With the US Supreme Court ruling in its favor, Westboro Baptist
Church plans more controversial protests at funerals and cultural
events. Counterspeech and counterprotests are best responses, say
News that the small Westboro Baptist Church plans to quadruple
the protests it holds every year, now that the US Supreme Court has
upheld its free-speech right to vent at military funerals and other
high-profile events, may leave some people shaking their heads in
dismay. But it also represents a challenge to Americans to fight
intolerance in the public square via counterprotests, say activists
and religious leaders.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday declined to put a check on hurtful
speech directed at private individuals, ruling 8-to-1 that the First
Amendment protects it. Westboro Baptist Church, an evangelical group
in based in Topeka, Kan., with about 70 members, maintains that
America's acceptance of homosexuals is inviting God's wrath, and
their protest signs spout slogans such as "God hates fags" and
"America is doomed."
Already, a loose confederation of counterprotesters has sprung
up, community by community, to try to drown out the voices of
Westboro's members. It's a strategy that community leaders have
deployed in the past against neo-Nazi groups, the Ku Klux Klan, and
other hate-baiting groups in a bid to affirm local values of
humanity and tolerance.
"The Supreme Court just reminded us that communities have to be
vigilant about confronting hate," says Doug Smith, executive
director of the Virginia Interfaith Center, in Richmond, which held
a counterprotest against Westboro at the Virginia Holocaust Museum a
At the same time, Mr. Smith says, Westboro's proclamation that it
would quadruple its protests in the wake of Wednesday's Supreme
Court decision must be placed in context: "The threat proves that
hatred is always eager to replicate itself, but let's be clear: This
is a small family of misguided invidivuals, and their congregation
is a Potemkin village. They could never ramp up that many protests."
The court case was brought by the father of Marine Lance Cpl.
Matthew Snyder, who died in Iraq in 2006. In his lawsuit, Albert
Snyder, the Marine's father, said the church group violated his
rights when it "intentionally incited emotional distress" by
picketing his son's Maryland funeral, even though the protest wasn't
visible and couldn't be heard from the church. …