The headline writers are going to say that the justices "struggled" with this case. That may be so, but what they struggled with has very little to do with the law, which rather clearly protects even the most offensive speech about public matters such as war and morality. They are struggling here with the facts, which they hate. Which we all hate. But looking at the parties through hate-colored glasses has never been the best way to think about the First Amendment. In fact, as I understand it, that's why we needed a First Amendment in the first place.This case has me pondering the ways America has changed since the1950s. Anybody who staged offensive protests at the funerals of Marines back then would have been beaten up and tossed in a ditch by masked men, and when the police investigated they would mysteriously not have found any evidence, even if the beating took place on Main Street in broad daylight. We have, it seems, moved beyond that sort of response to political provocation. In America now you can stage an offensive protest at the funeral of a soldier, and what happens is a bunch of lawsuits and a lot of hand-wringing in the press. Progress, I suppose.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
Westboro Baptist at the Supreme Court
The Westboro Baptist Church case was heard in the Supreme Court yesterday. This concerns a lawsuit filed by the parents of Matthew Snyder, a Marine killed in Afghanistan, against the church for picketing Snyder's funeral and posting attacks on him and his parents to their web site. Dahlia Lithwick has a great write-up of the oral argument: