The freedom to assemble is extremely important for people of differences to gather and unite for a cause. The number of participants in such gatherings is important to show individuals either receiving unequal treatment or casting a greater spotlight on shared views or both.  The participants themselves do not necessarily all have to be ones affected, but simply reflect supporters advocating such cause.

Although the United States allows such gatherings, and the courts staunchly defend such right, sometimes the assembly of people expressing unpopular speech strikes a nerve, resulting in more conversation or controversy of a particular topic.  Throughout the rest of the world, however, the right to assembly and freedom of speech is often oppressed.  Within the last month, in two different sides of the world, the right to assembly has been affirmed by both an anti-gay group—oddly enough—that pickets funerals of dead soldiers in the United States, while gay rights groups that want to assemble in Russia have been forbidden to gather for a gay rights parade in Moscow to express their discontent of oppression.

In the first week of March, in an 8 to 1 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church are entitled to stage their controversial antigay protests at dead soldiers’’ funerals.  This protection extends to protestors, even if their offensive speech causes substantial injury to family members and other loved ones attending the funeral.  This ruling affirmed that free speech and right to assembly includes highly offensive protests.  Although many are shocked that a group of individuals would be allowed to promote anti-gay messages at dead soldiers’ funerals, sometimes the right to freedom of speech brings unintended consequences. 

Although many are shocked that a group of individuals would be allowed to promote anti-gay messages at dead soldiers’ funerals, sometimes the right to freedom of speech brings unintended consequences.

At the other end of the world, Nikolai Alekseev, Russia’s foremost gay rights leader, began a seven U.S. city tour—no, Baltimore was not included—to generate exposure to Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin’s decision to prohibit gay rights groups from assembling.  The gay rights groups are trying to cast light on their oppression and continued abuse. 

For many years, gay rights groups in Russia have encountered beatings, intimidation, and government bans.  The mistreatment in Russia has been so extensive it has gained the attention of the European Court, which did conclude that violations against gay rights groups have occurred.    Still, to this day, Moscow’s authorities are continuing their prohibition against allowing gay rights groups to assemble, and Russia continues to suppress other gay groups throughout the country, resulting in a group of people, without recourse for their continued abuse, living in constant fear.

The freedom of assembly and speech in the United States should not be taken for granted, and it should be noted that it can be used to either promote a cause or encourage continued suppression.  When looking at the current Supreme Court’s ruling and viewing Moscow’s continued oppression of gay rights, one has to view the recent Supreme Court’s ruling with mixed blessings.  On one end, they did not limit speech or assemble on the other end they allowed a group of bigots to promote an agenda at dead soldiers’ funerals.  When you have a choice between either a government disallowing assembly and freedom of speech or a government that allows complete freedom of speech—even if offensive and shocking—one cannot help but gravitate towards complete freedom, no matter how offensive the speech or assembly.

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