Montgomery Blair High School's Online Student Newspaper
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March 5, 2011

"Rights" vs. wrong

by Anya Gosine, Online Managing, Op/Ed and Food Editor
The U.S. Supreme Court is very good at its job. And as unfortunate as it may be, this means that Americans will occasionally be disappointed, if not outraged, by certain rulings. The most recent example of such a situation occurred this past Wednesday, when the court ruled that the First Amendment protected the infamous Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) members' right to lead anti-gay protests at military funerals.

Westboro Baptist Church leader Fred Phelps stands among protesters from his group. Courtesy of
Westboro Baptist Church leader Fred Phelps stands among protesters from his group.
WBC, which is not actually associated with any Baptist convention, gained infamy in the '90s and 2000s for its extreme anti-homosexuality beliefs specifically, the belief that our soldiers' deaths in wars are God's punishment for homosexuality in the U.S. The widespread anger evoked from the ruling in favor of WBC is certainly no surprise.

There are two major points to glean from this situation. Firstly, the Supreme Court cannot and should not be blamed for what is a completely just ruling. When Albert Snyder, father of a fallen Marine, first sued the church in 2006 for disturbing his son's funeral, a judge awarded him $5 million in damages, agreeing with Snyder's assertions that the protesters invaded his privacy and intentionally inflicted emotional distress.

But when the WBC's appeal reached the Supreme Court, it was concluded that the group complied with regulations set for protesting near funerals - they did not exceed noise restrictions and were located an acceptable distance from the service. Furthermore, the court could not categorize the WBC's messages as threats, obscenity or slander; thus, they ruled that Snyder's original case violated the WBC's freedom of speech. The overall ruling may come off as twisted and unfair, but it was nonetheless constitutionally valid.

The second thing to note, however, is that while it is important to understand the Supreme Court ruling, it is far less necessary to like it.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the ruling, "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." Whether one is conservative or liberal is irrelevant when looking at this case. It is easy to see that the WBC, regardless of the political or religious content of their protests, caused blatant hurt during times of families' grief. While the court could not consider the pain caused or sympathy deserved in their proceedings, we as a public can.

This "win" for WBC adds no credibility to the message of their agenda, nor does it make their influence greater. If anything, the irony of the ruling is that it brings more attention to the absurdity of the already unpopular protests. As WBC has been holding protests over the years, many have increasingly held counter-protests that mock the group. Several states have also imposed stricter regulations for protests near funerals to avoid such situations. Perhaps the most effective way to bring an end to the madness is to simply leave WBC alone. Even if WBC finds ground in the constitution, they have nowhere to go without the attention of the public.

It is true, the justice system made little progress this time. Still, the prevailing belief in human decency will eventually help restore the deserved respect and dignity to the families of those who died to protect our rights, the very rights that even the WBC enjoys.

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  • Danny Haszard (View Email) on March 6, 2011 at 5:32 AM
    Harassment by religious extremist

    Jehovah's Witnesses instigated court decisions in 1942 which involved cursing a police officer calling him a fascist and to get in your face at the door steps,....this same JW 1942 court decision upheld infamous Phelps hate church in 2011
    Danny Haszard
  • Isabelle on March 6, 2011 at 10:16 AM
    Very good article. I am deeply sadened, outraged and disgusted by the actions of these so called "Christians". As disturbing as their actions are, I think you are right, they deserve nothing more than to be ignored.
  • locke on March 6, 2011 at 6:47 PM
    religion should just be outlawed
    it causes way too many problems
    and though it does have its benefits for certain people, there are many far greater substitutes for it in these circumstances
  • disturbed on March 6, 2011 at 7:22 PM
    The group has no credibility, and little, if any support. And group's hateful speech is anything but Christian. The fact that have the audacity to call themselves followers of Jesus, the Son of a loving and peaceful God, yet do such despicable acts breaks my heart and is repulsive. My prayers go out to the soldiers' families, who have suffered enough with the loss of their brave loved ones, and should not have to deal with such hatredat these funerals. May anyone who reads this know that this is not how Christians should be.
  • scscsc on March 6, 2011 at 11:08 PM
    Very well written!
  • A person on March 7, 2011 at 8:57 AM
    here's the only way to counter-act them
  • Daniel on March 9, 2011 at 2:53 PM
    i disagree with the authors comment that "Perhaps the most effective way to bring an end to the madness is to simply leave WBC alone". the WBC will still go on with their protests even if the press is covering it and they will still hurt people because many of them genuinely believe Phelps message. the only way to deal with them is to spread the information about them and move them away from funerals of even stage counter protests to block the other protestors from veiw just ignoring their impact will only increase the ability to hurt small groups of people.
  • Carla (View Email) on March 11, 2011 at 2:24 PM
    Extremely well-written article. Thank you!
  • alumnae3 on March 30, 2011 at 4:33 AM
    westboro baptist church is a sham.
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