Broken World, Current Events — March 2, 2011 at 11:40 am

Should First Amendment Protect Westboro?

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The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in favor of Westboro Baptist Church’s right to hold anti-gay protests outside of U.S. Military funerals and other high-profile events, citing the group’s First Amendment rights.

Westboro’s protests have given a new face to the word “hate” in recent decades. The group has picketed events since 1991, with signs bearing slogans like, “God Hates Fags”, “God Hates America”, and even “Thank God For 9/11″. The group’s offensive tactics have most recently included picketing the funerals of several of the victims of the Tuscan, Arizona shootings.

Westboro’s Baptist’s senior pastor believes that God’s judgement is on the United States because of what he says is our nation’s permissive stance on homosexuality and abortion; his church’s fliers read that righteous nations are required to execute gay people.

Speaking for the 8-1 majority in the court’s opinion, Chief Justice Roberts wrote: “What Westboro said, in the whole context of how and where it chose to say it, is entitled to ‘special protection’ under the First Amendment, and that protection cannot be overcome by a jury finding that the picketing was outrageous.” Justice Samuel Alito was the only dissenter.

I ultimately agree with the court’s decision in this case. However controversial, and even hateful, Westboro Baptist’s beliefs are, the First Amendment protects Westboros’s right to not only hold them, but to speak them publicly. America gives Westboro this right, not because of who they are, but because of who we are.

That being said, even if this kind of hateful rhetoric is legally protected speech, we don’t have to listen to it, or give it any other forums outside of those mandated by law. Yes, the Westboro Church has the right to protest outside military funerals. As Americans, we have the right to refuse them any additional platforms.

More importantly, as Christians we should stand up against this kind of rhetoric in our churches, and not be afraid to say that it is antithetical to the teachings of Jesus. We should and also guard ourselves against the fear and prejudice that breeds resentment in our own hearts towards those we are tempted to call our enemies, and enemies of God. Otherwise, are we that much better than those at Westboro?

WEIGH-IN BELOW: Should Westboro Baptist’s protests be protected by the First Amendment?

4 Comments

  • though I, with the majority of the country, find Westboro’s actions selfish, theological destructive, and completely off base, I do agree with the ruling. this is the other side of the coin of a good law.

    having said that I don’t think Christians are left immobile by the ruling. this seems to be an appropriate place for the third way non violent response that Jesus talks about in the antithetical statements in the Sermon on the Mount.

    I think I heard something about an organization that shielded the funeral processions of the Gifford shooting victims from Westboro people. Seems like that would be a Jesus thing to do.

  • However one feels about the Westboro church, this ruling was quite positive today. The reason being that the Supreme Court did not attempt to define what is and what isn’t offensive. Had they done so it would have established a president many would later, when the general sense of what is offensive has changed, regret. Today, this country still allows me to voice my opinion, no matter how reasonable or unreasonable it is.
    This website and others like it can feel more emboldened to ask tough questions and seek the truth without having the “will this comment or statement cost me $5mil?” question hanging over their head.
    For example, tomorrow I could go to the corner carrying protest signs against US Military involvement in Libya on the grounds that the US can’t afford it and the pretexts are unconfirmed and even conflicting, this would likely offend many passers-by. But I am more likely to protest because I don’t have as great a threat of harm from doing so (I say “as great” because protest even in a country where free speech has protection there are still risks, I could upset someone close to me and cause harm to that relationship).
    However, what if I am right? What if the Libya Crisis is a fabrication intended to destabilize a region and cause oil prices to skyrocket only to have the Libyan oil fields change hands? And what if someone who sees my protest thinks, “Hey, he’s got a point. We shouldn’t be at war right now, much less more war.” and they convince their friends not to support the Military action, and their friends convince other friends, and the whole notion catches on and the people of this country demand No military action in Libya avoiding more death and destruction.
    Then my protest was worth the small offense had by some. And I was willing to make that statement knowing that the cost would be low because today the Supreme Court of the US decided not to set the precedent to define what is and what isn’t offensive.

  • However one feels about the Westboro church, this ruling was quite positive today. The reason being that the Supreme Court did not attempt to define what is and what isn’t offensive. Had they done so it would have established a president many would later, when the general sense of what is offensive has changed, regret. Today, this country still allows me to voice my opinion, no matter how reasonable or unreasonable it is.

    This website and others like it can feel more emboldened to ask tough questions and seek the truth without having the “will this comment or statement cost me $5mil?” question hanging over their head.
    For example, tomorrow I could go to the corner carrying protest signs against US Military involvement in Libya on the grounds that the US can’t afford it and the pretexts are unconfirmed and even conflicting, this would likely offend many passers-by. But I am more likely to protest because I don’t have as great a threat of harm from doing so (I say “as great” because protest even in a country where free speech has protection there are still risks, I could upset someone close to me and cause harm to that relationship).

    However, what if I am right? What if the Libya Crisis is a fabrication intended to destabilize a region and cause oil prices to skyrocket only to have the Libyan oil fields change hands? And what if someone who sees my protest thinks, “Hey, he’s got a point. We shouldn’t be at war right now, much less more war.” and they convince their friends not to support the Military action, and their friends convince other friends, and the whole notion catches on and the people of this country demand No military action in Libya avoiding more death and destruction.

    Then my protest was worth the small offense had by some. And I was willing to make that statement knowing that the cost would be low because today the Supreme Court of the US decided not to set the precedent to define what is and what isn’t offensive.

  • Way to go standing up for freedom of speech!

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