March 2, 2011
Supreme Court Sides with Westboro on Funeral Protests
The Supreme Court has decided that Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church is protected under the First Amendment when they protest at military funerals, the Associated Press reports.
The court had picked up the case last May. Westboro pastor Fred Phelps leads his church members in funeral protests, suggesting that military deaths are punishment for the country's tolerance of homosexuality.
Here's an excerpt from the majority opinion from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.:
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. 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. That choice requires that we shield Westboro from tort liability for its picketing in this case.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissented alone. "Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case," he wrote.