Tag Archives: First Amendment to the United States Constitution

Palin Blasts Supremes’ Support Of Anti-Gay Church

The Westboro Baptist Church picketing at the m...

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On March 2, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of Westboro Baptist Church’s right to picket funerals, espousing anti-gay rhetoric such as “God Hates Fags,” “You’re Going to Hell” and, as shown in the picture here, “Fags Are Worthy Of Death.”  In an 8-1 vote, the Justices ruled that such behavior was protected speech under the First Amendment.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote:

But under the First Amendment, he went on, “we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker.” Instead, the national commitment to free speech, he said, requires protection of “even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.

In the case at issue, the church picketed the military funeral of Matthew Snyder.  Interestingly, Matthew was not gay.  Matthew’s father sued and obtained a $5 million verdict against the church, which has now been set aside.

Surprisingly, conservative politician/commentator, Sarah Palin, initially blasted the High Court’s decision on Twitter, tweeting:

Common sense & decency absent as wacko “church” allowed hate msgs spewed@ soldiers’ funerals but we can’t invoke God’s name in public square

Subsequently, in an interview with the Daily Caller, Palin sought to “clarify” her remarks, saying:

Obviously my comment meant that when we’re told we can’t say ‘God bless you’ in graduation speeches or pray before a local football game but these wackos can invoke God’s name in their hate speech while picketing our military funerals, it shows ridiculous inconsistency.

Assuming Palin’s frustration is genuine, which I do for purposes of this article, I can understand where she is coming from.  Frankly, I am saddened that she felt the need to so quickly, sort of retract/clarify herself.  Where she seems to be coming from is quite legitimate, if you ask me.  Why is that, in certain circumstances, we cannot invoke religious verbiage or iconography – even if done so peacefully – but this rogue band of crazy, half-witted, inbred hate-mongers – pretending to be followers of Jesus Christ – get the full panoply of First Amendment freedoms?

As an attorney, I can – intellectually – comprehend the arguments on both sides.  On a personal level, I can even support the outcome, belonging as I do to a traditionally dis-enfranchised group that often needs First Amendment protection to make its own public case.  From a viewpoint based purely on political strategy, I can even see the benefit in exposing such idiots to the light of day rather than forcing them into the shadows where they fester like a stinking boil on the butt of Lady Liberty herself.

And yet, the difficulty I have – and which Palin may be trying her best to express – is that it does seem to be the case that this “church’s” hate-filled expression has received judicial imprimatur, while arguably neutral, civic expressions that merely touch upon religion are so frequently scorned or called into legal question.

What message are we sending?  Peaceful, neutral expressions of faith are a no go.  But, hateful expression is in.  In my opinion, true Christians ought to be concerned about this decision.  And, this “church” ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Furthermore, if they truly believe in Hell, they ought to be very afraid.  As my granny would have said, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

Jesus Wept

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Supreme Court Declines “Vamos a Cuba” Case

Vamos a Cuba
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Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear a bitterly contested First Amendment case arising out of Miami-Dade County, Florida, and which has come to be known as the “Vamos a Cuba” Case.  “Vamos a Cuba,” or “A Visit to Cuba,” is a children’s book at the center of the controversy, which school board officials removed from the school library.

As reported in yesterday’s Christian Science Monitor, school board officials determined that the book portrayed an inaccurate picture of life in Cuba, based largely on one parent’s offense to the following statement:  “People in Cuba eat, work, and go to school like you do.”  “Vamos a Cuba” is part of a 24-volume set of books intended to introduce U.S. children to life in other countries.

The ACLU filed suit against the school board claiming that the board’s actions constituted censorship in violation of the 1st Amendment.  The U.S. District Court agreed, issuing an injunction commanding the school board to restore the book to the library shelves.  The school board then filed an appeal, and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with the trial court’s ruling and lifted the injunction.

By refusing to take up the case, the Supreme Court will let the 11th Circuit’s ruling – and the school board’s actions – stand.

Miami-Dade County has a long history of political controversy, first making headlines with Anita Bryant‘s prominent campaigning in 1977 to repeal a local ordinance that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

What is remarkable about this case, in my opinion, is the fact that the school board convened not 1, but 2, panels to review the book and decide if it should stay or go.  The first panel consisted of 8 individuals, voting 7 – 1 in favor of the book staying on the library shelves.  Apparently, not to be dissuaded, the board convened a second, larger panel of 16 individuals.  They voted 15 – 1 in favor of the book.  Despite these resounding vote totals, the school board then voted 6 – 1 in favor of removing the book.

Another point that bears mentioning is that the school board also rejected any argument that the library could acquire other books about Cuba that might present a more “well-rounded” view of the country.

The U.S. Supreme Court has tinkered with Tinker v. Des Moines School District for years now, gradually whittling away at young people’s freedom of expression and First Amendment liberties.  This time, I fear, they struck a potentially worse blow to the First Amendment by not getting involved.

Do you agree with the school board’s actions in this particular case?  Should a local school board be permitted to remove a book from the public school’s library because the board believes it paints an inaccurate viewpoint about another nation?  What if a school board decided that the Holocaust did not actually happen, and banned any books referencing it?

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