An ad promoting a trip to Glacier National Park


Yesterday the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case that could have far-reaching implications concerning First Amendment freedoms. The case involves the family of a slain Marine and those sick-minded persons who protest military funerals — with signs like “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.”

An attorney and member of the small yet loudly obnoxious, family-run church explained to the High Court that the situation could be resolved easily. America just has to “stop sinning.” The irrational conclusion of these tiny minds is that God is punishing the U.S. for its tolerance of homosexuality by killing off soldiers on the battlefields.

The case is a thorny one for justices because they are not charged with identifying the nutcases who come before them. That would be too easy.

Rather they must decide whether the families of slain soldiers have a constitutional right to hold a private funeral without having to endure the insulting signs of the protestors or — and it’s a big OR — do the protestors have a constitutional right to express their views on placards in such a setting.

Freedom is often tricky. In this case, the Supreme Court must determine where one person’s right to free speech becomes harassment of another’s right to privacy and religious expression.

Emotionally, it is easy to side with the family of the slain Marine who had to endure the disgusting signs on the day of their son’s funeral. But the Supreme Court is not charged with that kind of decision making, but rather to weigh the arguments in light of the U.S. Constitution with its First Amendment guarantees.

A part of living in freedom is to accept the reality that people have the right — within certain limits — to be ignorant and to express their ignorance obnoxiously. The challenge for Supreme Court justices is identifying and articulating those limits very carefully without violating constitutional guarantees. I wouldn’t want to be in their robes for this one.

Share This