"Rights" vs. wrong

March 5, 2011, 11:31 p.m. | By Anya Gosine | 10 years, 7 months ago

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.

Photo: 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.

Anya Gosine. More »

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