The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church, which had been sued by the father of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder for “intentional infliction of emotional distress, intrusion upon seclusion, and civil conspiracy” when they picketed his funeral.
As the Court’s ruling explains, “For the past 20 years, the congregation of the Westboro Baptist Church has picketed military funerals to communicate its belief that God hates the United States for its tolerance of homosexuality, particularly in America’s military.” They only say “God” because they can’t spell “Cthulhu.”
Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder died while deployed in the Al Anbar province of Iraq, following a non-combat vehicle accident in 2006. He was twenty years old.
At Snyder’s funeral in Maryland, the Westboro demonstrators parked themselves 1,000 feet from the church, and displayed signs reading “Thank God For Dead Soldiers,” “Fags Ruin Nations,” “You’re Going to Hell,” and “Hitler + Mubarak = Walker.” No, wait, I think I saw that last one someplace else. But the others were definitely Westboro handiwork.
The Supreme Court found that Westboro’s protest “plainly relates to public, rather than private, matters,” as their signs “highlighted issues of public import – the political and moral conduct of the United States and its citizens, the fate of the Nation, homosexuality in the military, and scandals involving the Catholic clergy – and Westboro conveyed its views on those issues in a manner designed to reach as broad a public audience as possible.” This means their activity cannot be judged as a personal attack designed to personally slander Corporal Snyder.
While the Court acknowledged that public speech has been restricted under limited circumstances in the past, none of those conditions existed in this case. Maryland now has a state law restricting pickets at funeral services, but it wasn’t in effect at the time of the Snyder funeral.
This ruling is not a surprise. Bags of scum have free speech rights, too. The impulse to express political and cultural views, even using incendiary language, is powerful… and rightly protected by our Constitution. I’m struggling with it myself right now.
God rest and keep you, Corporal Snyder. May your family take comfort in the knowledge that your honor is far more than a thousand feet beyond the reach of the Westboro Baptist Church.