Bryan Fischer sees silver lining in Phelps ruling

First, Ed Brayton beat me to this observation:

No irony meter could survive this blow:

Justices Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas are all wrong in their ruling on the reprehensible Westboro Baptist Church protests at military funerals. Alito alone is right. As he says, the First Amendment is “not a license for vicious verbal assault.” The gay-haters at Westboro have plenty of free speech avenues open to them – books, articles, video, audio, TV, radio, public forums, internet postings, emails etc. But they do not have a right to “intentionally inflict severe emotional injury on private persons.” The Supremes in this 8-1 decision have taken ugliness off its leash, turned it loose, and legitimized the most vile forms of public verbal attack. They have cried havoc and let slip the dogs of vitriol.

Seriously? The guy who claims that gays are responsible for the Third Reich and the Holocaust because only gays could be as savage as the Nazis and who demands that gays be sent to mandatory reeducation camps to turn them straight is complaining that the Supreme Court protects the only slightly more barbaric rhetoric of the Phelps cult? Words fail.

Despite his criticism, Fischer finds a silver lining in the court ruling:

The only upside here is that if the Supreme Court says it’s okay to say “God hates fags” – something that’s not even true, since the truth is the God loves homosexuals enough that he sent his only Son to die for them – then it certainly must be okay for students in a classroom, for public officials, and for radio talk show hosts to express reasoned and rational criticism of homosexual conduct without any kind of penalty whatsoever. We just need to tell heterophobes and Christophobes to get a grip, lighten up, back off, and read the Supreme Court’s Westboro ruling and go away.

Pretty much it is open season on gays now which is a good thing if you engage in Fischer’s version of “reasoned and rational criticism.” Blaming gays for “six million dead Jews” and saying that “there is no quicker way to assign the United States to the scrap heap of history than to normalize homosexual behavior in our military” is actually pretty close to some of Westboro theology. The reason the Phelps clan pickets the funerals of soldiers is because they believe God is allowing soldiers to die to punish the US for tolerance of gays. Here is the description of these beliefs from Snyder v. Phelps:

For the past 20 years, the congregation of the Westboro Baptist Church has picketed military funerals to communicate its belief that God hates the United States for its tolerance of homosexuality, particularly in America’s military. The church’s picketing has also condemned the Catholic Church for scandals involving its clergy. Fred Phelps, who founded the church, and six Westboro Baptist parishioners (all relatives of Phelps) traveled to Maryland to picket the funeral of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq in the line of duty. The picketing took place on public land approximately 1,000 feet from the church where the funeral was held, in accordance with guidance from local law enforcement officers. The picketers peacefully displayed their signs—stating, e.g., “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “Fags Doom Nations,” “America is Doomed,” “Priests Rape Boys,” and “You’re Going to Hell”—for about 30 minutes before the funeral began.

Perhaps the main difference between the Phelps message and Bryan Fischer’s views expressed on the American Family Association website is their differing opinions about the timing of God’s wrath on American – now or later. Phelps believes that God is now punishing America; Fischer believes it will come sometime in the future based on the same cause.

But never fear, such “reasoned and rational criticism” is now safe whether provided by the Phelps or the American Family Association. 

Supreme Court: Westboro Baptist allowed to protest funerals

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.