The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the First Amendment protects fundamentalist church members who mount anti-gay protests outside military funerals, despite the pain they cause grieving families.
The court voted 8-1 in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. The decision upheld an appeals court ruling that threw out a $5 million judgment to the father of a dead Marine who sued church members after they picketed his son’s funeral.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for the court. Justice Samuel Alito dissented.
“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. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker,” Roberts said. “As a nation we have chosen a different course – to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.”
Alito strongly disagreed. “Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case,” he said.
I found it a bit surprising the lone dissenting voice was Alito, for one. But I have to side with the media concerns that it’s a slippery slope to curb speech, even when it’s hateful. I would actually love to see an organized effort to protest the Phelps at their church in Kansas, but I guess protesting to maintain unsustainable government benefits is more important to the organized protest types.