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. Wayne Northport NY

    This is a disgrace. The Supreme Court Justices ( all except one) should get their heads out from up their hind quarters. Those soldiers died for this country , including the eight loser "Justices" who rendered this sad decision. The disrespectful, miserable, church members should be deported. I can't believe my eyes when I see them on TV.

    March 2, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  2. amy

    These have to be the most annoying people on the planet. They do all this crazy crap so that they can get attention. As a Christian, its doubly offensive to me because they claim to stand for my faith when they have it completely backwards. The entire point of Christianity is God's love not hate. I wish the media would just ignore these wackos. But no, what journalist can resist an entire clan of psychotic protestors brandishing cruel signs and tormenting the rest of society with their immense stupidity?

    March 2, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  3. FL

    "On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker."

    That's like saying we can't react to homicides by punishing the murderer.

    March 2, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mari

    I'll be checking the obituaries in Topeka and will make the trip to Kansas to protest any funeral held at this "church". Who's with me?

    March 2, 2011 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
  5. whisper74

    Can they? Of course they can. Should they? Of course they shouldn't. Two totally different questions. Just my two cents.

    March 2, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
  6. dave


    March 2, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Shell

    This is a disgrace!!! Let's protest against them!!!! Let's find our where they live, and protest in front of their house, their "church" (if you call that a church)!!!! We can protest againest them. And our supreme court ought to be ashamed also, families have the right, to bury their fallen hero, in peace!!!!!

    March 2, 2011 at 7:24 pm | Report abuse |
  8. ed bailey

    That's 2 ! Fork u CNN!!!!!!!

    March 2, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Ernie

    As a Christian who opposes the gay agenda in this country, I still find it impossible to not wish I could have a run-in with these hatemongers. What a disgrace to the whole Christian faith, not to mention the USA & the human race! I would really like the chance to put a couple knots on their boneheads! I don't think it would be a 'hate crime', but a display of justice in honor of our soldiers who have died to give them the freedom to disrupt their funeral. A disgrace to freedom!

    March 2, 2011 at 9:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ashley P

      I've heard it phrased as: "I'd like to extend the right hand of fellowship and shake them warmly by the throat."

      But "knots in their boneheads" works as well, I suppose. 🙂

      March 3, 2011 at 6:20 am | Report abuse |
  10. biglips

    See what being gay does to this country? they need to go to a f(ag)atorium and become normal useful members of the world

    March 2, 2011 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Mary

    A High school kid can be sent home from school for wearing a southern rebel T-shirt ..or Malcolm X...(just examples.... I am sure there are others)...as this might hurt someone feeling and isn't PC....but according to the Supreme Court. today.. the same kid may leave school ...go to war...give his or her life...and at the funeral its ok to have signs and chants..."God Hates Soldiers" .what happened to hurt feeling now....and this is P/C ????? Sad Sad day in America

    March 2, 2011 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse |
  12. T

    It is wise to pay respect to a dead person traveling to that place where we shall all go sooner or later. A soldier killed serving whatever he believed some sort of respect even if the church feels he crossed two moral lines prior to his departure. He still deserves respect for going where non of us dare to go! Blame the fed for the wars one of which killed 9 innocent kids a few hours ago. Everyone in the mideast feels insecure because of us. Whom and what are we fighting for?????? Big businesses and oil!!! For these we must stop the killings and dyings and come home for rest. Politicians must negotiate and be diplomatic in trade deals. That why we hired em! Not for war corruptions and blackmailing tricks of other nations. Not to devide and keep scaring us at home too. Rip private.

    March 3, 2011 at 6:48 am | Report abuse |
  13. SJ

    I think that instead of debating whether or not the protesters are Christian (There are fanatics in EVERY organization) and whether or not free speech covers funeral protests this collective should turn their minds towards a solution. An overhaul of legislature regarding private ceremonies perhaps? There must be an alternative out there somewhere that would protect both the families and the right to free speech. We just need to figure out what it might be. The supreme court didn't have a choice but to rule as it did because there was no law in place that would allow them to reasonably.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  14. M

    Why not protest the protesters with signs that say Love thy neighbor as thyself... or Thou shall not pass judgement... or Hatred is a sin.... or What's wrong with you people? ...

    March 3, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
  15. dannyhaszard

    Harassment by religious extremist

    Jehovah's Witnesses instigated court decisions in 1942 which involved cursing a police officer calling him a fascist and to get in your face at the door steps,....this same JW 1942 court decision upheld infamous Phelps hate church in 2011
    Danny Haszard, more on this group

    March 5, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
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