Fred Phelps | News | Shirley Phelps-Roper | Supreme Court | Westboro Baptist Church

Supreme Court Rules 8-1 That Westboro Baptist Church Has Right to Picket Funerals of Soldiers


SCOTUS has ruled for Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church:

"The Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment protects fundamentalist church members who mount attention-getting, anti-gay protests outside military funerals. The court voted 8-1 Wednesday in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. The decision upheld an appeals court ruling that threw out a $5 million judgment to the father of a dead Marine who sued church members after they picketed his son's funeral."

Justice Samuel Alito was the lone dissenter, according to CBS News:

"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 in his dissent.

The case involved a Maryland man whose slain soldier son's (Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder) funeral was targeted by Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church picketers.

As you may remember, the man was awarded nearly $11 million in October 2007 in punitive damages, damages for emotional distress, and compensation. The WBC thumbed its collective nose at that judgment, which was later cut in half, and finally thrown out entirely by the U.S. Court of Appeals.

The Phelps clan believes God is killing soldiers because of the U.S.A.'s tolerance of homosexuality.

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  1. Whoa. Well, I guess this falls under freedom of speech, but it still feels so very wrong.

    And ALITO voted no? WTF?

    Posted by: ichabod | Mar 2, 2011 10:30:25 AM

  2. Lots of free speech issues today. Good decision. Can't see any potential reason that these people shouldn't have their free speech rights protected. They say terrible things, but they're entitled.

    Posted by: Jon B | Mar 2, 2011 10:33:30 AM

  3. As much as their actions and words sicken me, I'm SO glad that they are going to be able to keep doing and saying what they're doing and saying.

    NO ONE (not HRC, not Dan Choi, not GLAD, not GLSEN, not Obama, not Clinton, not any legislator or activist), NO ONE has done more to promote gay rights, gay tolerance and gay acceptance than Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church.

    I hope they get MORE air time, not less.

    Posted by: TampaZeke | Mar 2, 2011 10:35:20 AM

  4. Does this mean we can picket their Sunday morning services in drag outside their church & sing "Gimme A Pigfoot & A Bottle Of Beer" thru megahorns?

    Posted by: Chopsie | Mar 2, 2011 10:37:27 AM

  5. “Does this mean we can picket their Sunday morning services in drag outside their church & sing "Gimme A Pigfoot & A Bottle Of Beer" thru megahorns?”


    Posted by: ichabod | Mar 2, 2011 10:39:03 AM

  6. This is a good decision. The laws had nothing to do with ending bigotry and intolerance.

    Fred should be able to keep spewing his hate. Hate needs to stay in the open and out in the sun so that people can see it and be disgusted by it.

    Posted by: Jack | Mar 2, 2011 10:39:23 AM

  7. Definitely the correct decision in this case.

    Posted by: Ernie | Mar 2, 2011 10:40:37 AM

  8. The correct decision, but not a pleasant one.

    Posted by: Idiots | Mar 2, 2011 10:42:57 AM

  9. Alito also dissented in the kitten crushing video case, saying the statute banning it should be upheld. He appears to have a very different take on the First Amendment than his brothers and sisters on the Court.

    I hate to say it, but the majority is probably right here. Alito makes some strong points about the nature of this particular funeral protest that make it hard to side with Phelps, but in the end, I think it is the right decision. And after all, the freedom they have been given is the same freedom gay groups have to organize, protest, march, etc.

    And like some have said here, having people like them so visible will only turn people who haven't formed strong opinions on gay rights away from that side of the debate.

    Posted by: Sam | Mar 2, 2011 10:45:26 AM

  10. "Freedom of Speech" is a CROCK!

    There is only Power and its application. Belief in BIG INVISIBLE BI-POLAR DADDY WHO LIVES IN THE SKY gives one an advantage over literally everyone else.

    They call it "Freedom of Religion."

    I call it War.

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Mar 2, 2011 10:50:06 AM



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    Posted by: Oscar | Mar 2, 2011 10:51:15 AM

  12. your freedom of speech is protected as long as it isn't Antisemetic.

    Posted by: suede | Mar 2, 2011 10:51:26 AM

  13. You know, it's only a matter of time before one of them dies. Why don't we just picket their funeral?

    Posted by: rafi | Mar 2, 2011 10:52:34 AM

  14. Many people, LGBT among them, have said that the answer to hateful speech is not censorship but more speech.

    @Chopsie: You raise a good point. People should be able to protest hateful Xtian services, assuming they keep the same physical distance as the Westboro people in this case.

    Posted by: Phil | Mar 2, 2011 10:53:27 AM

  15. As a Brit this looks to me not like free speech but a deliberate attempt by the "church" to inflict suffering and mental anguish on the loved ones of the dead soldiers. Speaking as a lawyer, under English law it would be possible to stop this by an injunction to halt the harassment of the grieving families (not to mention the anti-gay stuff being an offence in its own right).

    You tolerate a lot in the name of free speech in the US; whilst I admire it in some ways in others it seems almost a fetish that sometimes causes more harm than good with no control possible to help those deeply harmed, such as the families of the soldiers.

    Your freedom to say what you want comes at a high price that is paid by the most vulnerable. Perhaps you do not need to tolerate this to still have free speech.

    Just a thought from accross the ocean.

    Posted by: arch | Mar 2, 2011 10:56:13 AM

  16. @Phil, who says they have ever been stopped from protesting such funerals?

    While I'm sympathetic to Alito's position regarding this particular funeral, do we really want the courts to start deciding when something is too emotionally charged to be free speech? That only puts more power in the hands of the government, not less. I don't see how that benefits anyone.

    Does anyone seriously think if you parked yourself on public property near Westboro Baptist with protest signs that anyone would stop you? Of course not. This decision does not give the Phelps family more freedom than you.

    Posted by: Sam | Mar 2, 2011 10:58:17 AM

  17. Interesting that the First Amendment protects them from the repercussions of their own actions, but with this ruling nothing protects their victims from the same. They were protesting at the funeral of another fellow citizen's funeral. Is there no difference whatsoever between the personal and the political? It appears the only thing a stalker need do now is carry a "politically charged" sign with them. This is extortion, now legally sanctioned.

    Posted by: jtaskw | Mar 2, 2011 11:03:26 AM

  18. Although I do agree with their decision, I have to say that WBC is now going to have to answer to the court of public opinion. Notice how more and more groups appear to block them from being seen? This will continue and escalate from there - hopefully not into violence.

    Posted by: Keith | Mar 2, 2011 11:04:34 AM

  19. Very good decision. I am troubled however that it wasn't unanimous. Samuel Alito scares me!!!

    Posted by: Mike | Mar 2, 2011 11:05:38 AM

  20. @Arch: AGREED

    Posted by: Brian | Mar 2, 2011 11:09:23 AM

  21. @Sam: When I said people should be free to protest hateful Xtian services, I meant church services, since that's when they promote anti-gay hate. What I said in my post was that the courts should use the same physical distance (number of yards) for Westboro protests or for people protesting Evangelical church services. I don't really know if courts have ever used a double standard. I'd be curious to find out.

    Posted by: Phil | Mar 2, 2011 11:13:02 AM

  22. "And after all, the freedom they have been given is the same freedom gay groups have to organize, protest, march, etc."

    Not true. At all. Even if the decision was that the father's claim to damages was valid, they could still go out and protest again tomorrow, and cause harm to someone else.
    I don't think they should be prevented from exercising their freedoms or rights, just that everyone should be held accountable for doing so if the way they choose to do it causes harm to another person (violates their rights). This doesn't fit the definition of political speech, as it heavily targets an individual, in their individual pursuits and the exercise of their own right not to be harassed or harmed. It extorts a use from them, in egregious fashion, to make at best a tangential (read: irrational or illogical) political statement.

    Posted by: jtaskw | Mar 2, 2011 11:22:07 AM

  23. And yet those who speak against GOVERNMENT (eg: anti-Bush Protesters) can be isolated BY GOVERNMENT into fenced-in "Free Speech Zones" miles away?

    Posted by: Anastasia Beaverhausen | Mar 2, 2011 11:26:43 AM

  24. Ofcourse they did...had they not the ruling would have been another establishment slap in the constitution's face! It's actually quite a relief, I wasn't sure they were going to do the right thing! Not that I necessarily agree with what the protesters are saying...not that I disagree. It's just the simple fact that I have to support their right to say whatever they wish, as they have the right to do so in this country! If they take the protesters speech freedom away, they can take all our speech freedom! Just because you don't agree doesn't mean you get to dictate that they can't say it! Grow up and get over it!

    Posted by: celebs4truth | Mar 2, 2011 11:29:16 AM

  25. "You know, it's only a matter of time before one of them dies. Why don't we just picket their funeral?"

    I'm gonna go with a big no there. These death cultists get off on the negative regard with which the rest of the sinful world holds them. They love the attention in life, and the surviving members would love it in death.

    You want to send a real message to them. Don't show up. Don't even mention it. Not in the news. Not on blogs. Let them see that they are a bunch of pathetic wastes of space who accomplished nothing of merit in life and whose passing went entirely unnoticed because no one cared one way or the other.

    I stopped being shocked by their antics years ago and it amazes me that people can still find new outrage to expend on these people. When that one trick pony inevitably heads to the glue factory I won't miss their one yawn-worthy trick and I can only muster so much excitement over there being slightly more glue and dog-food in the world.

    And if you want to frame it in more positive terms. Don't do it because it would entail stooping to their pathetic waste of space level.

    But hey, free speech won. You do whatever you want regarding the matter. Yay freedom.

    Posted by: JT | Mar 2, 2011 11:33:51 AM

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