In the annals of American Liberty we can add another victory for free speech. This victory stands upon such precedents as Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell. Some will claim it is not only a victory for free speech but for religion as the prevailing party was actually the Westboro Baptist Church. Yes, that is the church that holds protests at military funerals and has as its website godhatesfags.com.*
The actual citation for the case is SNYDER v. PHELPS ET AL.; CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT; No. 09–751. Argued October 6, 2010—Decided March 2, 2011.
Before we move too quickly to the celebration, let us consider the cost of this First Amendment victory. Surely, the truest test of free speech is that the speech which is most distasteful to the majority is permitted along with that which causes little controversy or consternation.
These protests at military funerals, specifically at the burial service for Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, seem to ignore the fact that only by the spilt blood of American patriots do we have the right to free speech. Why target the grieving? The bereaved family will not change the national policies or rewrite legislation that seems to offend this church.
This is more than in bad taste. It is unqualified cowardice. It is the methodology of the bully. It is to use a right designed to keep us free from tyranny and oppression as a tool of torment. We must ask, to what end?
To aggravate matters, this was the work of a church. How does a church proclaim God’s righteousness and love on Sunday, teach judge not lest you be judged on Wednesday evening, and then rally to harass the grieving family of a Marine killed in service to his country? Of all organizations in the world, should not the church of which Jesus is the very cornerstone have the decency not to lash out at those who need mercy the most.
I agree with the court’s decision. Free speech is one of our most vulnerable rights. Justice Alito’s argument that “Allowing family members to have a few hours of peace without harassment does not undermine public debate” is compelling—very compelling, but it is insufficient in light of what is at stake.
It was not so long ago that the Obama administration declared that Fox News was not news media at all. Granted, most people either love or hate Fox News, but they are still a news organization. Excluding them by presidential edict would put other civil liberties on the chopping block forthwith.
Likewise, the protesters who deprived the family of Lance Corporal Snyder a few moments of peace at a most vulnerable time are within the rights afforded them. It seems that the very rights that preserve our liberty also preserve the right of a church to make a horse’s ass of itself.
It is this last item that offends me most as a pastor and as a Marine. The same Amendment that grants freedom of speech also protects the free exercise of religion. What is offensive is that this one church in search of a national spotlight has taken a gospel of peace and turned it into a diatribe of hate.
The dead Marine stayed true to his core values—honor, courage, and commitment. Had the church done the same and brought a message of love one another into the national spotlight, we might actually be accused of being a Christian nation. There doesn’t seem to be much chance of that today. That is fruit to the Westboro church’s credit.
If you were accused of being a Marine, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
Lance corporal Snyder: Guilty as charged.
If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? Westboro Baptist Church: Acquitted.
Semper Fidelis Love one another
* I deliberately did not capitalize the word god in this web address. The god this church worships is surely not the God of Abraham, God the Father, or the God who says he is love. The website is full of god hates everything lists. He surely cannot be the one who told us not to judge, lest we be judged. If this church believes that they are worshiping the one true God, I pray that they uphold every pen stroke of the law, for they have surely forsaken God’s grace and mercy and appointed themselves judge of all.