By Zoe Weisner:
Graphic by George Hwang:
The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) struck again when they announced they would protest Steve Job’s funeral, as they claim that Steve Jobs died because he “gave God no glory.” Since 1998, the WBC, headed by Fred Phelps, has been making similar protests aimed at memorial services and gay marriage, continually fostering outrage across the country. However, while outrageous from an ethical standpoint, the WBC’s actions are legally sound.
As the philosopher Voltaire said, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.” Voltaire believed that even malignant actions, like those of the WBC, must be legal to prevent the obstruction of the First amendment. Because the WBC is expressing a belief that is part of their religion, their protests fall under the First Amendment of the Constitution that states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Though the WBC has emotionally hurt many people with their actions, their form of speech is legal as the WBC has always followed the law on what they can and cannot do. In one of their most infamous protests, the WBC picketed a funeral for Matthew Snyder, a marine killed during combat in Iraq. Snyder’s father, Albert Snyder, was deeply shaken by the WBC’s picketing and promptly filed a lawsuit against them. However, according to Chief Justice John G. Roberts, the WBC won the case because their protests occurred on public property and only with full consent from local officials.
There was also little or no evidence of the WBC harassing or terrorizing the people at the funeral. The case ultimately came down to the nature of the speech. The WBC’s speech is what damaged Albert Snyder the most, not the protesting.
The WBC believes practicing religions such as Judaism, Hinduism and Catholicism that are equivalent to Satanism, which fuels their protests. They have gained most of their notoriety for protesting homosexuality, which they interpreted from the Bible as a di
sease that is the source of all the problems in the world. Despite the fact that these beliefs are not popular in the United States and most of the world, this doesn’t deter the WBC. Each time protestors of the WBC appear during anti-gay pickets, the WBC continues their actions without hesitation, regret, but most importantly, without any breach of the law.
However malignant the organization may seem, the behavior of the WBC is protected by the law. Imposing a legal ban on actions akin to WBC picketing would pave the way for censorship and oppression of the inalienable right of mankind. However awful protests may seem, legal action is not the answer. No such legislation would ever be passed.