-- Justice Potter Stewart --
"If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
-- John Stuart Mill --
We may find this to be the most reprehensible act ever committed by an American, and the actions perpetrated by Reverend Fred Phelps are indeed reprehensible, but we must be prepared to defend to the death the scumbag's right to express himself.
It's called liberty.
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli on the Supreme Court's Westboro Baptist Church ruling:
Today, the Supreme Court of the United States vindicated the decision of this office not to join an amicus brief signed by 48 other states in support of tort liability and against Fred Phelps and the followers of the Westboro Baptist Church. While, as both the court in its 8-1 decision and this office have recognized, the speech at issue was vile and reprehensible, it is constitutionally protected under the First Amendment.Fred Phelps is a vile and despicable human being. And he is - like it or not - an American. Hate him, denounce him, call him names. That's your right. But please don't drag this country down to his level in an effort to silence him.
The First Amendment is designed to protect ideas, even ideas that upset, that inflame, or that the majority of the country would find offensive. It protects the rights of speakers we agree with, but also – and more importantly – it protects those speakers we would condemn. As Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the Court:
"Westboro believes that America is morally flawed; many Americans might feel the same about Westboro. Westboro’s funeral picketing is certainly hurtful and its contribution to public discourse may be negligible. But Westboro addressed matters of public import on public property, in a peaceful manner, in full compliance with the guidance of local officials. The speech was indeed planned to coincide with Matthew Snyder’s funeral, but did not itself disrupt that funeral, and Westboro’s choice to conduct its picketing at that time and place did not alter the nature of its speech.
"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. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a Nation we have chosen a different course—to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate. That choice requires that we shield Westboro from tort liability for its picketing in this case."
Because my office is committed to the rule of law and to the principles of the First Amendment, we agree wholeheartedly with the chief justice, and that is why we declined to join the amicus brief in this case, even when doing so was decidedly unpopular.
I absolutely deplore the vile and despicable acts of Fred Phelps and his followers. I also greatly sympathize with the Snyder family and all families who have experienced the hatefulness of those people. But the consequences of this case had to be considered beyond what would happen just to the Westboro followers.
"Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves."
-- Abraham Lincoln --
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Justice Samuel Alito in his dissent:
"Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case.
"Mr. Snyder wanted what is surely the right of any parent who experiences such an incalculable loss: to bury his son in peace. But respondents, members of the Westboro Baptist Church, deprived him of that elementary right."