The Westboro Baptist Church first gained notoriety after it protested outside the funeral of Matthew Shepherd, murdered because he was gay. In recent times the church has picketed at various locations, including the funerals in the US of soldiers killed in action and public figures. They are most well known for their prolific anti-homosexuality stance.
On Wednesday, a supreme court ruling under the first amendment will allow the Westboro Baptist Church the right to continue to protest at funerals, although opinion is divided on th decision.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is issued the following statement after the ruling:
“I am very disappointed in today’s Supreme Court decision to allow hateful extremists to attempt to sully the memories of heroes who have fought and died to protect this country, and to heap more hurt on already grief-stricken families. These families have only one chance to bury loved ones who made the ultimate sacrifice. They deserve the right to mourn without being subjected to the ugly signs and slurs of fanatics.
“Emboldened by this unfortunate ruling, the Phelps family has pledged to redouble its efforts to harass military families during their darkest hour. I call on faith leaders from all communities to stand with me to denounce hate speech, including the kind used by these protesters.
“Soldiers like Matthew Snyder sacrifice their very lives to protect the freedoms and rights guaranteed by our Constitution, including freedom of speech. But while Rev. Phelps and his followers have a right to speak freely about matters of public concern, they should not be allowed to hijack a private funeral as a vehicle for expressions of hate. I believe the law should continue to protect, as it long has, the rights of all private persons — including the families of fallen soldiers like Matthew — to mourn their loved ones at a peaceful and solemn funeral.”
The daughter of the minister of the 100 member church Margie Phelps, and the lawyer who argued the case for the church, commented on the decision:
“I think it’s pretty self-explanatory, but here’s the core point: the wrath of God is pouring onto this land. Rather than trying to shut us up, use your platforms to tell this nation to mourn for your sins.”
The ruling under the First Amendment, exists “to protect robust debate on public issues and free expression, no matter how distasteful.”