Tuesday, March 22, 2011

SCOTUS and the First

Here’s the First Amendment to the Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Here’re some quotes from Snyder v Phelps:

Speech deals with matters of public concern when it can “be fairly considered as relating to any matter of political, social, or other concern to the community,” Connick, supra, at 146, or when it “is a subject of legitimate news 7 Cite as: 562 U. S. ____ (2011) Opinion of the Court interest; that is, a subject of general interest and of value and concern to the public,”

The “content” of Westboro’s signs plainly relates to broad issues of interest to society at large, rather than matters of “purely private concern.” Dun & Bradstreet, supra, at 759. The placards read “God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11,” “America is Doomed,” “Don’t Pray for the USA,” “Thank God for IEDs,” “Fag Troops,” “Semper Fi Fags,” “God Hates Fags,” “Maryland Taliban,”“Fags Doom Nations,” “Not Blessed Just Cursed,” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “Pope in Hell,” “Priests Rape Boys,” “You’re Going to Hell,” and “God Hates You.” App.3781–3787. While these messages may fall short of refined social or political commentary, the issues they highlight—the political and moral conduct of the UnitedStates and its citizens, the fate of our Nation, homosexuality in the military, and scandals involving the Catholic clergy—are matters of public import. The signs certainly convey Westboro’s position on those issues, in a manner designed, unlike the private speech in Dun & Bradstreet, to reach as broad a public audience as possible. And even if a few of the signs—such as “You’re Going to Hell” and “God Hates You”—were viewed as containing messages related to Matthew Snyder or the Snyders specifically, that would not change the fact that the overall thrust and dominant theme of Westboro’s demonstration spoke to broader public issues.

And here’s my problem with the Supreme Court’s decision in reversing the judgment against Phelps and his Westboro Baptist church:  Content of those signs.  Since Phelps and his family base their protests entirely on passages from the Christian Bible, haven’t the Supreme Court 8 given a nudge to establishing the Judeo-Christian religion as the official religion of the United States; or at least given substance to using a biblical citation as justification in a court case?

How, for instance, can the current cases involving same-sex marriages prevail against the religious onslaught found in every one of the arguments against such marriages in light of this decision? It certainly seems as though by giving carte blanche to Phelps and his congregation and including the biblical interpretations as protected speech the Court has done damage to the establishment clause, if not to the free exercise clause.

Where does Phelps’ free exercise end and my freedom of association and inherent right to privacy begin?

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