The Price of Free Speech

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Preserving a cherished right isn't always pretty. In a victory for First Amendment fundamentalists, the Supreme Court on March 2 upheld a fringe group's right to picket the funeral of a fallen Marine, ruling 8-1 that the Westboro Baptist Church was permitted to hoist signs with hateful slogans like "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" near Matthew Snyder's funeral in 2006. The case, Snyder v. Phelps, was among the most charged on the Supreme Court docket last year, as Snyder's father sought to recover $5 million in damages awarded by a lower court but overturned on appeal. In the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts held that signs like "God hates fags" are matters of "public import," related to, in this case, "homosexuality in the military." (Snyder, the deceased Marine, was not gay.) Roberts also noted that Westboro picketed some 1,000 ft. (300 m) from the church. America, Roberts wrote, has long chosen "to protect even hurtful speech on public issues." Even at the price of a father's pain.