This week the Supreme Court ruled in an 8-1 decision in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas’s right to protest at the funerals of slain servicemen and servicewomen. The Westboro protesters believe, and now the Supreme Court has confirmed, that they are within their First Amendment right to use the funerals of dead soldiers as an appropriate venue to vocalize their hatred of the gay community. Yes, that’s right: The Westboro church believes that America suffers ills such as war and terrorism because of its acceptance of gays and lesbians.
The case was brought by Albert Snyder, the grieving father of Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder, a young Marine who died in Iraq. On the day of his son’s funeral Westboro Baptist protesters came out in force. They drew so much media attention and heated opposition from onlookers that the police stepped in.
Imagine the heartache that comes with burying your son. Not only do you have to hold your emotions together for friends and family, but now you’re forced to hold back your rage as protesters heckle you.
And these are not your average protesters. This church has become notorious for their vicious signs and hateful speech. Some of their handy work includes signs that read, “God Hates Fags,” “Fags Die God Laughs,” “God Hates America,” and “Thank God for 9/11.” Just to name a few.
As we read the headlines this week we could not help but shake our heads in disappointment. As firm believers in the First Amendment we struggle with the Court’s decision to side with the church instead of this family’s right to privacy.
Yet to love this country and its laws is to accept that hate mongers have rights, too, even at the expense of mourners. That’s the complex beauty of America.
We live in a country where we have the freedom to condemn each other and our government without fear of persecution. We can march and picket whenever we want about whatever we want. But shouldn’t the sacrifice of the brave men and women who have died to protect these freedoms be granted a little more respect?
Is hate speech akin to freedom of speech?
According to the highest court in the land there are no exceptions. “Speech is powerful [but]…we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker,” explained Justice John Roberts in his opinion. We can only hope that the victims of these assaults are resolved by the Court’s sentiments because today we still struggle with it.