Today's Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church has encouraged many decent conservatives to think that the United States will not so quickly go down the garden path of political correctness as Canada and the EU. I think this view is seriously mistaken.
As everyone knows, the Westboro Baptist "Church" is a group of rude fanatics who are as mentally unbalanced as they are deficient in all the Christian virtues. They regularly picket funerals of soldiers killed in action to protest the Defense Department's policy of tolerating or encouraging homosexuals in the military. By the same argument, anyone who works for any company that does not illegally exclude homosexuals is fair game. And why not anyone who patronizes any business that obeys laws that conflict with Westboro's twisted understanding of the Scriptures? Their members carrying indecent signs, have spat upon mourners, and make blasphemous and salacious parody videos, saying "God Hates You" and "God is p---ed off." There is nothing remotely Christian about either their views or their behavior.
Today the Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 against a Catholic family whose son's funeral had been disrupted by members of the Westboro Baptist Church who carried signs signs saying "You're going to Hell," and "Thank God for dead soldiers."
These people are not Christians of any kind; they belong in jail and they deserve a public whipping. But the theory of democracy and universal human rights says that any group of hoodlum vigilantees has a right to invade your private life even at its most difficult time. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts based his decision on the fact that they were on a public street—not bothering to consider that the protestors were not local residents of the town whose taxes paid for the streets. “Speech is powerful,” he said. “It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and—as it did here—inflict great pain. But under the First Amendment “we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker."
Under the First Amendment, as it was originally drafted, the Federal government has no jurisdiction over even rational political speech. The local town or the State of Maryland could have put the protestors in the hoosegow for the rest of their lives. Under the incorporation doctrine, the First Amendment is now included in the 14th, but even with this legal fiction in place, it is hard to see how the Federal government in any of its agencies is morally or legally justified in protecting these disgusting people. Is there nothing I can do on a public street that can be outlawed? If the court felt the family's case against the so-called church was without merit, because, for example, it was up to local authorities to keep order, they might have said so or not taken up the case. But that is not what they did. They have armed every Jerk in these United States to intrude himself into private life.
It goes without saying that the ACLU, the New York Times, and other groups conspiring against public decency filed briefs supporting the so-called Church.Thank goodness for Justice Samuel Alito, the only dissenter. “In order to have a society in which public issues can be openly and vigorously debated,” he wrote, “it is not necessary to allow the brutalization of innocent victims.”
The Supreme Court's ruling in this case is not just another sign that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are dead. Far more important, it represents an extension of the most evil tendencies of Jacobin democratic theory that does not permit the survival of any distinctions. Democratic equality, as the modern liberals understand it, is not the equality under the law: It is the destruction of all the human differences on which the social order rests. And by liberals I mean both the people called liberals who are really socialists and the old-fashioned liberals who are called libertarians or even conservatives like John Roberts. As Tocquevile says of similar French intellectuals before the French Revolution, "Not only did they loathe certain privileges, diversity as itself odious. They worshipped equality even if it meant servitude." John Brown, St. Paul, Muhammed, Sun Myung Moon, they are all religious leaders, and their followers all have rights.
Justice Roberts, like Lincoln and Robespierre before him, is helping to create a way of life and a social order in which our American and European traditions will not be privileged in any way over alien traditions; in which a 12 year old boy has the right to decide whether he wants or does not want to have sexual relations with an older woman or male; in which conservative Christian churches will not be able to oppose abortions or Gay marriage. We are not even to be safe from the principles of radical democracy at the most painful moments of private life. If you want ruin a wedding or a funeral, there are eight Supreme Court justices, backed up by bayonets, who will defend your right to behave like a pig.
The funeral of Mathew Snyder, a young Marine killed in Iraq, was none of these people's business, and the Snyder family should have been permitted to break every bone of their rotten bodies.
Thomas Fleming is the former editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of The Politics of Human Nature, Montenegro: The Divided Land, and The Morality of Everyday Life, named Editors' Choice in philosophy by Booklist in 2005. He is the coauthor of The Conservative Movement and the editor of Immigration and the American Identity. He holds a Ph.D. in classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Before joining the Rockford Institute, he taught classics at the University of Miami of Ohio, served as an advisor to the U.S. Department of Education, and was headmaster at the Archibald Rutledge Academy. He has been published in, among others, The Spectator (London), Independent on Sunday (London), Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, National Review, Classical Journal, Telos, and Modern Age. He and his wife, Gail, have four children and four grandchildren.