The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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Robin L. Quillon

March 6, 2011

Loathing protest, saluting right

— The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution reads: “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 peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

This amendment guarantees our right to freedom of expression.

Many people lately seem to be confused about what is and is not a constitutional right. For example, having a contractual collective bargaining agreement is not a constitutional right, as many would have you believe. However, protesting, carrying signs and shouting at the top of your lungs in opposition of a perceived wrong is a “right.”

Also, a person does not have the right to yell “fire” in a crowded theater when there is no fire.  

By an 8 to 1 ruling, the Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. The court said that the First Amendment protects church members’ right to free speech.

You may remember that this is the church whose members have protested at hundreds of military funerals carrying signs saying “God Hates Fags,” “America Is Doomed,” “Thank God For Dead Solders,” and “Don’t Worship The Dead.”

Westboro church members boldly protest as funeral processions pass by.

They flaunt their hate-filled signs with little regard for the feelings of those who mourn the loss of loved ones.

They believe that God is punishing America for its tolerance of homosexuality.

You may believe what you will. However, I do not believe our Heavenly Father punishes one of his children for the sins of another. How could justice and mercy be served if He did so?

This lawsuit reached the Supreme Court because Albert Snyder, the father of fallen Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder, killed in Iraq, had sued the protesters for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

He had won a substantial jury award that  later had been overturned by an appeals court.

I was happy Mr. Snyder sued – and won. I find it repugnant what this church does.

It is ironic, though, that the very funeral at which they were protesting was for a soldier who willingly laid down his life in defense of their right to protest.

With that said, the ruling by the Supreme Court was correct!

Justice John Roberts, the son of Johnstown natives, in writing for the majority, said:

“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.”

He continued: “We cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. Even hurtful speech on public issues ensures that we do not stifle public debate.”

Westboro church members were picketing on a public street and 1,000 feet from the site of the funeral. They were in compliance with local law, and protested without violence.

It stings the senses, but we all should embrace and applaud this ruling. Our Founding Fathers were wise, and I believe inspired by God, as they penned our Constitution. 

They bore the scars of their oppressors and knew all too well the consequences of freedom of expression.

This Supreme Court ruling safeguards future generations’ right to openly disagree.

The fact is, one need only look to countries such as China, North Korea or Libya to see fresh boot prints on the necks of those who dare speak out against their governments.

Freedom of expression and dissent in those countries is not tolerated in the slightest, and more often than not is met with imprisonment or death.  

Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder and thousands of others in uniform willingly sacrificed their lives in defense of our right to freedom of expression.

They did not die in vain, and I encourage those of you who feel wronged by your government or its leaders, to honor their sacrifice by vigorously exercising your First Amendment rights.

 Robin L. Quillon is the publisher of The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at

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