Frustrating Functionality of the First Amendment

Last weekend, the Drake Law School Constitutional Law Center hosted a symposium on same-sex marriage on campus.  Members of the ever-famous Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka, Kansas came to the event to protest, displaying incendiary signs and shouting off-color remarks.  See the Des Moines Register piece on the event.  Luckily, the protest (and counter-protest of over 400 Drake students) was peaceful, and no arrests were made or lawsuits filed (yet). 

The Westboro Baptist Church has also protested at military funerals, essentially arguing that these military deaths are God's punishment to the United States for condoning homosexuality.  One father of a slain soldier in Pennsylvania brought a lawsuit against the church, arguing that the church's protest was an invasion of privacy and was an intentional infliction of emotional distress.  The church responded that its speech is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.  Interestingly, the US Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments in the case. 

This case represents a classic moral dilemma:  although one can sympathize with the father who likely wanted to mourn his son's death in quiet dignity, it is dangerous to prohibit types of speech that we find repulsive. 

Although this author believes the Court will ultimately side with the church, this case represents one of the truly fascinating aspects of legal theory (and made sitting through law school class bearable).  Stay tuned!!

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jerold summers - May 21, 2010 1:12 PM

If it is true, that freedom of speech is an essential, part of our constitutional rights , then when does it become a hindrance to others? When people claim that what we do , or who we are is a violation to their belief?

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