The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a grieving father's pain over mocking protests at his Marine son's funeral must yield to First Amendment protections for free speech. All but one justice sided with a fundamentalist church that has stirred outrage with raucous demonstrations contending God is punishing the military for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality.Wonderful Christians, those Westboro Baptists. And let me just say that by "Westboro Baptists" I mean only those members of Fred Phelps' congregation and those who agree with him. I am sure there's a place called "Westboro" somewhere in the country and I am sure there are Baptists there. I am just as sure that those coincidental "Westboro Baptists" would, if given the chance, join the rest of civilized society and agree that Fred Phelps' congregation is just awful.
The 8-1 decision in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., was the latest in a line of court rulings that, as Chief Justice John Roberts said in his opinion for the court, protects "even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate."
The decision ended a lawsuit by Albert Snyder, who sued church members for the emotional pain they caused by showing up at his son Matthew's funeral. As they have at hundreds of other funerals, the Westboro members held signs with provocative messages, including "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, Se
That doesn't mean they don't get First Amendment Protection.
On this the editorial boards of the BOTH the P-G and The Trib agree. First the P-G:
After the U.S. Supreme Court took the case, the concern was that this might also be a funeral for the First Amendment. As we said at the time, tolerance of free speech is easy, but it's not easy speech that needs constitutional protection. Would the justices summon the wisdom of Solomon?And the Trib:
They did. In an 8-1 decision Wednesday, the court ruled the First Amendment right to free speech trumps the pain such speech can cause. That conservatives and liberals on the bench came together -- only Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissented -- said that the Constitution was not to be taken down a slippery slope to where emotional distress might silence all speech.
No matter how despicable, demeaning, vile and ignorant one thinks was the picketing by Westboro Baptist Church members at the funeral of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq, the Founding precept that the U.S. Supreme Court employed on Wednesday in Westboro's defense is the same one that allows us -- and most of you, we presume -- to lambaste Westboro without fear of legal reprisal.They add a few paragraphs later:
In an 8-1 ruling, the high court affirmed that Westboro's First Amendment right to speech "cannot be restricted simply because it is upsetting or arouses contempt."
It is critical to note, however, that the court's ruling is narrowly tailored to the facts of only this case. To wit, the protest was on public land, was generally away from the funeral and did not physically interfere with the service. Similar protests by this or any group that do anything less should not presume such automatic First Amendment protection. [emphasis added]At least one part of that was missed by at least one high profile conservative - namely Sarah Palin. She tweeted:
Common sense & decency absent as wacko "church" allowed hate msgs spewed@ soldiers' funerals but we can't invoke God's name in public squareUm, Sarah? Isn't that precisely what the Supreme Court said they had a right to do? That as wacko as the Westboro Baptist Church is (and indeed they are) they have the right to hold up their wacko signs as the Quitter-Governor so ably tweeted "in public square."
Tell me again why we attention to her?
You can read the Supreme Court ruling here.