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?