The Westboro Baptist Church is in the news again this week, as the Supreme Court prepares to hear the suit filed against them by Albert Snyder, the father of late Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq, according to CBS News.
Snyder brought the suit against the church after the group held a protest during his son’s funeral in 2006, holding up signs that read things like “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” CBS has reported that the group is well-known for such protests, garnering criticism for disturbing and disrespecting the families and friends gathered to say goodbye to their fallen loved one.
The Supreme Court will hear the case as a challenge to the constitutional freedom of speech. Many legal experts, including Floyd Abrams, who talked to Newsweek about the case and who has brought such cases before the Supreme Court before, have stated that they believe that the Court will decide in favor of Westboro, as long as the group is found to be conducting their protests at a reasonable distance from the actual funeral.
The constitutional right to freedom of speech goes through any number of legal challenges and difficulties each year, most of which are usually upheld. Southern newspapers, including the Florida Times-Union, reported earlier this year about a proposed rally by the Ku Klux Klan in the small town of Nahunta, Georgia. Nahunta officials and most of its populace were against the rally, which the KKK said was to protest illegal immigration and the absence of prayer in schools. The city tried to make the process as difficult as possible for the KKK, but couldn’t ultimately prevent them from marching due to freedom of speech.
The Anti-Defamation League has written a protest of the proposed Manhattan rally on 9/11 against the building of a Muslim mosque near the World Trade Center site. They also protested earlier this year when Pastor Terry Jones proposed a book-burning involving the Koran. After public pressure, Pastor Jones canceled the event, but the rally against the mosque in Manhattan is still scheduled to go forward. The right to conduct the anti-Muslim rally is also protected by the right to freedom of speech and assembly.
Ultimately, despite the horrific and ugly nature of what the Westboro group is doing to soldiers’ families, I also believe that their right to do it will be upheld by the Supreme Court. If I was one of the judges, I would do the same, despite my disgust with what they’re doing. They have a right to do it. Morals are an individual compass, and not everyone’s align the same way. Just because I find it personally reprehensible doesn’t mean I can, or am, willing to change the law regarding the freedom of speech and assembly. If the families of fallen soldiers want to stop this particular group, and who could blame them, it may have to be undertaken under civil suits, such as emotional trauma, etc. As long as the Westboro group is conducting their protests on public land, at a distance away from the funerals, they’re following the law. Don’t be surprised when the Supreme Court rules the same.
Terry Dickson and Teresa Stepzinksi, “Ku Klux Klan Rally Moving Back to Nahunta.” FloridaTimes-Union.com
FirstCoastNews.com, “Mixed Opinions Mingle Nahunta, Ga, KKK Rally.”
Carlin DeGuerin Miller, “Westboro Baptist Church: Supreme Court to Decide Suit Filed by Father of Fallen Soldier.” CBSNews.com
K. Ryan Jones, “Supreme Court Set to Hear Westboro Church Case.” Newsweek.com
ADL.org, “ADL Strongly Condemns Anti-Muslim Actions And Rallies Planned To Coincide With 9/11 Anniversary.”