October 6, 2010
Westboro Baptist goes to Washington
Giving Christians a bad name—that’s Fred Phelps’ profession.
He and his hateful flock at Westboro Baptist Church get the occasional mention on this blog (and over at GetReligion). And today the Supreme Court of the United States heard Westboro’s case for protesting at the funerals of soldiers, like the one pictured here. The question before the court centers on just what kind of speech, and where, is protected by the First Amendment.
The case, Snyder v. Phelps, involves a lawsuit brought by the father of a Marine killed in Iraq. Phelps’ folks not only picketed Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder’s funeral but also directed online attacks at his memory. Though Westboro contacted police ahead of time and its picketers remained in their approved protesting area 1,000 feet from the funeral, Snyder’s father won a $5 million judgment at trial. The appellate court tossed the judgment, citing free speech.
Now the Supreme Court will resolve whether Westboro’s speech was protected or not. Nina Totenberg has a healthy recap of today’s hearing; this portion jumped out at me:
The correct answer is no. It may be uncivil, certainly unpopular, but it’s not grounds for a lawsuit.
Personally, I deplore—actually, I hate—Westboro Baptist’s M.O. and what the group stands for. They call themselves Christians, and I’m not one to judge the heart, but we’re not praying to the same God.
Still, sickening as their tactics are, I feel in my heart and in my head that they have the right to be a bunch of jerks.