The just-announced decision of the Supreme Court in the Westboro Baptist Church case is a bad one, in my opinion. I think the behavior of Phelps’ group violates families’ fourth-amendment rights to be “secure in their persons” and is not much different from the oft-quoted prohibition against shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.
It is one thing to be free to express one’s opinion, but someone who decides to set up a soapbox and amplifier on the street within sight and sound of my house and go on a 4-hour rant would, IMHO, be violating MY rights. So should it be for someone who invades someone else’s public ceremony being held for an expressed private purpose.
The USA Today article the decision noted Justice Roberts’ opinion that, “. . . there was no indication that the protests had interfered with the service.” This would indeed seem to be the crux of the matter, else why would Roberts bother to
point this out? Clearly the dead veteran’s father felt interfered with, or he wouldn’t have been so upset as to sue. It sure would have bothered me in his place, to have this group usurping the solemnity of the occasion for their own political purpose, which is what they did by planting their protest within shouting distance of the funeral. Were other venues for freedom of speech available that would not have been disruptive? Of course there were: blogging, demonstrating out of sight and sound of the funeral, letters to the press and politicians, etc.
The Westboro group will now be emboldened and perhaps others as well. The
ruling, proclaimed “narrow” by Roberts, is now law. But if the decision is “narrow”, then I ask, why couldn’t a restriction on demonstrating within sight and sound of a funeral be similarly narrow? I don’t see how that would restrict anyone’s freedom of speech because of the other venues available, and apparently one Justice out of nine agrees with me.
But, the decision is made. So be it. I for one will be on the sidelines to cheer the VFW and any other group which chooses to interfere with the interferers. Too bad the law can’t protect a simple matter of private solemnity, publicly expressed.