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Supporting Civil Rights for Atheists and the Separation of Church and State
SCOTUS Rules Phelps and WBC Can Protest Funerals
If you haven’t heard the news yet, the Westboro Baptist Church has won their case for protesting funerals. The ruling comes from the Supreme Court of the United States in the case Snyder v. Phelps ET AL (read the opinion here in PDF format). Only Justice Alito filed a dissenting opinion.
The Westboro Baptist Church is famous for protesting any opportunity they can to take advantage of grieving or upset communities. They have protested military funerals, funerals of children killed in accidents, funerals of gays and lesbians killed by gay bashing, and much more.
WBC showed up in Huntsville, AL to protest the funeral of high schoo students killed in a tragic bus accident. The city had two buses "run out of gas" right in front of Phelps so funeral attendees could not see them.
Their signs are recognizable by almost everyone in American and many others outside the United States. The multi-colored “GOD HATES FAGS” message is inescapable and their Web Page is full of biblical vitriol and hatred. Rev. Fred Phelps has done a wonderful job of raising a family of hatemongers and rabid fundamentalists. We almost weep when we see their children standing there spouting the same bigotry as their parents.
Emotions are high on this case. Opinions on the global pneumatic web tubes are like flame throwers: full of verbal gasoline and electrified ignition sources.
Make no mistake; we here at American Atheists detest the message of Rev. Fred Phelps and his church. We find his message hateful, vitriolic, barbaric, and asinine… to say the least.
But we cannot disagree with the ruling of the United States Supreme Court. We applaud with enthusiasm their decision to uphold the First Amendment rights to Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly. The truest test of defending the Freedom of Speech is to stand up for the speech you detest the most.
Phelps’ speech may be hateful and spiteful and barbaric, but it is his right to say it. We would encourage him to continue doing what he is doing not only to practice his Freedom of Speech, but to encourage others to leave Christianity. His message has even caused other fundamentalists to flinch.
Atheists counter-protested Phelps' visit to Huntsville with positive messages that never mentioned him or his church. Hundreds joined in the counter-protest.
It is easy to get caught up in the emotion and want to deny the Westboro Baptist Church any opportunity to speak their mind and enjoy their Constitutional rights. It is even easier to get swept away in the emotion of a military funeral and want to deny their constitutional rights just this one time or in this one instance. Constitutional Rights do not work like that. What judge or government entity gets to choose when and where your constitutional rights get to be overridden and denied? What does your local atheist group do when you are denied a permit because it might offend someone?
There is one opinion out there that we think needs to be clarified and resolved immediately because it is factually wrong: Phelps’ church was never allowed onto cemetery grounds. Cemeteries are private property and are immune to Freedom of Assembly. Every permit given to Phelps’ church for protest was on a street corner or the street itself “in proximity to” the cemetery, but never inside the cemetery.
When Rev. Fred Phelps dies, perhaps the world can return the favor and enjoy their constitutional right to protest at his funeral.
by Blair Scott