The high price of ‘free speech’

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of protecting the Westboro Baptist Church’s right to protest at funerals. The 8 to 1 decision for Snyder vs. Phelps handed a decisive victory to the Kansas-based church group known for picketing military funerals carrying signs with homophobic slogans. In January, the Westboro Baptist Church even threatened to picket the funeral Christina Taylor Green, the 9-year-old girl who was killed in the mass shooting during a meet-and-greet with Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson.

In the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote:

“Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and—as it did here— inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a Nation we have chosen a different course—to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate. That choice requires that we shield Westboro from tort liability for its picketing in this case.”

Justice Roberts explained:

“Given that Westboro’s speech was at a public place on a matter of public concern, that speech is entitled to ‘special protection’ under the First Amendment. Such speech cannot be restricted simply because it is upsetting or arouses contempt. “If there is a bedrock principle underly- ing 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.'”

Chief Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his dissent:

“Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case.”

Click here to download the decision for Snyder vs. Phelps.

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  1. Pingback: Jared Lee Loughner enters guilty plea to avoid death penalty | What The Folly?!

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