I think this surprises me as much as the decision.Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for the court. Justice Samuel Alito dissented.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the First Amendment protects fundamentalist church members who mount anti-gay protests outside military funerals, despite the pain they cause grieving families.
The court voted 8-1 in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. The decision upheld an appeals court ruling that threw out a $5 million judgment to the father of a dead Marine who sued church members after they picketed his son's funeral.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for the court. Justice Samuel Alito dissented.
Roberts said free speech rights in the First Amendment shield the funeral protesters, noting that they obeyed police directions and were 1,000 feet from the church.
"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," Roberts said. "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."
Alito strongly disagreed. "Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case," he said.
Matthew Snyder died in Iraq in 2006 and his body was returned to the United States for burial. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church, who have picketed military funerals for several years, decided to protest outside the Westminster, Md., church where his funeral was to be held.
The Rev. Fred Phelps and his family members who make up most of the Westboro Baptist Church have picketed many military funerals in their quest to draw attention to their incendiary view that U.S. deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq are God's punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality.
They showed up with their usual signs, 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, Semper Fi, with a slur against gay men.
The church members drew counter-demonstrators, as well as media coverage and a heavy police presence to maintain order. The result was a spectacle that led to altering the route of the funeral procession.
Several weeks later, Albert Snyder was surfing the Internet for tributes to his son from other soldiers and strangers when he came upon a poem on the church's website that attacked Matthew's parents for the way they brought up their son.
Soon after, Snyder filed a lawsuit accusing the Phelpses of intentionally inflicting emotional distress. He won $11 million at trial, later reduced by a judge to $5 million.
The federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., threw out the verdict and said the Constitution shielded the church members from liability.
Forty-eight states, 42 U.S. senators and veterans groups sided with Snyder, asking the court to shield funerals from the Phelps family's "psychological terrorism."
I don't like the decision but I can respect it...but regardless it's disgusting
Yeah, its the price we pay for our freedoms.
That being said, if some grieving parent put a bullet in these people I'd be the first dancing the lambada on their graves.
As despicable and loathsome as the Westboro Baptist Church is, we have to protect their right to free speech, just like everyone else's, just as we would for a Satanist group or an atheist group. Free speech must apply to all of us or it will ultimately apply to none of us.
Watching television is not an activity.
These ass-hats are from my home town and try as we might, we can't get rid of them because the law is on their side. However, you can expect one of the largest protests at ol' Fred's funeral.
While they are protected, I do think they should be held accountable for the untrue things they say. Slander and libel should still apply to their hate speech.
Too bad civility is dead.
Originally Posted by Fone Bone
Well... Happily, they've provoked (or perhaps trolled) up the ire of Anonymous... So much for their internets.
I feel remarkably unburdened with the need to explain, justify or defend anything I say, feel or do online to any self-entitled anonymous snarkwit who feels I owe their point of view a form of cogent argument or debate. Life is too short to stress myself arguing with strangers over minutiae. Ya don't like it, ignore me and go read something else. -WinterRose