Will Militarization of the First Amendment Undermine the Republic?
The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing a case where the father of a fallen serviceman is suing members of a church over its picketing of military funerals with signs that say, “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “God Killed Your Sons,” and “Thank God for 9/11.” These protesters are hardly from a left wing antiwar group. They are members of the conservative Westboro Baptist Church, which has picketed the military funerals of about 200 families. The church believes that 9/11 and American soldiers’ deaths in the “war on terror” are God’s way of punishing the United States for tolerating homosexuals.
The trial court said that the members of the church had to pay the serviceman’s father $5 million for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. But a unanimous three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., overturned the court’s opinion. The appeals court judges called the church member’s protest “distasteful and repugnant” but protected by the Constitution’s First Amendment right of free speech.