There is no right to protest at a funeral

The Supreme Court made a foolish decision today, ruling 8-1 that hateful protesters have a right to protest at military funerals. The protesters hail from the Westboro Baptist Church, a name that is only 33% accurate.

At issue is whether these so-called Christians can protest military funerals with signs like “God hates fags” and “Thank God for dead soldiers.” 

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote:

“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.”

In what way is this law punishing the speaker? The local government was telling Fred Phelps that he had a right to spew his hateful speech anywhere he wanted, except at a graveyard. Phelps could print his own newspaper, talk on a radio program, hand out flyers outside the 7-11 or just scream at the street corner. Anything but a graveyard.

The local government was not regulating the content of speech, just its location. Just as you have the unfettered right to support your favorite candidate for office, local government can prevent you from handing out flyers or telling everyone as they come in to “Vote for Smith” at the polling station. Does this commonsense regulation also punish the speaker? Of course not.

Justice Samuel Alito was the lone voice of reason. In his dissent, he correctly focused the debate on the right not only of Fred Phelps, but also of the parents of the dead soldier.

Justice Samuel Alito

“Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case,” Alito wrote.

“Mr. Snyder wanted what is surely the right of any parent who experiences such an incalculable loss: to bury his son in peace,” he added. “But respondents, members of the Westboro Baptist Church, deprived him of that elementary right.”

A law eliminating funeral protests would not eliminate Fred Phelps’ right to free (and hateful) speech. But the right to bury our dead in peace? The Supreme Court won’t recognize that right at all. How shameful. In a country that has lost our respect for life at its beginning, I suppose it’s no surprise we also have no respect for our dead.

An interesting footnote: Since the retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens, not one member of the Court served in the military.



  • O’Brien

    John Roberts insists that the protest did not interrupt the funeral.

    The protest by Phelps and his ilk DID in fact, interrupt what was supposed to be a private affair. Funerals are about the celebration and/or the sanctification of life. They’re about humanity, kindness, benevolence. It was probably the worst day in the life of the Snyder family, and no one has the “right” to add to their grief or exploit this family.

    “This is a question about exploiting a private family’s grief,” Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said. “The question is: Why should the First Amendment tolerate exploiting this bereaved family when you have so many other forums for getting – getting across your message, the very same day you did?”

    Evidently John Roberts doesn’t know about humanity. And setting aside one’s views on abortion or the death penalty for a moment, we don’t respect life or death anymore.

  • Mike

    Justice Alito was in the Army until 1980, when he was honorably discharged as a Captain.


    I can only say that the First Amendment isn’t absolute. No crying fire in a croded theater, conspiricies to commit crimes, terrorist threats etc. Ditto for the Second Amendment, I can’t decide to defend my apartment with a flamethrower. In this line, it seems that a constitunally valid statue resonably regulating the time, place and manner of protests of ANY relgious service could be written.


      Oh BTW – Can Conservative Catholics form a coaliton with the lGBT civil rights movement over this issue? My wife and I gladly hol a meeting in my flat in San Francisco. If not there, how about your place in DC Thom?

  • Austin Ruse

    I believe the court got this right, as abhorrent as those people’s speech is. What’s more, this decision is added protection for all of us who publicly criticize the homosexual movement. The move to ban so-called hate speech will likely never come here becuase of our First Amendment and because of decisions like this one.

  • Philippus

    Well, I think Alito got it right. I have come to realize that the Constitution is not an adequate enough document. I think this, because there are times when people rightfully hold up the Constitution as the reasons behind why their rights are being violated. Such was the famous case of Larry Flynt (Hustler vs Falwell). I do not support Larry Flynt, but I can see how the court ruled in his favor. The question I ask myself is, what kind of Constitution are we defending, when people can take it and turn it around for their own evil?

    It means that if the Ground Zero Case was ever heard in the Supreme Court, 8 out of 9 Justices would support the construction, based solely on Freedom of Speech as understood under the 1st Amendment.

    Surely freedom of speech should not always be defended, because there are instances where it is plain wrong. For instance, speaking hateful words against a person(including threats of one’s life) and even causing emotional distress in the event of a private or public ceremony, such as a funeral or wedding.

    So, 8 of the 9 justices would rightly say that they were defending the constitution. The 9th would say, “I had to look past the constitution, to my well formed conscience to interpret the meaning of the law.”

    Who is right? The person defending the misuse of the Constitution, or the person using his well formed conscience to interpret the constitution?




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