Welcome to Eagle's Eye News, the online newspaper for Framingham High School. Check in regularly for updates on your favorite columns and stories on the left and the right, with sports videos, pictures, and updates near the bottom!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Supreme Court Ruling For Snyder v. Phelps: The Cost of Freedom

By Hillaree Hayes (Class of 2012)

Just how far should freedom of speech be allowed to go? On October 6, 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that Americans have the right to protest what they do not agree with, even if what they say is disrespectful or emotionally abusive.

After the Westboro Baptist Church, a dogmatic Kansas religious group founded by Fred Phelps, protested outside the funeral of a fallen soldier in Topeka, Albert Snyder, the soldier’s father, filed a $5 million lawsuit against the church. Margie J. Phelps, daughter of the church’s founder and lawyer who defended the group in the Snyder v. Phelps case, fought the lawsuit by saying that they had the right to protest the funeral under the First Amendment, which gives them freedom of speech.

“This case put a megaphone to the mouth of this little church,” says Phelps, and she explains that the WBC now plans to “quadruple” funeral protests since the Supreme Court has ruled in their favor. "We are trying to warn you to flee the wrath of God, flee the wrath of destruction,” says Phelps. “What would be more kind than that?"

The Westboro Baptist Church - which was involved in a controversy over the production of The Laramie Project at Framingham High School late last year - won its case with a majority vote of 8-1. According to constitutional lawyer Cliff Sloan, Supreme Court Justices voting in favor of supporting the First Amendment believe "this is the kind of case that is going to have an influence for generations. It is the Supreme Court standing up and giving constitutional protection to extremely unpopular speech. It's really what the first amendment is all about."

However, the lone dissenter, Justice Samuel Alito, describes the church’s actions as “vicious verbal assault” and says that it has caused significant damage to the Snyder family. Though Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. appears to agree, in his majority opinion, Roberts wrote, “Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and – as it did here – inflict great pain … On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker.”

An angry Albert Snyder insists "this court has no problem with the government sending our children over to these wars, send them back in a body bag and not even have enough respect for that dead soldier to be buried peacefully." He believes, now that this ruling has been issued, that the Westboro Baptist Church will have nothing stopping them from continuing their disrespectful, extremist behavior, and perhaps even going further.

According to Snyder, the court could not understand what this behavior makes people feel like because “the Westboro Church and any other nut job like this will not get near their family or their funeral. They don't have to worry about it. It's us that have to worry about it."

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt says the ruling is "a disappointment for Kansans who have endured for so long the embarrassment brought upon our state" by the church, but was there really any way around it? By limiting Americans’ right to protest, Roberts worries that the Supreme Court would risk silencing public debate. The first amendment is in place so that all people may freely express their opinions in this country, even if their ideas happen to be offensive, narrow-minded, or even hurtful. The Court’s ruling on this case just goes to show that in order to enjoy the privileges of being an American, some sacrifices must be made.