Posted on Mar 18, 2011 12:55pm PDT
Freedom of speech is and always has been one of the core values Americans believe in. The U.S. Supreme Court took the opportunity to re-examine the boundaries of freedom of speech recently in the case Snyder v. Phelps.
In Phelps, the Supreme Court found that members of the Westboro Baptist Church were acting within the bounds of the constitution's protections when they held up signs across the street from a killed soldier's funeral saying "Fags Doom Nations" and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and a few others. The family filed suit against the church members for, among other causes, intentional infliction of emotional distress. In its decision, the Supreme Court cited other precedent holding that: "If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable." The Court held that the suit was properly dismissed by the Fourth Circuit because the church members were acting within their constitutionally protected right to freedom of speech. In the lone dissenting opinion, Justice Alito found that, "Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case."
Did the Court draw the line in the sand correctly? Core "American" values are being drawn and re-drawn based largely on society's daily political ebb and flow. The justices had a real opportunity to remind the American people that the law is supposed to be blind towards contemporary politics --that stuff is more properly reserved for the legislative branch.
The Court took that opportunity. The Westboro Baptist Church picketers should be blasted for what they did. They brutally attacked a family at its weakest hour. At the same time, they should be commended for courageously exercising their constitutionally-protected right to speak their minds, most likely knowing that they'd be sued and attacked from around the world for doing so.