Your constitutional right to be a jerk

The Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church parishioners have spent years shamelessly voicing their opinions of the country, all around the country, including a protest at West High in Salt Lake City this past January. Apparently, we are all going to hell, but the Westboro Baptist Church has the right to tell us that.

The WBC has voiced their anti-Semitic, anti-gay, anti-catholic views in their protests. In 2006, they picketed the funeral of Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, a soldier killed in Iraq. The Snyder family’s reaction to Wesboro’s picketing eventually took the groups to the United States Supreme Court in Snyder v. Phelps.

Snyder filed a tort at the state level claiming “intentional infliction of emotional distress, intrusion upon seclusion, and civil conspiracy” according to the opinion document provided by the court.

Westboro Baptist Church, however, “challenged the verdict as grossly excessive and sought judgment as a matter of law on the ground that the First Amendment fully protected its speech.”

In an 8-to-1 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church.

“The court reviewed the picket signs and concluded that Westboro’s statements were entitled to First Amendment protection because those statements were on matters of public concern, were not provably false, and were expressed solely through hyperbolic rhetoric,” according to the court document.

The real issue is that they can say what they do, but they shouldn’t in the sense of human decency.

The court’s decision was justifiable. They had the right to say what they said even if it was in poor taste. Technically, the Westboro Church was acting legally according to the decision made by the court. The protests were peaceful, and remained one thousand feet from the church where Snyder’s funeral was held, which was in accordance with what local law enforcement had told them. As awful as they are when they protest, they are smart about it when they do. These people take complete advantage of the rights people like Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder died defending in order to say or write whatever they want.

Led by Fred Phelps since the 1950’s, The Westboro Baptist Church is most easily recognized as the military funeral picketers or the people, so it wouldn’t come as a surprise that the offense people took to their actions would eventually ignite some sort of legal conflict. It is easy to identify the equally offensive and attention seeking group by their signs.

Americans are picketing around the country, and they all have a right to—even when the picketing is filled with hateful messages. It’s all part of your First Amendment rights. It doesn’t make the actions any better, but the decision reaffirms our initial rights as Americans to assemble and protest without being shut up through force when something actually needs to be said.

If the court decision has not eased the knowledge that groups like the Westboro Baptist Church can do what they do, just know that you have the right to peacefully protest their funerals just as they have for anyone with whom they disagree.

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