Our First Amendment rights are clearly outlined in the U.S. Constitution, but the effects of our freedom of speech can get murky when our words have the potential to harm others. The latest freedom of speech debate involves protests at funerals — more specifically, funerals of fallen soldiers — where members of the Westboro Baptist Church carry picket signs that read: “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.”
The U.S. Supreme Court is in the process of ruling on Snyder v. Phelps, a case between a Maryland father of a marine killed in Iraq who wants to sue a Kansas family that protested near his son’s funeral. The Phelps family, who are members of a fundamentalist church in Topeka, Kansas held signs that said “Thank God for IEDs,” and said the soldier’s father raised his son “to defy the Creator” and “serve the devil” on their website.
The First Amendment prevents the government from infringing on a citizen’s right to say what he or she wants. However, using a private event like a funeral to express anti-gay sentiment and rally against the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” controversy is extremely offensive to the deceased soldier, his family and most members of the military.
The Snyder funeral is also not the only protest the church has staged. These very public rants against homosexuality and the military are causing a huge stir in the media and the courts. Do you think the Westboro Baptist Church members and the Phelps family should be protected by the First Amendment? Share your opinion with us in the poll below.
"This happened to my friend that had died in Afghanistan. They had signs saying they were pigs that God hated them and that they deserved to die. It was heartbreaking.
Why would anyone want to disrespect a funeral and not just any funeral, a funeral for someone who gave their life to save ours. I think it is wrong and should be illegal.
Yes, there is free right of speech. But not free right to be disrespectful and to say terrible things. How would they like it if we went to all their funerals and protested? They wouldn't like it."
--Tori, 16, NE
"I do not believe that offensive protests should be protected under the First Amendment. The reason I believe this is because when some people are being bullied or harassed, then that could lead to suicide, or many other things."
--Kyndel, 16, TX
"I think they shouldn't change the First Amendment, but they should put a limit to were they can protest and when they protest."
--Michayla, 12, CO
"I think that offensive protests should be allowed because of the First Amendment. Everything we say is going to be offensive to someone. But I think its wrong to protest at a soldier's funeral.
Those people give their lives for our country and our freedom and yet these people go and protest at their funerals?!? No matter what, protesting at their funerals is not the answer!"
Sara, 14, SC
"I believe that people should be able to protest even if it is offensive. As long if it is non-violent. If other people don't like it, that's their problem."
--Zachary, 14, NE
"Everyone is going to find someone else's message to be offensive. There is and should not be any regulation of free expression, unless the speech will incite violence or infringe upon another's rights.
As Americans, we may not like what people have to say, but that is no matter. American soldiers, even the ones who are disrespected by this protest, have 'fought to the death for [their] right to say it.' This is the very foundation of America."
--Rebekka, 17, FL
"I believe that these offensive protests are too extreme, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but there is also a matter of respect that should be tended to. If someone died and you believe they deserve it, keep it to yourself."
Robby, 16, TX
"I think they shouldn't because a person is oversea risking their lives for them to be free and thanks to those brave soldiers they are able to speak their mind."
Abby, 16, TX