Fred Phelps and his sign-waving Westboro clan may return to picketing dead soldiers’ funerals and other obnoxious First Amendment activities, a federal judge ruled.
Prohibiting the Westboro Baptist Church or any group from holding up “AIDS Cures Fags” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” placards would violate their right to free speech, Judge Fernando Gaitan decided in a 19-page opinion, striking down Missouri’s state law that limits demonstrations at military funerals. (Last year, the Supreme Court issued a temporary injunction of the law while the case was heard.) If he upheld the law, Gaitan wrote it “could have the effect of criminalizing speech the mourners want to hear, including speech from counter-protesters to plaintiffs’ [the Westboro Church's] message. As the law burdens substantially more speech than is necessary to further the government’s interest, [the law] violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment.”
The Supreme Court, meanwhile, is still set to hear in October the lawsuit filed by the father of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, whose funeral in Missouri in 2005 was picketed by Phelps & Co., which led to legislatures passing the law. And it’ll be interesting to see if the justices draw any distinction between military funerals and, say, the funerals of your average homo.