U.S. Supreme Court Rules ‘Hurtful Speech’ of Westboro Baptist Church is Protected Under First Amendment

WBCWarren Richey writes in the Christian Science Monitor:

Supreme Court Justice Alito is the lone dissenter in the 8-to-1 ruling on free-speech principles, saying the conduct of the Westboro Baptist Church ’caused petitioner great injury.’

In an important reaffirmation of free speech principles, the US Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that noxious, highly offensive protests conducted outside solemn military funerals are protected by the First Amendment when the protests take place in public and address matters of public concern.

The high court ruled 8 to 1 that members of the Topeka, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church are entitled to stage their controversial antigay protests even when they cause substantial injury to family members and others attending the funeral of a loved one.

“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,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. “On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker,” he said.

Read More in the Christian Science Monitor

32 Comments on "U.S. Supreme Court Rules ‘Hurtful Speech’ of Westboro Baptist Church is Protected Under First Amendment"

  1. There is a difference between “Hate speech” and “Hatefull speech”. This first exists to not only offer your own opinion on the matter, but try and get people to hate along with you. It has the promotion of hate as an intent. That is the difference, as the second does not have the promotion of hate as intent. The intent is just to say: “hey, this is the way we think it is, just sayin…”

    No matter how offended you may be, if their intent isn’t to advocate hate, just make people aware of it, there’s nothing that can be done and that’s how it should be. I’ll grant you that this is an extreme case, but we musn’t allow this to become a precedent to outlaw other forums of free speech.

    A good verdict, I say.

  2. There is a difference between “Hate speech” and “Hatefull speech”. This first exists to not only offer your own opinion on the matter, but try and get people to hate along with you. It has the promotion of hate as an intent. That is the difference, as the second does not have the promotion of hate as intent. The intent is just to say: “hey, this is the way we think it is, just sayin…”

    No matter how offended you may be, if their intent isn’t to advocate hate, just make people aware of it, there’s nothing that can be done and that’s how it should be. I’ll grant you that this is an extreme case, but we musn’t allow this to become a precedent to outlaw other forums of free speech.

    A good verdict, I say.

    • 1st amendment still protects your right to convince other people that you are right, even if what you believe is hateful. What is illegal is speech with intent to incite harmful acts. They can say that Gays are bad. They can say you should also dislike gays. But they can’t tell you to go out to harm gays, that’s the line.

      • Rathmussen | Mar 3, 2011 at 3:37 pm |

        Thanks for clarifying that. I suppose it’s still a bit gray though….is harm always bodily? And if not, they are certainly causing emotional harm. I suppose emotional abuse always squeaks through though. You can’t take a child away from a parent for destroying their self esteem and joy with words. Still doesn’t seem fair that we can be as mean to each other as we want. Don’t we have anti-bullying laws now for kids that could be extended to adults? What about simple harassment charges? What about defamation, which is “false statements about a person that injure his reputation or that deter others from associating with him.” I know we can’t prove that god doesn’t hate fags anymore than we could prove he does (or even exists)….but some of those signs defame the army at the very least. I just don’t think we’ve been trying hard enough.

  3. 1st amendment still protects your right to convince other people that you are right, even if what you believe is hateful. What is illegal is speech with intent to incite harmful acts. They can say that Gays are bad. They can say you should also dislike gays. But they can’t tell you to go out to harm gays, that’s the line.

  4. Apparently most of the funding for this church comes from the damages they receive when people hit them.

  5. Apparently most of the funding for this church comes from the damages they receive when people hit them.

  6. ArgosyJones | Mar 3, 2011 at 3:54 am |

    The fighting words doctrine needs to be revived.

  7. ArgosyJones | Mar 2, 2011 at 11:54 pm |

    The fighting words doctrine needs to be revived.

  8. Bud Bundy | Mar 3, 2011 at 4:11 am |

    Yeah that God of theirs, these nutcases. He’s not terribly happy about their antics.

  9. Bud Bundy | Mar 3, 2011 at 12:11 am |

    Yeah that God of theirs, these nutcases. He’s not terribly happy about their antics.

  10. VITSOL547 | Mar 3, 2011 at 10:29 am |

    What about the language though? The word ‘fag’ is a derogatory word and they are using it on purpose. They are deliberately not using the word ‘gay’. So a group can use any racial and ethnic slurs in their “hateful” speech? it’s in public! Can we do something about that?

  11. VITSOL547 | Mar 3, 2011 at 6:29 am |

    What about the language though? The word ‘fag’ is a derogatory word and they are using it on purpose. They are deliberately not using the word ‘gay’. So a group can use any racial and ethnic slurs in their “hateful” speech? it’s in public! Can we do something about that?

  12. As much as I hate these fuckers and want them to die….free speech is more important..

  13. As much as I hate these fuckers and want them to die….free speech is more important..

  14. Anonymous | Mar 3, 2011 at 4:34 pm |

    it has nothing to do with free speech they are protesting at the funeral of some kid who was gay bashed and died from the injuries. they are sick in the fucking head, they can say and think what they want. where they are saying it should have a few boundries.

  15. BetsMcGee | Mar 3, 2011 at 12:34 pm |

    it has nothing to do with free speech they are protesting at the funeral of some kid who was gay bashed and died from the injuries. they are sick in the fucking head, they can say and think what they want. where they are saying it should have a few boundries.

  16. Anonymous | Mar 3, 2011 at 6:20 pm |

    As much as I hate this so-called church, they’ve provoked a situation that is _exactly_ why we have freedom of speech. Part of the point is that the correct response to this kind of hate speech is for people who disagree with them to fight back through _more_ freedom of speech. The motorcycle groups, the Angel group who made pvc/white cloth wings to screen them off from the funeral, the counter-protesters, these are also free speech in action. When someone says something stupid or flat out wrong, it’s our duty as citizens to correct it if we have countering facts. That’s how you get an informed populace. Silence is the language of complicity.

  17. quartz99 | Mar 3, 2011 at 2:20 pm |

    As much as I hate this so-called church, they’ve provoked a situation that is _exactly_ why we have freedom of speech. Part of the point is that the correct response to this kind of hate speech is for people who disagree with them to fight back through _more_ freedom of speech. The motorcycle groups, the Angel group who made pvc/white cloth wings to screen them off from the funeral, the counter-protesters, these are also free speech in action. When someone says something stupid or flat out wrong, it’s our duty as citizens to correct it if we have countering facts. That’s how you get an informed populace. Silence is the language of complicity.

  18. Rathmussen | Mar 3, 2011 at 7:37 pm |

    Thanks for clarifying that. I suppose it’s still a bit gray though….is harm always bodily? And if not, they are certainly causing emotional harm. I suppose emotional abuse always squeaks through though. You can’t take a child away from a parent for destroying their self esteem and joy with words. Still doesn’t seem fair that we can be as mean to each other as we want. Don’t we have anti-bullying laws now for kids that could be extended to adults? What about simple harassment charges? What about defamation, which is “false statements about a person that injure his reputation or that deter others from associating with him.” I know we can’t prove that god doesn’t hate fags anymore than we could prove he does (or even exists)….but some of those signs defame the army at the very least. I just don’t think we’ve been trying hard enough.

  19. I hate this ruling……but I also agree with it.

  20. I hate this ruling……but I also agree with it.

  21. You got to hit harder!

  22. justagirl | Mar 4, 2011 at 3:09 pm |

    maybe those rubber bullets could come in handy after all. annoying free speech = sprayed with rubber bullets. if it’s good enough for big brother…

  23. justagirl | Mar 4, 2011 at 11:09 am |

    maybe those rubber bullets could come in handy after all. annoying free speech = sprayed with rubber bullets. if it’s good enough for big brother…

  24. I understand that we can’t make any laws which abridge free speech, but if we COULD make just one that said “Leave people alone at weddings and funerals,” I would really really like that.

  25. I understand that we can’t make any laws which abridge free speech, but if we COULD make just one that said “Leave people alone at weddings and funerals,” I would really really like that.

  26. Baron von Douche | Mar 22, 2011 at 2:57 am |

    Those people can harass people attending funerals for someone killed in action, and teachers are losing the right to strike? Just shows how backwards this place is. The wrong people have the rights

  27. Baron von Douche | Mar 21, 2011 at 10:57 pm |

    Those people can harass people attending funerals for someone killed in action, and teachers are losing the right to strike? Just shows how backwards this place is. The wrong people have the rights

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