Supreme Court Free Speech Ruling 'Appropriate' Because Hate Group Did Not Interfere With Private Funeral

New York, NY, March 2, 2011 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today issued the following statement in response to the Supreme Court's decision upholding the First Amendment right of the virulently anti-Semitic and homophobic Westboro Baptist Church to picket at the funeral of an American service member killed in Iraq in 2006:

While we deplore Westboro Baptist Church's hateful ideology, the Supreme Court's narrow ruling upholding their free speech rights was an appropriate decision based on the facts of this specific case. According to the Court, "Westboro stayed well away from the memorial service…and there is no indication that the picketing interfered with the funeral service itself." They picketed "in full compliance with the guidance of local officials" and were not disruptive.

Under those circumstances, the Court concluded that even though "Westboro's picketing is certainly hurtful … as a Nation we have chosen to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate." ADL has long defended the freedom of expression which lies at the very foundation of our Bill of Rights. We also know the power of words and we take to heart and appreciate the Court's recognition that words can lead to great pain.

ADL filed an amicus brief in the case, suggesting that the Court should not have taken the case since the underlying facts did not involve a conflict between the right of WBC to engage in hate speech and the right of the Snyder family to conduct a private, solemn funeral for their son.

The League has long monitored and exposed WBC's hate-filled activities and has worked with many communities across the country to provide concrete guidance for responding their malicious protests.