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The following editorial first appeared in the Kansas City Star:
The U.S. Supreme Court has provided a victory for free speech in America, even though it allows a small Kansas church to continue its despicable anti-gay protests at funerals.
The court’s 8-1 ruling protected the First Amendment. If the court had ruled against the church’s activities, it would have struck a blow against one of the tenets of our nation.
We have the right to free speech, even if it’s uncivil and unwelcome. Any high-profile move to restrict the First Amendment would have set a dangerous precedent and invited more challenges to the abilities of Americans to freely speak their minds.
So what’s next for the Westboro Baptist Church and its small band of followers who delight in getting publicity by protesting at funerals, especially those for members of the military?
Ordinary citizens have developed a positive strategy to deal with the church members’ reprehensible conduct.
First in Weston, Mo., and then later in 2010 in Harrisonville, Mo., large numbers of counter-protesters organized themselves through phone calls and social media. The approach: Arrive early and take up all the space near where a funeral is to occur. In Harrisonville, up to 3,000 people had gathered an hour before the scheduled funeral of an army corporal. Westboro church members had to carry out their mindless picketing far away.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts’ written opinion on Wednesday did a masterful job outlining what was at stake in the decision: “Westboro’s funeral picketing is certainly hurtful and its contribution to public discourse may be negligible.” However, “As a nation we have chosen a different course to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.”
It was a frustrating ruling for many Americans. But it was also the right one.