STAFF EDITORIAL | Free speech for Westboro

Westboro Baptist Church, established in 1955 by Pastor Fred Phelps, has gained recent publicity due to their members protesting at fallen soldiers’ funerals with signs that read “God hates fags” and “Thank God for dead soldiers.”

The case of Westboro Baptist Church protesting at the funeral of Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder has now reached the Supreme Court to see if Westboro’s protests are within  constitutional rights to free speech.

Westboro Baptist Church believes nothing is wrong with their inappropriate protests because they believe  all of America’s problems, including the Iraq War, can be blamed on America’s acceptance of homosexuals.

Members claim that the death of American soldiers is God spiting the military for accepting homosexuals within their ranks.

According to the Daily Evergreen staff writer William Stetson, “The case will not be a question of right and wrong, but how to issue an opinion upholding American values without triggering an Orwellian scenario where the government can restrict any speech they deem unacceptable.”

The Supreme Court is in the tough position of declaring Westboro Baptist Church’s protests as either unconstitutional or constitutional, a case which will help or hinder our rights to the freedom of speech.

Though it seems few besides Westboro Church’s members agree with the insensitive protests they conducted, we at The Butler Collegian think that the church remains within its constitutional rights when protesting at fallen soldiers’ funerals.

Although we do not consider their protests to be tasteful or truthful, they are, in our opinion, within the parameters of free speech.

Protesters also do their best to protest politely, despite their controversial signs and slogans.

According to Fox News columnist Lee Ross, “They were kept 1,000 feet away from the church and because of the use of an alternative entrance for churchgoers there was no disruption to the memorial.”

Westboro Baptist Church at least makes an honest effort to make their protests slightly less offensive by keeping a respectable distance and attempting to be respectful to the grieving friends and family of the fallen soldiers.

However, they still tote signs and verbally applaud the death of these soldiers, offending the families greatly.

We wonder how the Supreme Court will handle this case.

The fact that they are hearing the case at all means there is a real possibility their actions will be deemed outside of their constitutional rights to free speech.

While we would love for them to stop their protesting, we are afraid a ruling like this crosses a fine line, jeopardizing the free speech rights we value so much.

According to columnist Michael Ciric, “Hate begets hate and it won’t take long before someone gives it back to these extremists in their own extreme way.”

Westboro Baptist Church is stretching the limits of its constitutional freedoms.

Although free speech is permissible, hate speech is not.

The propaganda Westboro is spewing outside these funerals, reserved for grieving family, is unnecessary and invalid.

It seems as though the church is holding these protests in hopes of a reaction.

There is no correlation between what Westboro Baptist Church believes in and what they are protesting against.

The death of our soldiers overseas has no relation to the acceptance of homosexuals within the U.S. Westboro is simply looking for provocative outlets in which to voice their  hate about the gay community.

However unpleasant their views though, they are entitled to protest in public forums, even if these forums are directly across the street from the funeral of a U.S. soldier.

What happens if the Supreme Court rules what Westboro is doing is unconstitutional? Will all free speech begin to be regulated? The scenario is grim, but all too plausible if the Supreme Court rules the case as a violation of free speech.

There are too many upset family members who are demanding the Supreme Court to provide justice, but when it comes to First Amendment rights, we must stick to the Constitution.


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