Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Funeral Protests Still Legal

Being a bit of a law buff, I try to follow major legal decisions when I can (usually when I'm the defendant! Hey, is this thing on?). One big piece of news today is the U.S. Supreme Court's near unanimous decision in favor of the free speech rights of the Westboro Baptist Church.

To sum it up--the WBC is a fundamentalist Christian church led by a pastor named Fred Phelps which is--not unlike many mainstream churches--opposed to homosexuality. But not in the usual "hate the sin love the sinner" and "stop choosing to be gay and start choosing Jesus" sort of way we're used to. Nope, this gang actually believes that the U.S. is far too lenient towards homosexuals (who of course are gonig to burn in hell) and that any tragedy befalling us, ranging from 9/11 to soldiers killed in action overseas, is caused by this. Not content just to believe such awful and crazy stuff, the WBC makes sure no line of offensiveness is uncrossed, and they have been actually picketing soldiers' funerals, cheering the death and blaming it on our country's permissiveness on the gay thing.

(First off--really? God isn't really concerned about the fact of us going to war itself, or letting people starve, or even working on Sundays, but it's the acceptance of homosexuals that caused our misfortunes??? Er....okay....)

Naturally, this came to the Court's attention because a lot of justifiably offended people wanted to bar these protesters from the funerals, suit was filed, and so forth. I agree with the Court's decision--our First Amendment rights apply to offensive speech or otherwise it's a hollow doctrine. Of course, one way to deal with the WBC folks is to have the funerals in privately operated locations, or craft a content-neutral local ordinance that prohibits loud noises or distracting signs or something like that.

But the dominant reaction whenever I read about these WBC people is bewilderment--clearly this is beyond the level of religious absolutism or random bigotry. These people are very likely insane and perhaps a danger to themselves or others. Normal people simply would not behave this way.

Their loved ones--if they have any left--should really get them some help.

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