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. Jane

    This group is beyond disgusting, and Monica, I double you suggestion to the Supreme Court. Just wish someone would remove them from this earth.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Pam

      I agree with you Jane, with an 8 to 1 vote the country would be off without them and guess who appoints them!

      March 2, 2011 at 10:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Monica

      Ryan Newell might have tried but was arrested. Just look him up, donations can be made for his legal defense.

      March 2, 2011 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
  2. Courtney

    This will lead to something very terrible. Someone will be kill during these protest. A funeral is not the time for such foolishness.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:42 am | Report abuse |
  3. EJ

    The decision shows the strength of our First Amendment and that speech that most people don't like must be protected as well. It is in line with the decision allowing American Nazis to parade in Skokie many years ago and in line with the words of Voltaire that while I may disagree with everything you say I will defend to my death your right to say it.

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

      EJ-- and if YOU actually DIE defending their right to say "it" at a funeral, these people will be at your funeral, desecrating your memory and making the worse moment in your family's lives one thousand times more unbearable. Did Voltaire anticipate that?

      March 2, 2011 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
  4. Pam

    I hate that this church is giving all Baptist's a bad name, they will surely burn in hell for their evil ways. There intentions are to provoke people and then sue the state for not protecting them, you can only provoke people under stress and sorrow so long before they take matters into their own hands since the law is evidently on the side of these vicious attacks.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:43 am | Report abuse |
  5. John

    "Since when is hate speech protected?"

    Since when does one group get to define "hate speech" to another? Slippery slope if ever there were one. Free speech is free speech whether you like it or not. And yes Westboro is disgusting but protecting their right protects your right.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Rosemary

      John, were you an adult in the '60s? Anti-war protesters (considered "left-wing") would NEVER get away with doing what these people do. There is a double standard in this country, depending on your political views. That is not equal protection under the law.

      March 2, 2011 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Pam

      It all depends on who you are the law isn't fair to everyone even though it's suppose to be. If free speech is protected why isn't it protected for those that want to pray openly? Oh we don't want to step on anyones toes... well guess what this disgusting group of people are doing more than stepping on peoples toes and at the weakest times in their lives, and just think the funeral of a soldier that went to war to protect those sorrow people, you would think they would be grateful. These people are definitely from the devil.

      March 2, 2011 at 10:56 am | Report abuse |
    • redfish

      @Rosemary –

      Many, many more people were sympathetic to war protesters in the 60s than they are today towards the Westboro Baptist Church. What political group here is given special favor? Nobody likes Fred Phelps.

      The difference today is that the liberal views of the 60s has influenced the judiciary to the point that both liberal and conservative justices today have a very broad interpretation of free speech rights. You can thank groups like the ACLU who stuck themselves out to defend KKK marches just on the princple of the matter.

      March 2, 2011 at 7:13 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Cynthia

    I would love to see Vets and bikers show up and escort the funeral procession passed these people and get off their bikes and DARE them to try and get past them...it could be an orgainzed effort everywhere these lunitics go....

    March 2, 2011 at 10:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Rosemary

      That sounds like a great idea!!

      March 2, 2011 at 10:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Elle

      At the request of families, the Patriot Guard Riders do this. It is a good thing, done by good people, to keep the ugly away from greiving families.

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

      We do Cynthia and Rosemary, we're called the Patriot Guard Riders. We stand tall and proud with the american flags and we block them yay-hoo's so that they cannot disturb the families. If they start to chant loudly we rev up our bikes and do what we have to do to drown them out so that they can't be herd! Please google us or watch some of the videos on Youtube and you can see what we do, and yes I am a member of the PGR 🙂

      March 2, 2011 at 11:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Elle

      Thank you Sara! I am a SGT in the Army and I have lost quite a few friends, and brothers in war. Honestly, if it were not for the PGR, I would have thrown my military bearing out of the window, and knocked them out. My father-in-law is also a member, I am very pround of y'all

      March 2, 2011 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
    • dl

      vet's, no problem, bikers, big problem. i understand the sentiment, but bikers, even without an affiliation are a problem of their own all too often. ask any law enforcement agency.

      March 2, 2011 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
  7. Cynthia

    It is also sad that the highest court in the nation is standing behind these people and not the ones that die giving them the actual FREEDOM to be an idiot...I hope their minds are clear

    March 2, 2011 at 10:46 am | Report abuse |
  8. wat'vewebcome?

    To desecrate the last last rite of ANY American, be they gay straight bi indian black white soldier teacher ceo democrat republican etc is a PERVERSION of "free speech"; the ultimate and most cowardly act one can commit. The powers of the "supreme" 8 in favor are just as, if not more shameful than those hate mongers from westboro "church". I may not agree with you, I may not even want to know you, but by God what the hell happened to all of us being in "this" TOGETHER??? Small hateful fringes in this land are rending us all...

    March 2, 2011 at 10:47 am | Report abuse |
  9. Jennifer

    Was just wondering...why protest to dead people?

    March 2, 2011 at 10:48 am | Report abuse |
  10. Elle

    So, let me get this straight... As a Soldier, I go to war and fight to protrect your rights, and then you get to protest at my funeral. That is some crap huh... You have rights, but where are mine??? I have been to war, I have lost battle buddies, and I have seen the Westboro protesters at their funerals, and if I wasn't in uniform, I would have knocked them out! They are some low-life people that have no business calling themselves Christians.... I AM A CHRISTIAN, and I AM AN AMERICAN SOLDIER!!!

    March 2, 2011 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
    • sara

      Thank you for your service Elle and im sorry that you had the DIS-honor of seeing them idiots at your friends funerals. That should have been the time of rememberence and morning instead of seeing/hearing them spew their venom.

      March 2, 2011 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
  11. cruzmaria

    I agree w/admin..this is hate speech;and the fact that the church is used to spread it makes it that much worse! Jesus taught us love peace tolerance and above all love for your fellow man. Hiding behind the church to spread hate,ignorance and. and intolerance is an insult to christianity!this just makes me incredibly Sad!

    March 2, 2011 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
  12. Chris

    Can I use this opportunity to tell everyone about an event I organize near the WBC's physical location in Topeka? We gather a few hundred people each year and go protest them (not a counterprotest as is usually done). The Supreme Court just upheld the "right to protest." Might as well use it against Westboro.

    If you'd would like to join in, there's info at http://www.themfm.com.

    March 2, 2011 at 11:02 am | Report abuse |
  13. Rudolf Sidhu

    Is anyone who doesn't respect the peace of even the dead a CHRISTIAN?! This church is SO absurd!!!

    March 2, 2011 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |
  14. Rosemary

    To RS--Democrats? Really?
    The Westboro Baptist Church believes that Barack Obama is the Antichrist, and that he forms an Unholy Trinity with Satan and Pope Benedict XVI, who they believe is the False Prophet

    And please don't call me sweetie

    March 2, 2011 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
    • RS

      Sweetness your lying this group obliviously left-wing liberals. They protest military funerals, who else would disrespect our heros then unamerican liberals. Just because I made it up doesn't mean It's wrong. That is how fox spreads there news.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Ashley P

    Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. John 13:35

    These people are so totally NOT disciples, and they need to repent. It's nut-jobs like this that give real Christians a bad name.

    March 2, 2011 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
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