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High Court Rules in Favor of Westboro Church

In an 8-1 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that the First Amendment protects the rights of a fundamentalist Christian church to use and display anti-military slurs near the funerals of fallen troops.
The court's vote in favor of Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., lets stand a lower court decision that tossed out a $5 million judgment against the church for picketing the service of a Maryland Marine.
Justice Samuel Alito was the only one to rule in favor of the family of the late Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder.
"Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case," Alito wrote in his dissent.

Writing for the majority, Justice John Roberts said the First Amendment shields the funeral protesters, noting that they obeyed police directions and were 1,000 feet from the church.

"Speech is powerful. 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," Roberts said. "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."
Veterans groups were resigned to the high court's decision.
"I think this will settle the argument of whether you can use this particular vehicle that Mr. Snyder did" to halt the Westboro protests, said Mark Seavey, a spokesman for The American Legion. "That's been rendered completely moot by the court."
Matthew Snyder died in Iraq in 2006 and his body was returned to the United States for burial. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church, who have picketed military funerals for several years, decided to protest outside the Westminster, Md., church where his funeral was to be held.
The Rev. Fred Phelps and his family members who make up most of the Westboro Baptist Church have picketed many military funerals to draw attention to their stance that U.S. deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq are God's punishment for America's tolerance of homosexuality.
Their signs used during pickets read "Thank God for dead soldiers," "You're Going to Hell," "God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11," and one that combined the U.S. Marine Corps motto, Semper Fi, with a slur against gay men.
The church members often drew counter-demonstrators, as well as media coverage and a heavy police presence to maintain order. The result was a spectacle that led to altering the route of the funeral procession.
"The larger question of time and place and manner [of protest] -- those might come more to the fore because of it," added the American Leagion's Seavey, who said he thinks communities will take another look at laws or ordinances regarding the distance between protesters and funeral services.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars said it is "greatly disappointed" with the court's ruling.
"The right to free speech does not trump a family's right to mourn in private, and though the Westboro Baptist Church may think they have won, the VFW will continue to support community efforts to ensure no one hears their voice," said spokesman Joe Davis.

Views: 20

Comment by SydTheSkeptic on March 5, 2011 at 11:07am

As disrespectful as it is, and as unpopular as this opinion will be, I think the court ruled in favor of free speech.

We might hate it for all its arrogance, and its WAY-off sense of morality (so hypocritical and down-right NASTY in its effect), but had the court ruled against the church, it would've set a dangerous precedent that could've been used against ALL types of "protests".  


I think my faith would be more lost in the public if I didn't already know that there have been communities that have dealt with these idiots in a way that maintained the mourners privacy as well as the dignity of the community itself. 

Angels to Protect Mourners Against Protesting Church Members



Comment by lima on March 5, 2011 at 11:13am

I am hoping that out of this new laws will be passed that allow people in mourning to have peace and solitude at funerals... and to forbid people to riot and protest in the name of religion.


I understand the free-speech aspect, I really do... I guess it just makes me sad that so many people are getting away with hate in the name of free speech.


I am allowed to say whatever I want, there has to be a line somewhere in there that you just should not be allowed to cross over.  


to purposely want to cause hurt when people are already in pain just seems so inhumane.  :(



Comment by lima on March 5, 2011 at 11:18am

and another thought.   who wants the funerals to become pony shows?  Personally IMO , we should not have to have so many support groups show up to out weight the others, the Funeral ends up being about the protestors and about the supporters not about the person that has passed over and the people left behind.


I think its great to see the angels, and to hear about the Vets that come out, we had a soldier recently in WV that was killed by an IED and my unit had gone to the funeral because the church was going to be there... 

back and forth, back and forth...  media, adds to it.



Comment by SydTheSkeptic on March 5, 2011 at 11:41am

I hear ya.  I agree.


Better the silent angels obscuring the view rather than loud counter-protesters, for sure.

Comment by Holger on March 6, 2011 at 5:15pm
Sad indeed. People who show up at funerals to degrade dead people and to piss on people that are already in pain are some of the lowest creatures on earth.


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