Wednesday, March 2, 2011

First Amendment Stands, Nobody Wins

In an expected but still hard-to-swallow decision, the U.S. Supreme court ruled in favor of the Westboro Baptist “Church,” in a lawsuit brought up against them by the father of a fallen soldier, whose funeral was protested by WBC members. On March 10, 2006, WBC picketed the funeral of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder. Displaying signs that read: "God hates America," "Thank God for dead soldiers," and "Pray for more dead soldiers," WBC protested outside the funeral of a man who died defending their rights to harass his family and exercise their freedom of speech. On June 5, 2006, the Snyder family sued for defamation, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

In the 8-1 decision favoring the Westboro Baptist “Church,” U.S. Supreme Court justices said, “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.”

It's heartbreaking, to say the least, to think there are people with so much hatred in their hearts, that they feel the need to picket soldiers funerals (including the funeral of a 9-year-old victim of the Jan. 2011 Arizona shooting, a 9/11 baby), to spread a message of hate, prejudice and revulsion. My heart goes out to the family of this fallen hero, who just wanted to bury their son in peace, with the dignity and respect he so unreservedly deserves.

However, WBC's First Amendment rights must be upheld. In the words of my favorite columnist/film critic, Richard Roeper:

We must defend Westboro's right to free speech, no matter how hurtful. Holding up signs that say, "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and "God Hates You" at a fallen Marine's service, despicable as it is, does not fit the definition of invasion of privacy (They picketed more than 1,000 feet from the church where the funeral was held, in accordance with municipal regulations). The Phelps family isn't making a mockery of our Constitution -- they're making a mockery of themselves with every breath they take. Let 'em rant and rave. But putting a government-imposed muzzle on them would set a dangerous precedent and would give them a thousand times more historical importance than they deserve.

And I expect the Supreme Court will uphold my rights when I protest the funerals of these morons.

"I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it"

The sad thing is, Matthew A. Snyder died doing exactly that.


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