So, it's looking like Fred Phelps — who, along with his daughter, is testifying before the Supreme Court this week to defend his and the Westboro Baptist Church's constitutional right to be the most horrible fucking collection of people imaginable right in the face of grieving people at funerals — is all set to go down in U.S. history as a hero of free speech alongside pornographer Larry Flynt.
Life, as the French say, is étrange…
At the Huffington Post, Geoffrey Stone predicts that "the Supreme Court will hold that the jury verdict in this case violated the First Amendment." In an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, Eugene Volokh argues that the Court would be wrong to hold otherwise: "judges and juries shouldn’t be free to decide, case by case, that some particular message at a demonstration or on a Web site is so outrageous that it loses constitutional protection." Jamie Raskin at ACSblog agrees that "we cannot silence the utterly annoying Rev. Phelps except by promoting the values that he despises."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the editorial boards of several major newspapers urge the Court to hold that the contested speech is protected by the First Amendment. The editorial board of the New York Times contends that "it is in the interest of the nation that strong language about large issues be protected, even when it is hard to do so." The editorial board of the Baltimore Sun agrees, maintaining that "[t]he First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech would be meaningless if it didn’t protect the most unpopular and offensive forms of expression." As do the editorial boards of the Washington Post, which contends that "everyone’s rights will be eroded" if "Westboro's vitriol is deemed unworthy of First Amendment protection," and the Los Angeles Times, which emphasizes that the case will "have reverberations in settings far removed from military funerals."
It feels weird to say that I'm thankful for Phelps and WBC and what they're doing, so I think I'll just say "ham sandwich."
Tags: Bill of Rights, Christianity, Constitution, Fred Phelps, Larry Flynt, Porn, Religion, Supreme Court, Westboro Baptist Church