Supreme Court Protects Free Speech, Not Bigotry

In Westboro Baptist case, court can't impose good manners and decency on anyone.

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Many Americans recoil at the idea that religious beliefs make it OK to force women into subjugation. So why is deference given to the antigay bigotry of church leaders who oppose gay marriage?

The remarkable thing is that the abhorrent treatment of women by the Taliban is not rooted in theocracy at all; nothing in the Koran says women must be forced to wear burqas, for example (although Muslim cultural traditions call for personal modesty for both sexes). The Taliban’s treatment of women is rooted far more in politics than faith. And Westerners rightly are aghast at it.

Yet somehow it’s acceptable to many here to express distaste for gays, or support for discrimination against gays, on the grounds of Christian teachings. Maryland was all set to approve a bill allowing gay marriage, but the bill is temporarily stalled, The Washington Post reports Wednesday. One of the state legislators explained the situation to the Post:

Del. Tiffany T. Alston (D-Prince George's) said in an interview that she needed more time "to think and to pray" about what she considers a "deeply personal issue for myself and my constituents."

How is it personal, unless Alston is talking about gays and lesbians in her district who are tired of being told they are somehow lesser than heterosexual couples? [Check out our editorial cartoons on gay marriage.]

In another piece, the Post reports that some African-American church leaders are upset with President Obama’s decision not to defend the indefensible Defense of Marriage Act in the courts:

"I don't think that this is a deal breaker in terms of whether we are going to support the president ... but it doesn't help," said Cheryl Sanders, pastor of a small church in the District, who described herself as fairly conservative theologically.

We’re meant to be a country led by laws, not religion. Freedom of religion doesn’t mean one can hide behind religious teachings to discriminate against others. The First Amendment trumps it all, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday, in a decision rightly upholding the right of antigay protesters to continue extremely offensive displays at military funerals. Neither the courts nor Congress can impose good manners and decency on anyone. That’s not an endorsement of a hatred of gays displayed by protesters from a small Kansas church.

[ Read the U.S. News debate: Should military funeral protests be protected by the First Amendment?]

Freedom of speech means homophobes in government and churches can say what they like. But bigotry is not sacred.