Faced with a conflict between freedom of speech and the protection of grieving parents from abuse, the Supreme Court on Wednesday made the only choice allowed by the 1st Amendment. It ruled in favor of Pastor Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church, which pickets military funerals claiming that the deaths of service members are divine retribution for America's toleration of homosexuality.
Westboro Baptist had been sued by the father of Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder, a Marine killed in Iraq. Protesters from the church had gathered outside Snyder's funeral holding signs reading "God hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11," "America is doomed," "Don't pray for the USA," "Thank God for IEDs," "Thank God for dead soldiers," "Pope in Hell," "Priests rape boys," "God hates fags," "You're going to hell" and "God hates you."
Speaking for an 8-1 majority, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. persuasively countered three arguments against Phelps, who was ordered by a trial court to pay Snyder damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
First, Roberts responded to the claim that Phelps and the other protesters invaded the funeral. He noted that not only were the protesters 1,000 feet away but that Snyder's father couldn't read their signs. Furthermore, Roberts noted, "None of the picketers entered church property or went to the cemetery. They did not yell or use profanity, and there was no violence associated with the picketing."