The Supreme Court just heard arguments in a case that sorely tests free-speech rights. Snyder v. Phelps pits a family who lost their Marine Corps son to the war in Iraq against Westboro Baptist Church, a fringe congregation in Kansas that protests military funerals and sees the deaths of American troops as GOD's punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality.
The father of Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder wanted his son buried with dignity. What he got was protesters standing outside the memorial with signs saying "Thank God for Dead Soldiers." It didn't matter that Cpl. Snyder was straight. For Westboro Baptist, the truth never gets in the way of a good temper tantrum.
I wonder what Westboro pastor Fred Phelps teaches about separating the sinner from the sin. According to the model GOD and JESUS set for us, we are to love the sinner but hate the sin (1 Timothy 1:15-16, Luke 19:10, Romans 5:8). This doesn't mean we give sinners a pass; it means we help them repent. We pray for them. We encourage them to change. Sometimes we punish them. Sometimes we cut them out of their lives until they straighten out.
Nowhere in the BIBLE does it command us to make innocents pay for the sins of others. Sin often has collateral damages -- which is the straw the Westboro followers are grabbing at -- but GOD doesn't punish innocents (Hebrews 6:10).
I don't like it when Christians play snobbish games, calling some followers real and others fake according to how religious they are. Yet I hesitate to call the followers of Westboro real Christians when they distort GOD's Word so flagrantly and hurtfully. Their sense of decency is warped. They continue to protest military funerals and it doesn't bother them a shred. I can't understand how they can thrive on so much anger and not be deeply miserable inside. I'm sure they justify it in their own minds as doing the LORD's work. Rationalization is such a deceptively powerful tool; it lets us get away with anything.
The Supreme Court, however, can't rationalize their way out of this. It has to draw the line somewhere. Previous rulings have stated the time, manner, and place of free speech can be regulated, if not the content of the speech itself. Still, it agonizingly ruled in favor of Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt when he ran an obscene parody ad mocking evangelist Jerry Falwell. Sometimes the law isn't equipped to handle obscenity. That's the trade-off of having a First Amendment: it protects the speech we love as much as the speech we hate.