Pastor Fred W. Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church has it all wrong.
Young men that are fighting in foreign wars are not dying because the country allowed “fags” into the military. They are dying because that is what happens in war. Catholics are not “satanic”, its past has a straight line connection to Jesus Christ. (I am Catholic and it is my chosen religion). Divorced parents do not teach their children by their action to “defy [their] creator.” There can be no love for Hitler or breast cancer even though Pastor Phelps and his followers have said so verbally and in writing.
But, Evelyn Beatrice Hall has it right (or Votaire, or Paine or who ever else you may attribute it to). To paraphrase her, I disagree to the point of disgust with what Phelps says, but he does have the right to say it.
Albert Snyder, on the other side of the argument, believes that Phelps should not be able to say what he does because it caused him emotional distress.
He is the father of Lance Cpl. Mathew A. Snyder, 20, who died in a Humvee accident in Iraq on March 3, 2006. A week later, a funeral mass was held for him at St. John’s Roman Catholic Church in Westminster, Maryland. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas protested the funeral with signs that said all the things listed above and more. It was a cruel and obscene way for the congregation to express its political and religious beliefs. Later, an essay was posted on line by Phelps’ daughter continuing the cruel expression of their beliefs, mostly against Lance Cpl. Snyder.
Albert Snyder admits that he didn’t see the protesters at the church or at the grave site where his son was buried. It wasn’t until much later that he was on line and discovered the essay about his son. He then sued the pastor and the church for the distress that they caused. A lower court ruled in Snyder’s favor, but an appeals court reversed. Snyder took the case to the Supreme Court. The court heard the oral arguments this week.
The protestors obeyed all the laws of Maryland. They kept their distance from the church and the grave site as outline by law. (They did this, because there are limits on free speech, as with any right. The grave site was a public sitting and could be argued that they had a right to be on site during the funeral, but stayed off the property. But, please do not take this as being understanding of the protesters.)
Snyder didn’t see the protesters at any time. There was no physical or financial harm done to Snyder. His oral argument in court was focused on the emotional harm that was done by reading the things the church sponsored. After reading much of the material, it is not difficult to understand Snyder’s pain.
As truly whacky and indefensible as Pastor Fred W. Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church are, they do have the right to express their political and religious beliefs. They didn’t cause any practical damage to Snyder and by obeying the laws of Maryland on protests they didn’t interfere with the safety and order of the community.
To return to Hall’s quote, it would be difficult for the Supreme Court to rule any other way other then expressing their disgust with the church even though they support their right to say it.