On Wednesday the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church which had been sued by the father of a deceased Marine for protesting at his son’s funeral.
The Westboro Baptist Church is no stranger to making headlines. For almost two decades, the Westboro Baptist Church has been surrounded by controversy. They hold signs that read "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and "God Hates Fags." The Church has also held protests outside Jewish institutions, including one outside the Holocaust Museum in 1996. In Justice Roberts’ majority opinion he wrote, "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."
What the Westboro Baptist Church is doing is no doubt disturbing. They’ve upset a lot of people, regardless of what side of the Iraq War someone stands on.
I by no means agree with the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church. What they’re doing is tasteless and frankly quite unnecessary, but they have the First Amendment right to do it.
If you take away the right to protest from any group, you risk damaging the First Amendment. I may not agree with the Westboro Baptist Church’s message, but I agree that they have the right to be protected under the First Amendment.
I’ve talked to my best friend at home about this before. She’s a stringent Republican whose boyfriend is in the Army. Nothing upsets her more than the protests that the Westboro Baptist Church put on. She says that they shouldn’t be allowed to protest, that they’re wrong and that it’s disrespectful of the men and women who have given their lives for their country. I agree with her—to a degree. The belief system of the Westboro Baptist Church is extreme and offensive. But as a strong supporter of the First Amendment, and everything that it entails, I believe they have the right to protest.
According to the New York Times, more than 20 news organizations filed briefs with the Supreme Court supporting the Westboro Baptist Church’s right to protest.
In 2009, the number of journalists murdered reached a high of 52, a number which had not been surpassed since 1994. Since 1992 when the Committee to Protect Journalists began record keeping, 269 political journalists have been murdered. The journalist beat that comes in second place: corruption, with 176 deaths since 1992.
Journalists are killed worldwide because people do not agree with what they are trying to do. While this is a long way from protesting funerals of fallen soldiers, it is a comparison that can be made. Journalists have spent years fighting for their freedom to express themselves. If the Supreme Court ruled against the Westboro Baptist Church, they would be striking a blow to protection of the First Amendment.
Justice Samuel Alito was the only dissenter in the ruling saying "In order to have a society in which public issues can be openly and vigorously debated, it is not necessary to allow the brutalization of innocent victims."
Brutalization is a strong word. The intent of the Westboro Baptist Church may be to cause controversy, to make people uncomfortable, but they have the right to make that point. And if they offend a lot of people in the process? Then those offended people have the right to start their own protest against the Westboro Baptist Church and fight back.