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Supreme Court Says Westboro Baptist Church Can Protest Military Funerals

westboro baptist church

The many hate-filled signs of the Westboro Baptist Church.

The Supreme Court ruled today in the case of Snyder v. Phelps, an lengthy legal battle pitting the father of a deceased U.S. soldier against Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church, widely known for picketing funerals and carrying signs that say things like “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.”

According to Chief Justice Roberts and his colleagues, “The First Amendment protects hateful protests at military funerals,” the New York Times reports.  He said in his ruling, “The national commitment to free speech requires protection of even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.”  The court sided with Phelps 8-1.  

The only Justice who dissented was Samuel A. Alito, who “likened the protest to fighting words, which are not protected by the First Amendment.”  He wrote, “In order to have a society in which public issues can be openly and vigorously debated, it is not necessary to allow the brutalization of innocent victims.”  I agree, as you know if you read this blog regularly, with Justice Alito.  But many of my friends – including those that are gay – concur with the majority vote in this case, as does the New York Times.

Roberts did offer some caveats to this ruling, noting that “the ruling was narrow and limited to the kinds of protests staged by the church.”  Justice Stephen G. Breyer added in a separate statement that “other sorts of speech, including television broadcasts and Internet postings, might warrant different treatment.”

Military funerals are one thing, but what about the funerals of Elizabeth Edwards and the Arizona victims?  Does Phelps’ reign of terror have no threshold?  And what will happen when someone in the throes of grief eventually decides to attack Fred Phelps and his kin (klan)?

I certainly respect the First Amendment, but I am also concerned about the ways in which hate speech can incite violence.  The incitement to violence is against the law, and I think Phelps is (clearly) doing a great job of wading in a moral grey area with his provoking slogans.  Intention is everything, as they say, and Phelps’ intent is not to offer anything positive to the world.  His signs don’t say “God Loves Straight People,” they say, “God Hates Fags.”

Source: New York Times

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