Supreme Court Says First Amendment Protects Westboro Church’s Protests

WASHINGTON (AP) — Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito says the commitment to free speech doesn’t mean the nation has to tolerate what he calls a “vicious verbal assault.”

But Alito was the only justice to dissent, as the high court today said the First Amendment protects the rights of fundamentalist church members who stage anti-gay protests outside military funerals.

The 8-1 ruling was a win for the Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas, which claims that military deaths are God’s punishment for the nation’s tolerance of gays.

Jon Keller talks with soldiers’ families about the Supreme Court’s decision that the Westboro Church’s protests of soldiers’ funerals are protected.

The decision upholds an appeals court ruling that threw out a $5 million judgment to the father of a dead Marine. He sued church members after they picketed his son’s funeral.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that even “hurtful speech” on public issues must be protected, so that debate isn’t suppressed.

The Marine’s family had the support of 48 states, 42 U.S. senators and veterans groups, who said the church protests amounted to “psychological terrorism.”

But a daughter of the church’s minister, Margie Phelps — who’s also the lawyer who argued the case — says the court would have had to “shred the First Amendment” to rule against the church.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

More from Jon Keller

More From CBS Boston

Summer of Savings
Download Weather App

Listen Live