Picketing funerals is abhorrent, but I must admit that it irks me a bit when people overlook the fact that this hate group has been picketing the funerals of LGBTQ persons for years — they even picketed Mr. Rogers memorial service (I was there). Any parent, spouse, or partner having to bury their loved one deserves peace during the final good-bye.
However, grief does not trump the First Amendment. In an 8-1 vote, the Supreme Court protected speech, recognizing the slippery slope of allowing sympathy to overwhelm Constitutional protections.
I keep thinking of a media clip interviewing Albert Snyder, father of fallen soldier and plaintiff in this case. He was awarded nearly $10 million in damages. The interviewer asked if he would give up the $$ to have his son back. He replied that he would give it up just to say good-bye.
Now who asks a question like that to a grieving parent? I bring this up to remind us that the press can also feast on the outrage stirred up by Westboro. The press also overlooks the salient fact of the original protests at the funerals of gay people, particularly those who died of complications from AIDS.
Still, the decision was sound. There's no need to protect speech that is easy on our ears. Discourse that we find repugnant must be permitted. The gay community should appreciate this decision as we are often the ones accused of promoting repugnant ideas.
When I think of Westboro, my mind drifts back to the Mr. Rogers protest. The Phelpsians brought a little girl with them, holding one of the hate signs. Counterprotestors walked the sidewalks with colorful depictions of The Land of Make Believe. The little child was captivated by the images.
This warms my heart because counterprotesting did reach a child, did introduce her to the wonders of Mr. Rogers. It does matter that we counter hate speech with more speech.