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Thu March 3, 2011
Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that effectively overturned a Michigan law -- and undoubtedly angered and outraged the vast majority of the nation’s citizens.
The nation’s highest court said that the obnoxious protests that members of the Westboro Baptist Church stage at military funerals are fully protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.
Chief Justice John Roberts decreed that our nation’s fundamental commitment to free speech requires full protection of, quote “even hurtful speech on public issues.”
Now if you need reminding, the Westboro Baptist Church is a small group from Topeka, Kansas that mainly consists of the members of one large extended family. They believe homosexuality is evil and America deserves divine punishment for tolerating it.
Accordingly, they’ve been traveling the country picketing at military funerals, waving signs that say things like “God Hates America,” “God Hates Fags,” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.”
Somehow, they believe our war casualties are fitting punishment for tolerance.
Michigan passed a law five years ago that was squarely aimed at the Westboro group. It essentially prohibited any such conduct within five hundred feet of a funeral.
But the U.S. Supreme Court ruling essentially makes it all but certain that the Michigan law will be struck down as unconstitutional, if prosecutors attempt to use it. Now ever since the 1960s, conservatives have often complained that out-of-touch liberals on the nation‘s highest court were improperly distorting the Constitution.
They’ll have a hard time doing that here. The high court’s most conservative justices all signed on to protect free speech rights, including, in addition to the Chief Justice, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. The so-called liberal justices agreed, including the three Jewish justices on the court.
That’s significant, because if there is a group the Westboro members hate more than gays, it is Jews, whom they believe killed Jesus and who also help spread homosexuality.
The Chief Justice, in his majority opinion, noted that the outrageous comments of the Westboro group have inflicted great pain, and “fall short of refined social and political commentary.” But he added that “speech cannot be restricted simply because it is upsetting or arouses contempt.”
Once upon a time, he knows, the powers that be viewed the words, “all men are created equal,” as also deserving of contempt.
Sometimes, life in America is about taking unpopular stands -- and defending the right of others to take them. Today, a new poll shows that a majority of Michiganders oppose nearly every one of the major initiatives in Governor Snyder’s budget.
That’s to be expected; they call for sacrifice. The poll, which is being touted as significant by the newspaper and the TV station that commissioned it, shows Snyder is also losing popularity.
That’s no surprise either; he is taking stands and making hard choices. That’s a lot easier to do on the Supreme Court, where the justices have jobs guaranteed for life. Politicians have to run for office again, which can be both good and bad.
Indications are, however, that this governor, like the Supreme Court justices, believes in doing what he thinks is right, regardless of the polls. Whether we agree with them or not, that is exactly the kind of attitude we should want our public servants to have.