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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.

Here's more coverage so far from The New York Times, the Kansas City Star, the Wall Street Journal, and Scotusblog.

Comments

It´s a shame to hear some brothers and sisters are doing this. You can say military deaths are the toll US have to pay for killing people all around the globe, and you can say sexually transmitted diseases and the disintegration of the society are the punishment for a growth of homosexual relationships ant their acceptance by government and society. But, can you combine them?

Before you call them brothers and sinisters.. err.. sorry I mean sisters, you need to take a look at their doctrines and beliefs and see where they stand.

I'm probably a minority in this - people that follow a minister (I'm being kind) in such actions is a cult!

@Sarah: It is quite a stretch to call the members of this hate group 'brothers and sisters.' It is clear that they are unregenerated followers of Satan. Here are some research resources on the group:
http://bit.ly/18gQPg

I don't understand. We are talking about someone who has given their life for our country .. the ultimate sacrifice that one can give. The people who love them should be able to mourn in peace and grieve without having others harassing them.
There are so many serious issues in the world. What if this energy was used to build playgrounds or houses for Habitat for Humanity. It seems as though I don't "see the point" of these vicious verbal attacks. To stand quietly in protest at a great distance is done at abortion clinics .... to stand quietly in protest may be an option, but to openly bring deep hurt to those at their point of inexplainable sorrow does not make sense to me.

The big picture here is that, whether or not the deceased servicemen in question were gay or Christian or whatever, the fact that Westboro uses military funerals as a venue for hate speech and twisted, Satanic theology should not be tolerated in a decent society. Most of the soldiers whose funerals have been picketed were not gay, and Westboro had no business being there one way or another. The Supreme Court's decision represents another bit of the disintegration of common decency in America. Kudos to Justice Alito for having the only spine on the bench.

Typical elitist christian behavior from the ones who think they know so much better than we, the will of the Sovereign God! They forget the Scripture that reads “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone.” These christians will soon be drinking the Kool-Aid with each other and for that I am very happy.

On the LOATHSOME SCALE, Fred Phelps and his clan at the Westboro Baptist Church are about as far beyond the pale as anyone can get ... but until they are proved to be inciting violence or causing harm, their speech is protected by the 1st Amendment. Jerry Falwell said that Gays were responsible for 9/11; Pat Robertson said that God might hurl a meteor at Disneyworld because of "Gay Days;" and Phelps & Co. insist that God hates ... well, just about everyone. Ugly, hateful words that do nothing but reflect poorly on the speakers, but protected speech nonetheless. The Supreme Court made the right decision.

How can this not be a hate crime?

As a mother of a soldier who has just returned from serving in Iraq, I am ashamed of these "so called" believers in Christ. They have twisted the word of God and the Bible plainly teaches that no one knows the mind of God so how can they claim to know that the dieing of brave soldiers was due to the wrath of God.These soldiers and their families gave the utlimate sacrifice so that people like them could stay safe and free. Howdisrespectful,uncompassionate, and inconsiderate of them. Their very actions go against the teachings of Jesus. In fact, I do not believe that they are true believers. People like this representing the church are the reason that most people do not attend church. They feel like they act better than those that go to church.
If my son had fallen in Iraq and they showed up at his funeral, I would mostly definetly feel like it was a hate crime.

Lot of folks might disagree, but I think the Supreme Court got it right on this.

The problem, it seems to me, is that freedom of speech is most important when it is unpopular. No one supports Westboro. That is not the issue. The issue is freedom of speech. Whether you agree or not, Westboro is attempting political speech. The type that is most important to keep. Freedom of speech, like freedom of religion must be protected by those that disagree with it, or else everyone loses.

This is an issue where I am somewhat torn. I can't help feeling that the speech being protected in this case is a form of harassment. But as much as I abhor what Phelps and his congregation represent, I would rather err on the side of freedom and liberty. We may not always like this, but there is no constitutional right not to be offended. There is, however, a right to freedom of expression.

Phelps is a disbarred lawyer, a past civil rights activist in Kansas, and a Democrat who has five times been a candidate for political office in Kansas Democratic Party primaries. Phelps supported Al Gore in the 1988 Democratic Party primary election. Phelps considers Billy Graham a false prophet and has condemned church leaders like Robert Schuller and Jerry Falwell. He doesn't fit the description liberals paint of your typical right-wing fundamentalist homophobe. Who knows, maybe he's being paid by progressive libs to give fundamentalists a bad name...

I am a christian woman,and I know that the bible says certain things about unusual or deviant sexual practices.But the bible does not condone hatred.The bible says to love one another,and to treat others the way you want to be treated. And it's unfair to blame the spread of aids solely on gays.There are just as many infected heterosexuals who transmit the virus through unprotected sex.Plus,there are iv drug users who became infected after sharing needles with other junkies.There is nothing wrong with the gay community.They aren't bothering anyone,and their lifestyle isn't illegal.What's wrong is when people use gays and others who are different as scapegoats for society's problems.What's wrong is when hate mongers with warped thinking use the bible to justify being hateful and hostile to gays,minorities,immigrants,and others who are different.Although these protesters have the right to express their views and opinions,the military families have the right to bury their deceased loved ones in peace and with dignity.

What will be intriguing and necessary, here, is the measuring of this case against more "bland" cases that will come before the Supreme Court. Will more bona fide Christian ministries receive the same kind of justice in their arguments for freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of association, etc.? Truthmeister's last sentence is worth remembering. Some liberal critics, I'm sure, actually love to have the Phelps' crew in the news; it helps justify their rhetoric about the need for "hate" laws, etc.

Jesus said:
“Let the dead bury the dead” – Matthew 8:22, Luke 9:60

AN AMENDMENT TO THE CONSTITUTION:

“The right of the people to bury their dead in accordance with their beliefs and traditions may not be infringed by individuals or by government authority.”

STOP WESTBORO BAPTIST CHURCH FROM PICKETING FUNERALS!