US court allows Westboro Baptist hate group to continue anti-gay funeral protests

Members of one of the world’s most despicable hate group today won the legal right to continue their vile behavior under the cover of ‘free speech.’

The Guardian reports:

One of the most detested church groups in America can continue to picket military funerals after the supreme court ruled in favour of their right to free speech.

The fervently anti-gay Westboro Baptist church demonstrates at military funerals across the US claiming the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are God’s punishment on America for tolerating homosexuality.

The court decision, at the end of a classic free speech debate, will anger military families who have turned up for services to find the group waving placards rejoicing in the deaths and who want other families to be spared the same ordeal.

The supreme court ruled eight to one in favour of Westboro in a case brought by Albert Snyder, father of a 20-year-old marine, Lance-Corporal Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq in 2006 and buried in Maryland. Outside his funeral, Westboro church members carried placards saying Thank God for Dead Soldiers and You’re Going to Hell. Among the placards was one describing marines as “fags”.

The group has turned up to about 200 military funerals, regardless of whether the dead are gay or not: Snyder was not. His father launched a legal action a year later, saying he objected to the service being marred in this way and that he had suffered emotional distress. He won $11m (£6.7m) in damages against the church, and this was later cut by a judge to $5m.

The federal appeals court in Virginia overturned the verdict, ruling that the constitution protected protesters from liability. The supreme court upheld that ruling on Wednesday. [...]

The dissenting voice on the supreme court, Samuel Alito, said: “Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a licence for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case.”

Alito added: “In order to have a society in which public issues can be openly and vigorously debated, it is not necessary to allow the brutalisation of innocent victims like the petitioner.”

At Apologetics Index, the parent site of Religion News Blog, we explain the Westboro Baptist Church as follows:

The Westboro Baptist Church, of Topeka, Kansas, is a hate group masquerading as a Christian church. Led by the Rev. Fred Phelps, the misguided members of this church target homosexuals and a range of others with messages of hate. The church’s ourageous protest actions – the group prefers to picket funerals(!) – have earned the Phelps and his ilk much media coverage.

The church’s web site, www.godhatesfags.com, is deservedly listed as a hate site by many internet watchdog organizations. Its content is the verbal equivalent to what you would find in any other sewer. The same is true for its companion web site, www.godhatesamerica.com.

Last October when the case was heard some observers still thought the Supreme Court was inclined to rule against the hate group. After all, the behavior of these miscreants is beyond the bounds of human decency.

Jonathan Capehart says in the Washington Post:

When I read the breaking news alert this morning, I almost fell out of my chair. “Supreme Court upholds Westboro Baptist Church’s right to stage anti-gay protests at funerals of U.S. troops.” And after the initial shock wore off, I recognized that the near-unanimous ruling was the right decision. [...]

As reprehensible as their beliefs and actions are, the Phelpses are guaranteed under the Constitution the right to be ugly. Really ugly.

Reuters says the group announced it plans to continue demonstrating after winning a Supreme Court ruling:

The Topeka, Kansas-based fundamentalist splinter group, which has no affiliation with the mainstream Baptist church, has some 70 members and most are relatives of pastor Fred Phelps Sr.

One of Phelps’ daughters, Margie, presented the church’s arguments to the Supreme Court that it had a right to free speech. The high court agreed in an 8-1 vote, voiding a multimillion-dollar damage award granted to the father of a Marine killed in Iraq.

“We are trying to warn you to flee the wrath of God, flee the wrath of destruction. What would be more kind than that?” Margie Phelps said after the ruling, according to ABC News. “We have not slowed down and we will not.”

“I do very much appreciate that I get to be the mouth of God in this matter,” she said.

Our view: As Christians the publishers of Religion News Blog think Margie Phelps and the others followers of the Westboro cult will get a very nasty surprise once they meet the God they claim to represent. We do not consider them to be Christians because they ongoing behavior demonstrates they have never experienced salvation as described in the Bible.

There is some good news, highlighted here by Kansas Attorney General Derek Smith:

“Today’s decision is a disappointment for Kansans who have endured for so long the embarrassment brought upon our state by the shameful conduct of the Westboro Baptist Church. Our hearts go out to the Snyder family whose pain and distress were at issue in this case.

At the same time, we are encouraged that the Court’s ruling is narrow and limited in application only to tort law and to the facts of this case.

The Court made clear that its decision today does not disturb the funeral privacy laws enacted in many states, including Kansas, that create a zone of privacy in which bereaved families may grieve. We will continue to defend vigorously the constitutionality of the Kansas Funeral Privacy Act if and when it is challenged.

The Westboro cult’s website is still down after Anonymous last week seized its domain during a live TV confrontation.

The Washington Post is running a poll: Do you agree with the Supreme Court’s decision on freedom of speech for funeral protestors?

Research resources on the Westboro Baptist Church

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