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This is one of those decisions that reminds you there is sometimes a very high price to pay for the freedom of speech.The Supreme Court voted 8-1 in favour of the Westboro Baptist Church in a federal lawsuit today.
After a five-year battle and numerous appeals, the church has affirmed its federal right to picket soldier’s funerals with signs that read “Thank God for dead soldiers,” “Thank God For IEDS” and “Semper Fi, Semper Fag.”
According to Supreme Court Chief Justice John 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.”
The Westboro Baptist Church, led by the Reverend Fred Phelps, has taken to picketing soldiers funerals over the last few years as a form of protest. They regarding their aggressive and insensitive picketing as an illumination the country’s wrongful acceptance of homosexuality.
That’s right: according to the church, the death of American soldiers is the result of the wrath of God, spawned from a hatred of America because the country refuses to denounce same-sex relationships.
Talk about non sequiturs. If you’ve never heard about this before, yes, you read the sentence correctly.
The lawsuit began in 2006 when the Albert Snyder, whose son Matthew was killed in Iraq, sued Phelps and Co. for “intentionally inflicting emotional distress.” The church had picketed Matthew’s funeral and then published a mean-spirited poem on their website against the Snyders.
The family won $11 million, which was then reduced to $5 million. Then a federal judge threw out the verdict on the grounds of First Amendment protection of the church’s right to act like jerks in public. And apparently the Supreme Court agrees. But that doesn’t mean anyone has to like it.