The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that the parent of the American soldier (Matthew Synder) killed in Iraq cannot collect damages from the Westboro Baptist Church for protesting at Matthew’s funeral.
Church members, standing 1,000 feet away as the law required, held up tasteless signs at the funeral promoting, in my opinion, their narrow-minded view of the world.
The fundamental question, of course, is “What is the limit of First Amendment protection?” because it does have limits. You can’t yell “fire in a crowded theater” when there is no fire and you cannot protest outside someone’s home at 3 am. Picketing is not beyond the government’s regulatory reach. It is “subject to reasonable time, place and manner restrictions (Frisby v. Schultz).”
If the signs stated, “we love you, Matthew,” there would be no objection. So clearly, the issue is the content of the speech.
A fair question is, “Why should the Court protect the whack jobs’ rights over the rights of the grieving?” The answer is because the Court is protecting you. It is reaffirming your right to say whatever you choose regardless of how distasteful someone finds it.
The fact that so many of the court’s liberals and conservatives agreed on this one is telling. What is disturbing is lone dissenter Justice Samuel Alito wrote the First Amendment does not protect “the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case.” Actually, Sammy, that’s exactly what the First Amendment protects. Indeed, shedding light on their viciousness may be the “best disinfectant.”