Last week the United States Supreme Court, in a 8 to 1 ruling, upheld the First Amendment right of a small, fringe church to stage anti-gay protests at funerals, among other places. The church believes any unnatural death is God’s punishment for the United States’ tolerance of gays.
“The court sided with a group on the outskirts of American life: a tiny family church in Topeka, Kansas, that has drawn disdain across the nation for its protests of military funerals and its lewd signs proclaiming God’s hatred. Its message is that military deaths – and virtually any natural disaster – are divine punishment for the country’s tolerance of homosexuality.”
“The court’s lone dissenter was Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who said the First Amendment does not convey the right to “brutalize” private individuals. ”Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case.”
Irrespective of your views on the rights, merits or moralities of homosexuality, the church’s actions are questionable. Scott Simon from NPR believes, “Maybe every generation needs a case to learn that the First Amendment is tested and grows stronger when it defends speech that’s unpopular, even reprehensible.” Perhaps.
Last month, former Australian prime minister John Howard said in his Reflections on the Australia-United States Alliance speech that;
“America is a Bill of Rights democracy. Australia is not and can I say, I hope not sounding too chauvinistic, long may we remain as we are now, I mean everything is, I mean you never seem to get things settled in the United States. I mean they’ve just passed some health care legislation and whether you agree with it or you don’t agree with it, the health care legislation to Australians they would say, “Well it’s been passed, well that’s it and we’ll go on to the next thing.”
And people who are against it say, “Well if we get into government, we might change it” and so forth, but everything in the United States is subject to the filter of the Bill of Rights and is tested and it makes an enormous difference to what a United States Administration can do and it’s a tribute to, I guess the natural momentum of United States society and the natural momentum of the United States economy that it continues to more or less power ahead despite the rigidities and the barriers in the system which are much greater than what they are.
I mean I guess I’d say that, I mean I do admire the United States enormously in so many things and I’m very fond of the place, but I, I do not think that our system of government can be improved by copying from the United States. I think the Cabinet system of government is a much better way of running a country.”
The case (Docket No. 09-751), brought before the Supreme Court was whether the father of one of the dead solider’s “First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion and peaceable assembly should outweigh” the church’s “First Amendment right to target hateful speech at him during his son’s funeral?”
The soldier’s father said after the ruling, “We found out today we can no longer bury our dead in this country with dignity.”
Has freedom of speech gone too far?
Photo: A four-year-old church-member gets distracted by a bug on the sidewalk while taking part in a church protest with his family at a Catholic church in Topeka. The church protests frequently against homosexuals and Jews. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post).