by Amy Hopkins
Protesting at Military funerals. Was this what our founding fathers had in mind when they wrote our first amendment rights? The Supreme Court is hearing a case about whether protesting at a funeral is protected by the first amendment. Pastor Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church and his congregation believe that American casualties of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are God’s way of punishing America for upholding rights of homosexuals. Matthew Snyder, a Marine Corp lance corporal was killed in Iraq in 2006; when his family had a funeral for him, members of Westboro Baptist Church picketed at his funeral. Their signs said things like “God Hates America” and they blame his death on what they call “the sins of America” and of his divorced parents. (There is no indication that Matthew Snyder was gay, the church just feels that his death is part of the plan for God to punish America.) Phelps was sued by Albert Snyder, Matthew Snyder’s father, for intentional infliction of emotional distress; Snyder won the case initially but it was overturned at the U.S. Court of Appeals, and now it is before the Supreme Court. Peaceful protests have long been part of the landscape of America; will the Wesboro Baptist Church’s protests be protected?
The Court must now decide the issue of right to free speech versus right of privacy. The American Civil Liberties Union has sided with Phelps, stating that the protesters were not on private property, so their free speech should not be restricted. The ACLU believes that protecting our 1st amendment rights at any cost is the main priority. If the Supreme Court is able to restrict the 1st amendment rights, then it is open to question what other rights they will be able to restrict. The 1st amendment is the most basic of our rights as American citizens and if those are able to be compromised, then so is the meaning of what it is to be American.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars are behind Mr. Snyder, the VFW feels that bereaved families have a right to grieve in private. Most people agree that Pastor Phelps’s message is hateful and disrespectful, and his delivery method is even worse. Will the Supreme Court be able to rule in favor of Snyder while still upholding free speech? And if the Court rules in favor of Phelps and his church will it serve as a justification for people to hate and bully homosexuals as in the instance of Tyler Clementi who jumped off of the George Washington Bridge after his roommate at Rutgers posted a video on the Internet of him kissing another man? Should the U.S. government protect free speech at all costs? These are the questions that the Supreme Court will have to answer.