I do not like the way the Supreme Court ruled today, but I don’t see how they could have ruled any other way. If we are to allow free speech in this country, we don’t get to pick and choose which speech to allow and which not to allow. As long as no other laws are broken, anybody is pretty much free to express themselves in any way they wish… even if it means making asses of themselves, as in the case of the Westboro Baptist Church.
(Reuters) – The Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that members of a fundamentalist church have a free-speech right to hold anti-gay protests at military funerals to promote their view that God hates America for tolerating homosexuality.
In a case pitting free-speech versus privacy rights, the nation’s highest court held that the picketing at a private funeral and even hurtful protest messages were protected by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.
The decision by an 8-1 vote was the latest in a long line of Supreme Court rulings that free-speech rights protected even outrageous or offensive conduct, including the burning of the American flag.
The ruling was a defeat for Albert Snyder, the father of a Marine killed in Iraq in 2006. He sued after the family’s funeral service at a Roman Catholic Church in Westminster, Maryland, drew unwanted protests by members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas.
The protesters carried signs that stated, “God Hates You,” “You Are Going To Hell,” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.”
Westboro Pastor Fred Phelps and other church members have protested hundreds of funerals of military members killed in Iraq or Afghanistan as part of their religious view that God is punishing America for its tolerance of gays and lesbians.
Phelps founded the church in 1955 and it has about 70 members made up mostly of his relatives.
In the court’s opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts said the church’s beliefs and its signs related to issues of public importance, including political and moral conduct in the United States.
Roberts said the country may not agree with the church’s views, but said it cannot react to the pain the protesters inflicted by punishing the speaker.
“As a nation, we have chosen a different course — to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate,” he said.
This ruling sets a precedent for this court which, I believe, is going to prove very important in the not too distant future. Mr. Roberts and his fellow conservatives are going to find it very difficult to reverse themselves.