Straight people generally don't know much of what the Westboro Demon Cult is all about, but most gay people do. The Satanic leader of the Christian cult is Fred Phelps, who is infamous in the gay community for maintaining the website, "God hates fags."
Phelps is also notorious for promoting his hatred by gathering up his minions and picketing the funerals of gay kids. His most high profile protest was in response to the brutal murder of gay teen, Matthew Shepard. Phelps and his ilk carried signs outside Shepard's funeral proclaiming that Matthew Shepard was now burning in hell.
Of course, that's not what got Fred Phelps in trouble with the courts, as the courts didn't really care about that.
What got Phelps in trouble with the courts is that he started going after straight soldiers. In March 2006, a 20-year-old Marine, Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, was killed in a motor-vehicle accident in Iraq. Phelps thought it would be funny to show up at Snyder's funeral with signs like:
"God Hates the USA," "Thank God for 9/11," "America is Doomed," "God Hates Fags," and "Fags Doom Nations."
Snyder, the dead soldier whose funeral was picketed, was not gay, so far as we know, but Phelps thinks American soldiers are being killed because America supports homosexuality. So, in his own twisted mind, he is protecting American soldiers. He is trying to convince America that it needs to be more Nazis-like, and then God will stop killing American soldiers.
Well, this message didn't sit well with Snyder's father, Albert Snyder, who just wanted to bury his son in peace. So he sued the Phelps' cult. A federal appeals court in Richmond, Va. ruled that not only does Snyder's father NOT have the right to bury his son in peace, but he must pay the cult leader, Fred Phelps, $16,500 in legal fees. Of the countless things that should make you ashamed to be an American, this should be at the top of your list.
But alas, thankfully we have the Supreme Court. In the grand history of the Supreme Court, we have justices willing to imprison people for protesting war, but picketing dead soldiers to send the message that homosexuality is an abomination? Free speech must be protected!
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the following for the majority:
"Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and -- as it did here -- inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a Nation we have chosen a different course -- to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate. That choice requires that we shield Westboro from tort liability for its picketing in this case."
I personally think the Supreme Court needs to come up with a much better definition of what constitutes free speech. There is no reason why bigots have to flaunt their bigotry at some kid's funeral. That's why god invented the internet after all. Picketing funerals is nothing more than harassment and abuse. It should not be tolerated in a society that believes in love, compassion, fairness, and justice.
Oddly enough, this means I mostly agree with conservatives on this one. Liberals can't be bothered right now to denounce this case. They are busy giving money to the health insurance industry. But conservative Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his sole dissenting decision.
"In order to have a society in which public issues can be openly and vigorously debated, it is not necessary to allow the brutalization of innocent victims."
As the Supreme Court ruled in the 1942 case, "Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire:"
There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or "fighting" words those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace. It has been well observed that such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.
Evidently, since it's now gay people who have primarily been insulted and profaned, the Court has had a change of opinion.
They instead are defending this statement from Fred Phelps:
God promised dire outpourings of very painful wrath, and there’s nothing more painful than killing one of your children and that’s what’s going on in Iraq. That’s what we’re preaching and the forum of choice to deliver such a message, obviously, is the funeral of the kid that’s been blown to smithereens.
"America is doomed," one of Phelps' signs reads. In light of this Supreme Court decision, I think I actually agree with Fred Phelps on something.
Copyright © By Jay Jordan Hawke, March 6, 2011.