Friday, 08 April 2011 00:00
The recent ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States in Snyder v. Phelps et.al. was a terrible decision even though I fully support Free Speech under our Constitution. Let me explain. Albert Snyder is the parent of Matthew Snyder, a U.S. Marine killed in Iraq. Mr. Snyder wanted to bury his son peacefully. But, members of the Westboro Baptist Church actually deprived the father of what most of us would believe is a basic elementary right.
Can you believe that the highest court in this country would permit the disruption of a funeral for a Marine killed in the line of duty because of “Free Speech”? I find it hard to believe. Here is the portion of the First Amendment, which gives Free Speech as a Constitutional Right.
“Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech…”
There is no doubt that Free Speech is a corner stone of our democracy. But, how far should that right go?
Back during World War I, Charles Schenck, the Secretary of the Socialist Party of America was behind the distribution of literature telling young people to avoid the draft on the grounds that military conscription constituted involuntary servitude, which is prohibited by the thirteenth Amendment.
The Supreme Court decided that Charles Schenck went beyond the Constitution. The opinion is best remembered for the phrase that free speech does not permit “shouting fire in a crowded theater” when there was no fire. And, today, free speech would also not permit joking about a bomb on an airplane.
Now I am not saying there is a parallel to the recent decision and the Schenck case, but think about how the family and friends of the Marine, Matthew Snyder, had to feel with ugly protests outside the church where Snyder’s funeral was held. Was the Westboro Baptist Church realistic in launching verbal malevolent attacks? Their rationale had to do with the rights of gays to serve openly in the military – not caring about the sorrow of the dead Marine’s family.
I do not think, for one minute, that the First Amendment gives anyone the right to invade a family’s privacy at a funeral service for someone who has died serving in our country. The Supreme Court got it all wrong. It is interesting to note that political parties can be barred from any campaign efforts at polling places during an election. Why, then, cannot protestors at a respectful funeral also be stopped by our courts.
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, Jr. was the only dissenting vote in the Snyder case. He concluded his opinion by stating, “Respondents’ (the Church protesters) outrageous conduct caused petitioner (Snyder) great injury, and the court now compounds that injury by depriving petitioner of a judgment that acknowledges the wrong be suffered.”
While we can all support free speech in our society, such speech goes too far when anyone or any group is brutalized by such action. Personal rights should also deserve full consideration by our courts.