Protests conducted by Westboro Baptist churchU.S. Supreme Court issued a major decision on the meaning of the Free Speech Clause of the U.S. Constitution.The case involved protests conducted by...

Protests conducted by Westboro Baptist church

U.S. Supreme Court issued a major decision on the meaning of the Free Speech Clause of the U.S. Constitution.The case involved protests conducted by Westboro Baptist Church at the funerals of American soldiers killed abroad.What are your thoughts on this controversy?

Expert Answers
scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While I agree that the Supreme Court could not constitutionally rule in any other way on the Westboro case as it was brought before them, the father of the deceased soldier could have been better advised by his legal team when bringing the suit forward in the first place. For example, instead of this being a first amendment case, the father could have sued for punitive damages or could have argued that Westboro incited a mob and endangers children--at several of Westboro's protests, their own children have been threatened and in danger because of their brainwashed parents' idiocy and hateful rants.

What I would like to see further investigated is the church's tax-exempt status. While their freedom of speech cannot be infringed upon, their tax-exempt status certainly can be revoked. Many organizations which engage in less disturbing activities than Westboro's have had their tax-exempt status revoked.

I certainly despise what Westboro Baptist does (especially since they do so in the name of religion). My husband is an active duty soldier, and his blood boils every time he reads or hears something about Westboro Baptist, because he knows that he has risked his life for their freedom and they choose to use that freedom in such a despicable way. However, what has encouraged me are the creative methods that many Americans have used to shut down the protests. The Patriot Riders, for example, often show up at Westboro protests and rev their engines so loudly that no one can hear what the protesters are shouting. In another incident earlier this year, Westboro announced that they were going to protest the funeral of one of the airmen who was shot to death at the airport in Germany. A local radio station got in contact with the attorney for Westboro and got her to agree to participate in a radio debate for an hour in exchange for Westboro's canceling their protest. While some criticized the radio station for giving the attorney air time, the talk show host argued that no one had to listen to her, especially the grieving family. I listened to the debate, and the attorney just proved the faulty logic behind Westboro's position by not being able to stand up against the opposing side in the debate. Moreover, Westboro's agreement to accept air time in place of protesting demonstrates that they are simply glory hogs, not "passionate" religious zealots.

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While I don't think the Supreme Court could rule any other way...freedom of speech is the ability to speak anything that doesn't put others in danger (ie: yelling "fire!" in a crowded theatre or department store).  However, it is in extremely poor taste to protest at a funeral when the deceased has loved ones and friends there to mourn his/her death. 

Whether or not the protesters agree with the war (just as people did not properly thank the men and women who fought in Vietnam), they have no right to protest against the war at a soldier's funeral when all that military person was doing was following orders.  Their protests would be better on the lawn of the White House.  That's where the orders are coming from...not the individuals who put their lives on the line for the rest of us sitting home pushing the buttons of our remote controls in our air-conditioned homes sleeping on cushy beds.  Those soldiers battle camel spiders, heat, homesickness, and the enemy while living in tents, sleeping in ditches, and eating MRE's.  They sacrifice an awful lot so the rest of us can live in relative ease.  It's appalling, and those people from Westboro Baptist are a disgrace.

In my mind, this is not so much freedom of speech, but hatred spewing from the mouths of the ignorant.  It's not that much different from hate crimes, which we have no tolerance for in civilized countries.  If these same people were protesting at the funerals of AIDS victims (showing their distaste for someone with this disease) or the funerals of aborted babies (rebelling against those who choose to abort their children rather than give for adoption), would it be just a controversial issue or more of a crime? 

megan-bright eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I believe that the laws can somehow be better written or amended to avoid people from spewing hate like this. I admit that I think more with my emotion than with logic in cases like this. The law may say one thing, but my heart says another so I could never defend the rights of people who promote hatred. There has to be a line drawn somewhere. I disagree with the Supreme Court for not even considering exceptions.

I'm inclined to believe that if there was a group that constantly protested outside of the offices of the Supreme Court or Congress or any other lawmakers, they would find a way to get these protestors to stop regardless of Freedom of Speech.

With freedom of speech should come great responsibility.

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At some point someone is going to have to figure this first amendment issue and delineate it with a darker colored-Sharpie pen. I agree with the need for freedom of speech but these morons who protested should be voicing their frustrations through the proper channels. I think I should also have the freedom to speak out against them and, moreover, kick them out of the premises. That is shameful and pathetic. Nobody deserves to have their final goodbyes ruined by a bunch of lunatics with as much tact as they have brains. I want to go to each of their funerals and protest what they did. Let's see how their families would like that.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator
The WBC came to my town and protested the death of a former student in Iraq, Dustin Sides. I was at the funeral and I've rarely felt that angry. I know Dustin's father, and he had to watch as he was driven past these horrifically offensive signs on one of the worst days of his life. I guess the fact their free speech rights are protected by the highest court in the land speaks well of our democracy, our Constitution and our court system, and I can understand the legal reasoning behind it. But the existence of such a "church" sickens me to no end.
pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I don't really see how the Court could have ruled in any other way.  It's pretty well established that you can't prevent people from expressing their opinions, no matter how hateful those opinions are.  It's not as if the protestors were right at the place where the funeral was being held (I think they were 1,000 feet away) so they weren't exactly disrupting a private ceremony.

If Nazis can march through Skokie in front of Holocaust survivors, these idiots can have their protests as well.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
Free speech has always been a thorny issue in the United States. We want to have our cake and eat it too. We want to be able to say anything we want, but we don't want anyone to say anything offensive. The Nazi demonstration in post 2 is actually the first thing that came to mind when I first heard about this situation. I find it appalling that anyone would choose to demonstrate at a soldier's funeral, but I guess as Americans we have to hope that common decency will win out at some point.
accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have to agree with #2. As Voltaire famously once said, "I hate what you are saying, but I will die for the right for you to say it." We can't champion free speech on the one hand and then curtail any groups that say things that we don't like on the other hand. Championing free speech means giving such groups the opportunity to express their views. After all, we don't have to agree with them.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I despise the fact that there are people in the United States who think it is their Constitutional right to protest the funerals of the men and women who allow them to hold freedoms in the first place.


frizzyperm | Student

Obviously, we all loathe them. They are unspeakable. But they do two useful things...

1) They force us to 'suck it up' and stand by our beliefs. They test our love of free speech. And we passed the test. So, well done us! We will allow these functionally-insane people to hold views which appall us, rather than oppress them. We win. I mean, it's not as though their protests are converting anyone to their way of thinking, quite the opposite in fact...

2) They are the poster children for religious insanity. They are the 100%, 24-carat, real-deal. While we gawp in horror at their heartless cruelty, they truly believe that they are good. Every time they take to the streets, they convince more and more people that extreme religious fundamentalist is the refuge of the unwell.

We believe in free speech. We also believe that we are free to conclude that they are bat-sh*t crazy. And that is what everybody does.

My only concern is that the WBC are allowed to raise children in that environment. THAT shouldn't be allowed. We should be brave enough to take their kids away from them.

krcavnar | Student

I agree with the above posts that if we support the freedom of speech we must support even those people spewing things that we despise.  Voltaire had it right.  We as a society must embrace all our rights wholly even though we may not agree with those wishing to enforce their rights.   A controversial activist professor, Noam Chomsky, once stated “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”  Even though I disagree with a majority of his views as well as those of the Westboro Baptist Church, I will defend his or her rights to say what they think.