“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble , and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”—The First Amendment
While the separation of church and state has served us well, the scorecard is far from balanced. The latest is the action of Vanderbilt University to threaten the Christian Legal Society, a campus club made up of law students at the university with decertification because its constitution requires club officers to participate in Bible study and be Christian. The university says this violates its non-discrimination policy by prohibiting non-Christians from being members.
Do you think they can even explain that with a straight face? If the First Amendment means anything it surely means people have a constitutionally guaranteed right to the “free exercise” of their beliefs and to speak freely about them and peaceably assemble to express them—and when the Government or Vanderbilt University crosses the line the people have a right to “petition the government for redress.”
So where is the ACLU?
Oh I forgot, they only represent atheists!
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The US Supreme Court found 8-1 in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas upholding an appeals court ruling that threw out a $5 million defamation judgment against the church by the parents of a soldier slain who alleged the church had exceeded their free speech rights by pursuing them.
Soldiers killed in combat are not the only thing the Westboro Baptist Church hates. They are an equal opportunity protest group for a wide range of views and behaviors they find sinful.
Chief justice John Roberts spoke for the court in the ruling: “Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and — as it did here — inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a nation we have chosen a different course — to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.”
Margie Phelps, the lawyer who argued the case before the Supreme Court and the daughter of the minister said:
“We read the law. We follow the law. The only way for a different ruling is to shred the First Amendment. I think it’s pretty self-explanatory, but here’s the core point: The wrath of God is pouring onto this land. Rather than trying to shut us up, use your platforms to tell this nation to mourn for your sins.”
As Americans we believe in the First Amendment and part of us supports this ruling even though the speech which gave rise to this case is disgusting, hurtful and hardly what any Christian should expect from a Christian church.
We pray for the Snyder Family whose loss of their son Matthew is pain enough without this torment. But we also need to pray for the Westboro Baptist Church asking God to fill them with His Holy Spirit that they might love for the Snyder Family and others they protest as He has loved them.
My guess is that may be too much to expect from a group so consumed by rage that they must keep finding new targets to keep the fires of hate burning.
Compare this ‘act of faith’ by the Westboro Baptist Church to the act of faith by the Amish who showed up on the doorstep of the widow of the shooter to tell her they did not blame her for her husband’s actions in killing their children.
Free speech is still free speech even when it is hateful. But God is love not hate and the Westboro Baptist church minister and members will have to explain to Jesus on their own judgment day how they got the message so wrong.
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