Westboro Baptist Church to Test Free Speech Protections

Email a Friend
Members of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church wave signs in front of a group of flag-waving bikers acting as human shields for a family holding a funeral for their son in Flushing, MI. (2006)
From and

The Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, will soon stand before the nation’s top court to argue for their constitutional right to protest outside soldiers’ funerals. In their view, American deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq are God’s punishment for the country’s acceptance of homosexuality.

Albert Snyder is the plaintiff in the case; his son, U.S. Marine Matthew Snyder, was killed in Iraq in 2006. The WBC went to Snyder's funeral in Maryland, holding signs that read “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and other fiery epithets. Snyder fought the group and won in a lower court, arguing the church deliberately sought to inflict emotional distress, but that decision was overturned at a higher court. The Supreme Court has traditionally been very reluctant to impose limits on our freedom of speech, even offensive speech: will this case qualify?

We speak with First Amendment scholar David Hudson and Richard Land, president of The Ethics and Liberty Commission, the public policy entity of the Southern Baptist Convention in the United States. (Despite their name, the Westboro Baptist Church is unaffiliated with any larger Baptist group.)