The case decided Wednesday arose from a protest at the funeral of a Marine who had died in Iraq, Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder. As they had at hundreds of other funerals, members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., appeared with signs bearing messages like “America is Doomed” and “God Hates Fags.”The Supreme Court found that for all his hatred and vileness, Phelps has a right to do that.
The church contends that God is punishing the United States for its tolerance of homosexuality.
The father of the fallen Marine, Albert Snyder, sued the protesters for, among other things, the intentional infliction of emotional distress, and won a substantial jury award that was later overturned by an appeals court.
“Speech is powerful,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority. “It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and — as it did here — inflict great pain.”I believe this was the right decision. We do not, in this country, block even vile speech. Yes, it means Phelps can use vicious words. But blocking speech the majority finds difficult would also mean that pro-women's rights or pro-gay voices could be silenced. As Adam Serwer writes,
But under the First Amendment, he went on, “we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker.” Instead, the national commitment to free speech, he said, requires protection of “even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.”
By 8-1, the Supreme Court voted no. It's one of those rulings that reminds you that at least on some very basic understandings of what "free speech," means, both conservative and moderate jurists on the court are on the same page: You don't forfeit your First Amendment rights just by being an asshole.The real measure of whether you actually do believe in the Constitution, is whether you believe it really does apply to everyone, not just those whose views the majority finds palatable. It's the argument that makes it abhorrent to block marriage for gay Americans, or to deny Muslim Americans the right to build a mosque. If you really believe in free speech, then you have to support even those whose speech is offensive.
What do you think?