Westboro Church Protests are Hate Speech
I was extremely disappointed with the Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church. The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Westboro Baptist Church’s anti-gay demonstrations are protected under the First Amendment. Although I do not believe in censorship, I cannot accept the final ruling by the majority court. The bottom line question is where you draw the line with free speech as a hate Speech and could it even be a hate crime. Lone dissenter, Justice Samuel Alito Jr., believed the majority ruling went too far which I agree.
Criteria for Hate Crimes
Hate crimes (also known as bias-motivated crimes) occur when a perpetrator targets a victim because of his or her perceived membership in a certain social group, usually defined by racial group, religion, sexual orientation, disability, class, ethnicity, nationality, age, gender, gender identity, social status or political affiliation. Most notable examples of hate crimes in the U.S. include lynching’s of African Americans, cross burnings to drive black families from predominantly white neighborhoods, assaults on white people traveling in predominantly black neighborhoods, assaults on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and the painting of swastikas on Jewish synagogues as examples. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, also known as the Matthew Shepard Act, is an American Act of Congress, passed on October 22, 2009, and signed into law by President Barack Obama on October 28, 2009, as a rider to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2010 (H.R. 2647). Conceived as a response to the murders of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., the measure expands the 1969 United States federal hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim's actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
Dissenting Opinion by Justice Alito Gets it Right
Justice Alito accurately identified, “the defendant’s conduct was “so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.” Furthermore, he correctly presented that Westboro did not dispute that Mr. Snyder suffered “wounds that are truly severe and incapable of healing themselves.” Instead, they maintained that the First Amendment gave them a license to engage in such conduct. He stated “They are wrong.”
To succeed on a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress in Maryland, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant intentionally or recklessly engaged in extreme and outrageous conduct that caused the plaintiff to suffer severe emotional distress. The placards used by Westboro 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,” ”You’re Going to Hell,” and “God Hates You.”. Furthermore Justice Alito stated “There is no doubt that Westboro chose to stage its picketing at the Naval Academy, the Maryland State House, and Matthew Snyder’s funeral to increase publicity for its views and because of the relation between those sites and its views—in the case of the military funeral.” Mr. Snyder simply wanted to give his son a dignified and honorable funeral for his son, Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq. Mr. Snyder wanted what is surely the right of any parent who experiences such an incalculable loss: to bury his son in peace. But respondents, members of the Westboro Baptist Church, deprived him of that elementary right. They first issued a press release and thus turned Matthew’s funeral into a tumultuous media event. They then appeared at the church, approached as closely as they could without trespassing, and launched a malevolent verbal attack on Matthew and his family at a time of acute emotional vulnerability. As a result, Albert Snyder suffered severe and lasting emotional injury. Justice Alito logically states they could have protested at any of a number of other public locations. On the morning of Matthew Snyder’s funeral, respondents could have picketed the United States Capitol, the White House, the Supreme Court, the Pentagon, or any of the more than 5,600 military recruiting stations in this country. He stated “But of course, a small group picketing at any of these locations would have probably gone unnoticed.” Westboro Baptist Church has devised a strategy that remedies this problem. In advance of these protests, they issue press releases to ensure that their protests will attract public attention. This strategy works because it is expected that respondents’ verbal assaults will wound the family and friends of the deceased and because the media is irresistibly drawn to the sight of persons who are visibly in grief. The more outrageous the funeral protest, the more publicity the Westboro Baptist Church is able to obtain. In this case, respondents brutally attacked Matthew Snyder, and this attack, which was almost certain to inflict injury, was central to respondents’ well-practiced strategy for attracting public attention. The Court now holds that the First Amendment protected respondents’ right to brutalize Mr. Snyder. Justice Alito states, “I cannot agree.”
Westboro Protests are Hate Speech
I support Justice Alito’s conclusion that the Westboro protests surpasses First Amendment protection. In fact, I would present that this abuse of speech should be called hate speech as it follows the criteria of a hate crime. It targets a particular group with the intent to cause harm to the targeted group, in this case they chose the private funeral of Mathew Snyder knowing that there would be irreparable harm to the family. Losing a child is the hardest thing a parent can experience. To lose a child who has selflessly served his country in order preserve the very freedoms that are being abused is repugnant to me. When our son, Pvt. Heath Warner was KIA in Iraq, we were told by our funeral director that the Westboro Church had begun the process they follow to protest at our son’s funeral. I cannot begin to put into words the horror, we felt at the prospect our son’s honor and rights to a dignified funeral were going to be invaded by these protesters. They use words to attack our gay and lesbian friends that we would never allow in our home, let alone call our son a Marine fag. I struggled with putting my words into writing as I have been outraged at the treatment of our fallen troops and their families by Westboro Church and an America society that has disengaged themselves from the realities of our ongoing wars. To neglect the sacrifices for freedom made by our families will never be acceptable to me. To that end, I will vigorously fight for our families and hope in time legislation will be developed that will protect the Gold Star Families across our great country and honor those who died so selflessly.