Today, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church, protecting their right of free speech. This is a case where you can easily read the official court opinion — or at least the summary, rather than believing what some media pundit says about it.
The ruling was almost unanimous, with only Justice Alito dissenting. And you know what, despite what I think of WBC, I think it was the proper decision. The First Amendment to the Constitution applies even when we don’t like the speech being protected. Or as the Washington Post puts it, the right to be ugly. Really ugly.
On the other hand, there are plenty of other ways to go after WBC. The court decision mentions some postings to the WBC website that specifically denounced the plaintiff and which might be grounds for libel, but which they did not consider in this ruling. I would be more than happy if such a libel suit was successful, since the First Amendment does not protect against libel.
In addition, the Supreme Court has ruled that it is acceptable to place restrictions on the WBC protests — for example, requiring them to be a certain distance from a funeral. Or they may be in violation of hate speech laws.
As far as I can tell, the WBC does attempt to stay within the law, although they do occasionally slip up. There was an interesting post last month that claims that WBC is not even actually a real church, but is instead a moneymaking scam. After all, the founder of this “church” is a (now disbarred) lawyer, as is virtually every member of his family, and a large percentage of the church members (especially the ones who travel around the country picketing funerals) are lawyers. The scam is that they purposely use language as incendiary as possible, while staying within the law. Then, when someone fights back, they sue them for money for violating their rights. If this is true, it is one massively screwed up business model.
At the very least, I would love for the IRS to find a reason take away their tax exempt status. Hate does not a religion make.