The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that members of the Westboro Baptist Church, infamous for their incendiary antigay demonstrations, are protected under the First
Amendment in protesting military funerals.
In an 8-1 ruling issued Wednesday, the court found in Snyder v. Phelps that the church's 2006 protest of the funeral of a soldier who was killed in Iraq did not disrupt the service, and that Westboro "addressed matters of public import on public property, in a peaceful manner, in full compliance with the guidance of local officials."
Albert Snyder, father of the late Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, filed suit against the church after it protested his son's funeral, asserting that the deaths of American soldiers in combat is one of myriad examples that God is angry at the United States for its tolerance of homosexuality.
"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 in the majority opinion. "On the facts before us, we cannot react to
that pain by punishing the speaker."
But in his dissenting opinion, Justice Samuel Alito wrote, "Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case." As such, Alito wrote, "Mr. Snyder wanted what is surely the right of any parent who experiences such an incalculable loss: to bury his son in peace."
Megan Phelps-Roper, a 20-something member of the WBC who has helped to raise the church's visibility in recent years via social media and parodies of gay-friendly artists such as Lady Gaga, was jubilant via Twitter of the decision.
"HERE YE ALL NATIONS!" Phelps-Roper tweeted. "WBC WINS SCOTUS! 1st AMEND NOT YET DEAD! PRAISE
GOD! BOW YOUR KNEE TO HIS POWER & MIGHT! OBEY OR PERISH!"
Sean Summers, the attorney representing Snyder, said of his client, "Obviously, it's not the decision he wanted."