Westboro Baptist Church, the outrageous personality cult church of founder Fred Phelps, got a big seal of approval from the U.S. Supreme Court to continue their offensive protests at military funerals. The Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 that their protests, although very hurtful and offensive, are constitutionally protected political or religious speech. However, the very same U.S. Supreme Court has a history of upholding laws against commercial speech that some find offensive such as obscenity or broadcast indecency.
Fred Phelps bizarre cult church organizes political protests at the funerals of service-persons killed in peace police actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, claiming that such deaths are God’s punishment for the U.S. tolerating homosexuality. The estranged daughter of Phelps claims the radical church leader has always been filled with hate.
The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the protests by Phelps cult church was hailed by the ACLU as a correct victory for free expression. The issue revolved around the issue of whether the church could be sued for damages because their manner of speech was offensive and hurtful to families of dead servicepersons.
The Supreme Court has had a historically strange set of views on free speech issues. The court has been very tough on commercial speech of an offensive nature such as obscenity even allowing those that deal in obscenity to be prosecuted under very tough organized crime laws as racketeers, except in cases where obscene satire with some political intent could be found. The late Rev. Jerry Falwell once sued HUSTLER Magazine over an outrageous outhouse satire piece that the Supreme Court ruled had broader free speech protections because they ruled that even obscene satire had political or editorial opinion protections. And in the case of noncommercial offensive speech, controversial groups as diverse as the KKK, Nazis, and the Westboro Baptist Church have all found the Supreme Court accepting the notion that nonviolent speech is politically protected, no matter how outrageous.
Some of the messages of Westboro Baptist Church such as “Thank God For Sept 11” only have to sicken most Americans. And the Supreme Court says that’s legal. But not some radio shock jocks who tell sex jokes on the airwaves.
At the same time that Westboro Baptist Church wackos are now only emboldened to hold more hateful and outrageous protests because of this new Supreme Court ruling, entertainers are still subject to severe FCC and state and federal indecency and obscenity regulations. Sometimes in justice there is no justice.