ItâÄôs been a banner week for the First Amendment. On Wednesday the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the protesting rights of the Westboro Baptist Church. A judge in Wisconsin on Tuesday demanded the state Capitol building in Madison be opened to protesters. The results of both cases are positive affirmations of the most basic rights of the people.
Fred Phelps and his fundamentalist Westboro Baptist Church are known for their vulgar, hateful protests at the funerals of dead soldiers. But the church makes a point to follow local public assembly laws when it displays its signs âÄî which thank God for using the death of the soldiers as punishment for AmericaâÄôs tolerance toward homosexuality. The father of a dead solider sued the church after they picketed outside his sonâÄôs Maryland funeral in 2006.
On Wednesday the Supreme Court held 8-1 in Snyder v. Phelps that the churchâÄôs speech involved a matter of public concern and was thus afforded protection under the First Amendment.
In Wisconsin, Dane County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Moeser issued a restraining order against the state, which had sought to bar demonstrators from the Capitol building. Public employees have been camping out in the building to protest a plan to strip them of their collective bargaining rights. The stateâÄôs Department of Administration tried locking the public out of the building Monday, and the judge shot down the restriction Tuesday morning.
No matter how the public feels about this countryâÄôs government, the U.S. Constitution was tailored to protect citizensâÄô right to speak out against it. Rulings like those in Snyder v. Phelps and from Moerser prove that tradition is alive and well today.