Free speech: Where do you draw the line?

The Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday over the right of the vile Westboro Baptist Church to stage raucous protests at the funerals of slain American soldiers. Westboro, whose protests have become notorious throughout the country, argues that the deaths are God’s punishment to America for tolerating homosexuality.

It’s an important free speech case. After a court ruled against Westboro, a federal appeals court overturned the verdict on First Amendment grounds. Now it’s up to the Nine.

Click here for the lead story, by Jan Crawford, on Wednesday’s CBS-TV Evening News with Katie Couric.

Photo above is by Nikki Kahn of the Washington Post. Click here for slideshow on WP Website.

• • •

Westboro hates Jews as well as gays.

The Brooklyn Paper reports this morning that Westboro will be in the heart of Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish community, demonstrating — loudly — outside two Jewish day schools, on Monday.

Westboro’s Website,, states:

“We will picket to remind the Jews that a remnant of them will be saved if they turn to their God, but that the rest will be cast into everlasting fire in hell. The Lord’s promises are good and he has promised to save 144,000 obedient Jews who hearken his commandments and repent. The rest of the Jews represent the disobedient masses of mankind who will dwell eternally where the worm that eats them never dies and the fire ascend up forever and ever.”

Expect locals to react. According to The Brooklyn Paper:

“The Westboro Baptist Church is nothing more than a veiled neo-Nazi group spewing venom and bile indiscriminately,” said [Assemblyman Dov] Hikind. “I cannot and will not stand idly by while these sick individuals disparage and vilify Jews, rehashing age-old anti-Semitic canards such as the Jews killed Jesus.”

The accompanying Brooklyn Paper photo by Mike Short is from a Westboro demonstration in Brooklyn last Octoboer. At the time, about seven Westboro members, including small children, held placards reading, “Jews Killed Jesus,” “Israel is doomed,” “Jews stole the land” and “Mourn for your sins,” said The Brooklyn Paper, which added:

The group’s still proudly standing behind its backwater beliefs, claiming their blitzkrieg protests are actually “warnings.”

“[The Jews’] time is about gone and they have to be held accountable for spilling the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ,” Shirley Phelps-Roper, a spokeswoman and attorney for the church told us last year. Attempts to reach her were unsuccessful Wednesday as we reached our deadline. “We want [the Jews] to understand that we will be the fateful witnesses in the spirit of grace and supplication and that we will mourn for them when their time comes.”


3 responses to “Free speech: Where do you draw the line?

  1. Ed… While what the WBC says and does is vile to ban their ability to speak is not a good idea for the church/state seperation nor the free speech ability. As you know, they fund their activities through legal challenges so they love it when taunted. They were here in Des Moins not long ago (6 of them) and they were outnumbered by hundreds of others who just stood there and quietly protested their protest. Thanks for your reporting on this and offering others to comment. – Michael

  2. In today’s LA Times, columnist Tim Rutten writes: “If the cliched legal admonition that hard cases make bad law is true, then no matter how the U.S. Supreme Court decides Snyder vs. Phelps, the result will be wretched.”

    Rutten concludes:

    “If we’re going to argue that they [parents of slain soldiers] must endure this for the common good, then the news media ought to do the decent and the rational thing and ignore Westboro’s future protests. As the Anti-Defamation League pointed out in its analysis of this hate church, its tiny congregation seems to live for little but publicity.

    “If Albert Snyder and his family must forbear to protect the 1st Amendment, the American media owes it to them to restrain their vulgar impulse toward the bizarre and the sensational.”


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