First Amendment Protects Protestors at Military Funerals

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the First Amendment of the Constitution protects the fundamentalist church members who regularly put together anti-gay protests just outside military funerals. While family members at the funerals have a difficult time dealing with the protests, the ruling indicates that there is nothing that can be done about the Westboro Baptist Church, of Topeka, Kansas, which has routinely been involved in such protests. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for the court in the case, while Justice Samuel Alito dissented.

Noted Roberts, "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." Alito, however, strenuously disagreed with the majority, writing, "Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case."

As is regularly the case, the Westboro Baptist Church showed up at the funeral of Matthew Snyder, a soldier who died in Iraq in 2006. The group blames the deaths of U.S. soldiers in Iraq on America’s acceptance of homosexuality and hold up signs at the funerals that read "Thank God for dead soldiers," "You’re Going to Hell" and "God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11.

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