Westboro Baptists
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The controversial funeral protests by the Westboro Baptist Church will be allowed to continue following a recent Supreme Court ruling. The case stemmed from a lawsuit involving protests at the funeral of Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, who was killed in action in Iraq. The court found the church was within the confines of the law.

Court rules protests fall under First Amendment protection

The Supreme Court has reached a decision in Snyder v. Phelps, the case involving the controversial protests by the Westboro Baptist Church staged at the funerals of members of the military killed in action overseas. The court sided almost unanimously with the Westboro Baptists, saying the messages borne on their picket signs, such as “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” were relevant to public discourse and debate, though Chief Justice John Roberts noted in the decision that the content “may fall short of refined commentary,” according to the New York Times. The Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 in favor of the Kansas based Westboro Baptists.

Lone dissent blasts controversial church

The only justice to disagree with the ruling was Justice Samuel Alito, who blasted the church in his dissent from the decision. Alito wrote that the constitutional granting of the right to free speech “is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case, ” according to ABC. He further wrote that just because speech and debate are allowed does not mean it is “necessary to allow the brutalization of innocent victims like (Snyder).” He also observed that the injury to Albert Snyder, father of Matthew Snyder, was only made worse by the court ruling.

Court suggests solution

Chief Justice Roberts opined that the best method to prevent further protests similar to the kind staged by the Westboro Baptists and the Phelps family was passing laws that create “buffer zones” around funerals so that protests cannot be held within certain distances, according to CNN. The picketers at the Snyder funeral were more than 1,000 feet away and could barely be seen from the funeral, and the Phelps family had filed permits and notified police of their intentions beforehand.

Sources

New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/03/us/03scotus.html

ABC: http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/Supreme_Court/supreme-court-westboro-protests-military-funerals/story?id=13037219&page=1

CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/03/02/scotus.westboro.church/index.html?hpt=C1

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