Fresh off of their semi-win against the hacker collective Anonymous, Fred Phelp’s Westboro Baptist Church, the hate group behind “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God For Dead Soldiers,” got the good end of a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, who ruled today that their provocative protests are protected by the First Amendment. In an 8-1 decision, the Court supported a lower court’s ruling against Albert Snyder, who sued the church for emotional distress after the funeral of his son who died fighting in Iraq.
Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the majority:
“Speech is powerful,” Roberts wrote. “It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and — as it did here — inflict great pain.”
“On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a nation we have chosen a different course — to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate,” he said. “That choice requires that we shield Westboro from tort liability for its picketing in this case.”
“Simply put, the church members had the right to be where they were,” Roberts wrote.
He did note, however, that “Westboro believes that America is morally flawed; many Americans might feel the same about Westboro,” and, “Westboro’s funeral picketing is certainly hurtful.”
Justice Samuel Alito dissented, writing, “Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case.”
On Twitter, Westboro founder Phelps’s daughter, Megan Phelps-Roper tweeted, “WE’RE DANCING IN THE STREET!” with the above photograph, which depicts gay sex atop an upside-down American flag and the words “Supreme Court.” Fred Phelps delivered a video statement on the ruling, but you can probably skip that, depending on how masochistic your day has been so far.