Today, in Snyder vs. Phelps, the Supreme Court ruled that Westboro Baptist Church could protest funerals of members of the armed services. In a case which unites free speech advocates from the Liberty Council to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the hateful church can continue spewing venom at grieving friends and family who have lost dads, sons, and brothers.
The Court wrote:
Held: The First Amendment shields Westboro from tort liability for its picketing in this case. Pp. 5–15.
(a) The Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment can serve as a defense in state tort suits, including suits for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
So no matter how disgusting the speech, if it relates to a matter of public interest, there is special protection. More from the Court:
Whether the First Amendment prohibits holding Westboro li-able for its speech in this case turns largely on whether that speech is of public or private concern, as determined by all the circumstancesof the case. “[S]peech on public issues occupies the ‘ “highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values” ’ and is entitled to special protection.” Connick v. Myers, 461 U. S. 138, 145. Although theboundaries of what constitutes speech on matters of public concern are not well defined, this Court has said that speech is of public con-cern when it can “be fairly considered as relating to any matter of po-litical, social, or other concern to the community,” id., at 146, or when it “is a subject of general interest and of value and concern to thepublic,” San Diego v. Roe, 543 U. S. 77, 83–84. A statement’s argua-bly “inappropriate or controversial character . . . is irrelevant to the question whether it deals with a matter of public concern.” Rankin v. McPherson, 483 U. S. 378, 387. Pp. 5–7.
While a victory for free speech, the decision could hurt the fund raising efforts of far right groups who may have trouble convincing donors that religious speech will soon be penalized because of the gay agenda. If the Supreme Court can uphold Westboro’s claims to free speech, then there is no threat to the nation’s preachers, and advocacy groups.