By an eight to one vote, the Supreme Court has found in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church in Snyder v Phelps, which pitted the father of a fallen Marine against a church whose main doctrine appears to be hating gay people and Catholics.
Justice Sam Alito was the only dissenter.
The main thrust of the Supreme Court opinion is that the Westboro protest of the funeral of Matthew Snyder was not, by and large, motivated against Snyder or his family, but rather at larger issues that concerned the Westboro Baptist Church and was hence protected speech. The First Amendment covers even the most vile political speech, and therefore had to prevail in this case.
Justice Alito offered a passionate dissent, maintaining that the Westboro protest was directed at Matthew Snyder and his family and therefore was not protected speech, no matter what the motives of the church members were. The First Amendment, Alito maintains, is not a license to personally abuse people.
Sadly, the Supreme Court has likely handed down the right decision, from a constitutional standpoint. One cannot find a way to censor Westboro’s hate speech without opening the door to censoring anyone’s speech.
That does not offer any comfort to Albert Snyder, whose burial of his son was hijacked by a group of horrible, hate-filled people who just wanted the opportunity to spew their venom. There may be comfort for Mr. Snyder to know that the overwhelming majority of people feel as he does about the Westboro Church and what it does. If there is anything that unites left and right in America, it is that salient fact.
Sadly, the Westboro Church will no doubt feel emboldened to show up at any funeral it wants to in order to wave signs, shout, scream, and carry on. The irony is that the more attention they get, the more people turn away in revulsion. The Westboro Church is not convincing anyone of their message; quite the opposite, actually.
In a strange way, the Westboro Church is performing a socially beneficial function by demonstrating the face of blind hate. Thus the Church has made that kind of hate just a little less socially acceptable. In a way, they are like the helots in Ancient Sparta, who were forced to become drunk and then behave badly in order to demonstrate to Spartan children the folly of strong drink.
See, that is what it is like. Do not be like them.
Sources: SCOTUS: No jackass exception to the First Amendment, Ed Morrissey, Hot Air, March 2nd, 2011
Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Snyder vs. Phelps, Mark R. Whittington, Associated Content, October October 7th, 2010