Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Supreme Court Rules For Phelps

This is not really a surprise.

The First Amendment protects a fringe church’s anti-gay protests at military funerals, a nearly unanimous Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in a powerful opinion that spoke to the nation’s tolerance for even hateful public speech.

The court’s most liberal and most conservative justices joined in a decision likely to define the term. It writes a new chapter in the court’s findings that freedom of speech is so central to the nation that it protects cruel and unpopular protests – even, in this case, at the moment of a family’s most profound grief.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote that Westboro Baptist Church’s picketing at fallen soldiers’ funerals “is certainly hurtful and its contribution to public discourse may be negligible.” But he said the reaction may not be “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,” Roberts said.

I never held out much hope that the Court would rule against Phelps and his band of banshees, and in a way, I’m glad they didn’t. As much as we may hate the things they say, they do have the right to say it, and visceral reactions don’t stand in for the letter of the law.

And, with any luck, this will be the end of Westboro’s fifteen minutes. With the lawsuit tossed out, they’ve lost their reason for grabbing our attention. They crave the spotlight and the controversy, and now that the Supreme Court has said they are free to demonstrate without fear of legal jeopardy, the rest of us are free to ignore them and give them the obscurity they so richly deserve. They have no more influence than the urine-soaked raving lunatic who stands on the street corner haranguing passers-by.