High court upholds outspoken church's right to protest
Shirley Phelps-Roper, right, and her daughter Megan of Westboro Baptist Church protest Tuesday in Hyattsville, Maryland.
March 2nd, 2011
10:29 AM ET

High court upholds outspoken church's right to protest

A Kansas church that attracted nationwide attention for its angry, anti-gay protests at the funerals of U.S. military members has won its appeal at the Supreme Court, an issue testing the competing constitutional limits of free speech and privacy.

The justices by a 8-1 vote on Wednesday said members of the Westboro Baptist Church had a right to promote what they call a broad-based message on public matters such as wars.

The father of a fallen Marine had sued the small church, saying those protests amounted to targeted harassment and an intentional infliction of emotional distress.

"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," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote. "On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker."

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Filed under: Civil Rights • Courts • Gay and lesbian • Justice • Military • Protest • Religion • Supreme Court
soundoff (96 Responses)
  1. Thevoiceofreason

    That church is gonna burn in hell.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      Why Is this not a hate crime?

      March 2, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • reddawk

      My mother use to say that empty barrels hit the ground and make the most noise. I now know this to be true. I understand that there are differing views in this great country, but to desecrate and individual's final send off from the physical world is rude and hateful. What makes this worst is that this is done behind a veil of religion, we should all do some role reversal and come up with some fanatic view to honor their church service with protest or better yet when administer a funeral. Naw, we are bigger than that... Like many of you noted, they will stand in judgement for their transgression against humanity. God Bless them the all

      March 2, 2011 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • lew burrows

      "I may not agree with what you say but I'll defend to the death your right to say it"

      March 3, 2011 at 6:55 am | Report abuse |
  2. admin

    Speak back with rotten tomatoes and eggs.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Gabe

      That would be assault, and they'd win again.

      March 2, 2011 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
    • stonemason89

      What Gabe said is correct; also, Phelps and Co. are VERY fond of suing people (indeed, it's their main source of income from what I've heard; Fred himself is a trained lawyer).

      March 2, 2011 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
  3. jessica

    These people disgust me!

    March 2, 2011 at 10:28 am | Report abuse |
  4. Joshua Coates

    This is disgusting on so many levels: not that they are allowed to do this, but BECAUSE they do this. People need to grow up, and become more united, its a shame.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:30 am | Report abuse |
  5. Monica

    F-U Supreme Court.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:30 am | Report abuse |
  6. AMERICA 1st

    That so-called "church" is nothing more than a hate group. its no church at all. the best thing for that bunch of loonytoon fanatics is to be thrown in a loony bin somewhere in the middle of siberia! theyre a cancer to America!

    March 2, 2011 at 10:31 am | Report abuse |
  7. Chuck

    I doubt I can come up with a civilized response to this decision. I would only hope to be on the jury of those charged with beating the crap out of the funeral protesters and my verdict of NOT GUILTY is ready to be entered.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
  8. Semper fi

    Sooner or later people will take the law into their own hands and lay the smack down on this church.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Misty

      When these people die,,,IF they go to heaven...you can guarantee there WILL be Devil Dogs up there. They will get their come uppance!!!

      March 2, 2011 at 11:00 am | Report abuse |
  9. admin

    Since when is hate speech protected? What a screwed up court

    March 2, 2011 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
  10. Rosemary

    Free speech for ultra right wingers will always be defended by this court. If people started loud angry protests at the funerals of the Baptist Church members, it probably wouldn't fly. The dead soldiers have no freedom of speech. Only wild eyed fringe right wing anti gay "Christians" have free speech. How anyone can call themselves a "Christian" and desecrate ANYONE's funeral is unbelievable. The father of this soldier has my support, and hopefully the support of millions of Americans, even if he doesn't have the support of the High Court

    March 2, 2011 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
    • RS

      Um, this guy and his follwers are DEMOCRATS sweetie. Get your facts straight.

      March 2, 2011 at 10:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Dennis LeMire

      As a soldier, the action of these people disgusts me. Your attempts at making this out to be a right wing led "Christian" group, disgusts me even more so. You may as well just go ahead and join them.

      March 2, 2011 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |
    • dl

      you all are missing it, the "right wing" is full of religious fanatics, the democrats are not gay haters, therefore these members are not necessarilly political ideoligists because they are outside the mold. they have a sickened religious bent and are using the most controversial way to spread their sick message. look to religion, not politics too see what makes them tick. no not any and all religion just the fringe fanatical types. islamic extremists are not the only one, and yes i know other extreme groups but they don't all cloak themselve in religions robes. i am proud of our servicemen and women and abhore these protestors.

      March 2, 2011 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
  11. Allen

    As a gay man, I hate the actions of this church but as an American as well, I understand the importance of free speech and have to agree with this ruling, no matter how much the actions disgust me, the fact that they can must be protected

    March 2, 2011 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Rosemary

      Allen, not at a FUNERAL!!!! There has to be some level of civility left in this country. A line has to be drawn

      March 2, 2011 at 10:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Bogdan

      Free speech? Or hate speech?

      March 2, 2011 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Bonnie

      Rosemary is right. If these nut jobs want to protest and speak out then they need to do it in washington dc or their own state goverment. Not at a funeral!!! They can yell and scream all their want in front of the white house or congress but let the famlies say goodbye to their loved ones in peace.

      March 2, 2011 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
    • sam

      I think it is discusting, and so Disrespectful............to any human.........what if this was their,son...daughter....wife......brother....husband...neighbor.....there is a time and place for everything.......this is rude..SAD

      March 2, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
  12. rigslip

    I'm surprised at the ruling because this is not an anti-war protest but rather an anti-gay protest blaming members of the military. How could it not be construed that these people are targeting just one type of person in there protests. I'm all for free speech, but this is hate speech directed at just one person.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
  13. Bob Gordon

    The Supreme court made the wrong decision in this case. They have plenty of other ways to express their opinions. They don't need to invade the privacy of people mourning the loss of their loved ones.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:39 am | Report abuse |
  14. NoWay

    This group has to be Tea Party members.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:39 am | Report abuse |
    • RS

      Sorry, no. Get your facts right. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_phelps

      March 2, 2011 at 10:51 am | Report abuse |
    • RS

      Sorry, no. Get your facts right. Wikipedia Fred Phelps. He is a lifelong DEMOCRAT.

      March 2, 2011 at 10:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Monica

      Ok but it's not about right or left... It's about hate. They are haters. I don't even consider them Americans. To me they are terrorists.

      March 2, 2011 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
  15. Rosemary

    Free Speech does not allow you to yell "fire" in a crowded theater. It should not allow you desecrate a funeral. There are many legitimate forums for their "views" Leave the funerals of dead soldiers ALONE. If this were the "60s and anti-war "left-wing" protesters had done this, they would have been thrown in jail for sure!

    If this were my son, I can't even imagine what I would do. These families would be justified in anything they may do in response to this. No jury of decent law abiding Americans would find them guilty. The court of public opinion should be heard in response to this decision of the Supreme Court.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:40 am | Report abuse |
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