Fred Phelps

The Supreme Court, The Westboro Baptist Church, And Free Speech

A very significant case has been accepted for oral argument before the Supreme Court on the issue of freedom of speech and assembly, and this case really will be one of the key cases of this Supreme Court session.

Fred Phelps, the pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, has very few followers, mostly his own family members, which include 13 children, 54 grandchildren, and seven great grandchildren. Phelps is an old time gospel preacher who promotes hatred of gays, and has his church followers demonstrate loudly and hatefully at the funerals and memorial services of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. This sect has demonstrated at hundreds of locations all across the country, making the mourning of the dead much more stressful for those who attend the funerals and memorial services.

A Maryland family of a dead soldier won a multimillion dollar law suit against the church, but an appeals court reversed the verdict, and now the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case.

Earlier, a Missouri law was negated by the high court on this specific church demonstrating at a funeral of a dead soldier, so the chances that the church will be restricted do not seem very good. But it would be the RIGHT thing to do!

Should there be limits on when and where the church can protest? As much as the author is a believer in the First Amendment, it is my feeling that the Supreme Court should limit the rights of the church to disrupt funerals and memorial processions, as a sign of decency and respect toward those soldiers who have sacrificed for their country.

The odd thing about all this is that the soldiers who are having their funerals and memorial processions barraged with hate slogans are NOT gay. But the church says the country is going to hell because it does not criminalize and ban gay behavior, so God is visiting death rightfully on our heroic soldiers fighting for our country.

In the name of decency and respect for the dead, I hope the Supreme Court orders the church members to stay far away from funerals and memorial processions–far enough away so that they are not heard or seen.

Since what the church does is provocative and promotes emotion and the potential for violence, the Supreme Court should use the Schenck case of 1919 to declare that the Westboro Baptist Church is a radical, extremist group that is a “clear and present danger”, and force it to be at least two miles from any funeral or memorial procession. Free speech and assembly stops at the border of other people’s rights, and the Court should not uphold the church, but rather honor the young men and women who have sacrificed for their country, and have a right to a dignified and respectful funeral!