By Johanna Fleischman
“God Hates America.”
Such were the words used by the Westboro Baptist Church protestors regarding the acceptance of homosexuality in the United States military. The specific complaints referenced the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
The small congregation, centered in Kansas, is infamous for the cruel messages and posters promoted during the funerals of deceased, homosexual soldiers. The messages include “Destruction Is Imminent,” “God Hates You,” “Thank God For Dead Soldiers,” and “Fags Are Beasts.”
Over the past few weeks during which the protests have escalated and the court case was finalized, this dispute gained much attention. Should the church be prosecuted for causing pain to the families of deceased soldiers and upholding hateful words, or should they be protected under the First Amendment: the freedom of speech and right to peaceably assemble?
Some argue that because funerals are private events, the protests were an invasion of privacy. However, because the church members maintained a 1,000-foot distance on public sidewalks, Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts concluded that they “had the right to be where they were.”
Although it is easy to accuse the members of inflicting pain and distress, they have not breached the law; the protestors remain a distance away from the funerals on public streets and do not act loudly or violently. Despite the want to charge the members of the Westboro Church for causing pain and promoting intolerance, they have full protection under the First Amendment.
The right of free speech does not appear to hinder daily life. During controversial events, such as the Westboro case, this amendment is more prominent in its protection of the rights of individual opinions.
The pain inflicted by these words is obvious, prompting the father of a deceased soldier to charge the congregation with “intentional affliction of emotional distress.” In an interview on CNN, the father, Albert Snyder, stated that he had, “lost his last moment with his son.” However, a formal accusation against the Westboro Church had the potential to be a violation of the First Amendment.
While the case was won locally by the father, the church appealed to the Supreme Court where the Chief Justices formulated a final decision. An 8-1 majority concluded that the church had utilized their rights under the First Amendment. The Westboro Baptist Church is allowed to continue protesting.
The sole justice who voted against the church stated that their actions could arouse physical violence, a breach of the law. However, while the protestors held the large and wounding signs in sight of the funerals, they neither elicited violence nor yelled loudly.
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court had little choice in the case. The First Amendment, an anchor in United States’ liberty, states that every individual is granted the freedom of speech. The Supreme Court made the decision to protect this invaluable right, eliciting a sad truth.
While the freedom of speech allows Americans to express their opinions, it also has the potential to tolerate hate.
By Johanna Fleischman