The Supreme Court on Wednesday gave the go-ahead for members of the hateful Westboro Baptist Church to protest at military funerals. In an 8-1 ruling, the Court said First Amendment rights protect the protestors, regardless of how hurtful their message might be.
The decision upheld an appeals court ruling that threw out a $5 million judgment to the father of a dead Marine who sued the church after it picketed his son's funeral.
In the opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote:
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.
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Roberts noted that they obeyed police directions and were 1,000 feet from the church.
Justice Samuel Alito was the lone dissenter, writing:
Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case.
Rev. Fred Phelps and his family, who make up most of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, routinely show up at military funerals with such signs as "God Hates Fags," "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," "You're Going to Hell," and "God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11." They are trying to gain attention to their twisted theory that military deaths are God's punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality.
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Albert Snyder never even saw the protestors at his son's funeral in 2006 -- the route was changed to avoid them. However he later found photos on the Internet and sued.
Forty-eight states, 42 U.S. senators and veterans groups sided with Snyder. They urged the Court to shield funerals from the Phelps family's "psychological terrorism."
However the Court ruled for Westboro. Margie Phelps, a daughter of the minister and a lawyer who argued the case before the Supreme Court, said she expected the outcome. "The only surprise is that Justice Alito did not feel compelled to follow his oath," Phelps said. "We read the law. We follow the law. The only way for a different ruling is to shred the First Amendment."
She then went on to defend the church's disgusting message."The wrath of God is pouring onto this land. Rather than trying to shut us up, use your platforms to tell this nation to mourn for your sins."