the Navy and those who rely on the Navy presence to survive.
Members of COER have the right to call for the practice field to be closed, and it was their right to protest this past Friday at OLF Coupeville. It was also within their constitutionally-protected right to display an American flag upside down during their rally.
However, in doing so, COER was unnecessarily offensive. Perhaps that was the intention, but hopefully it was not.
Flying the American flag upside down is an officially recognized signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.
An upside down flag is not meant to be a sign of disrespect.
Last Friday, however, holding the upside down flag was perceived as a slap in the face to the Navy community and all Navy supporters on North Whidbey.
Whether we have the right as citizens to set out to anger those who disagree with us, sometimes there’s greater reward in taking a higher road.
That did not happen in this instance.
By holding the flag upside down, COER came across as insensitive and antagonizing to fellow islanders, and that is an unfortunate choice that will long be associated with the group.
n Keven R. Graves is executive editor and publisher of the Whidbey News-Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org