Let’s hear it for the latest decision of the Supreme Court. I never thought I would be saying this about a Robert’s Court decision, but miracles do happen.
Earlier this year, the Westboro Baptist Church protested at our High Holiday Services in Chicago, only a few of them, standing on a corner across from where our celebrations were taking place. Their signs were almost comical, because they were so outrageous. With US flags wrapped about their ankles and dragging on the ground, they seemed strange and freakish caricatures. I refused to absorb their negative energy, but found their peculiarly irrational and mean-spirited sentiments baffling.
Then the Supreme Court accepted a case, Phelps v Snyder, to decide whether this church had the right to protest at a soldier’s funeral where the father claimed emotional distress from the lies and mockery they presented at this sensitive, disquieting, and vulnerable time. The father, Albert Snyder, sued the church, claiming that “funerals are private events, and the family should be free from such a demonstration when mourning the loss of a child killed in service to his country.”
The decision, 8 to 1, supporting Freedom of speech (and thereby the Westboro Baptist Church), was announced a few days ago. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts 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……we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker.” He continued that under the First Amendment we must protect “even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.”
As insensitive and outrageous as these people of Westboro Baptist Church are, by taking away their right to speak what they think their truth is, we would be opening a door for others to whittle away at ours.
Bravo John Roberts.