Wednesday, March 2, 2011
The Westboro Baptist Church has the right to protest and picket at funerals of military servicemembers who died on the battlefield, according to an 8-1 opinion released by the United States Supreme Court today. They are a despicable bunch, these people, but its hard to argue against the determination that the First Amendment protects their right to protest and otherwise voice their opinions on public property. This case reminds me, though, of Bob Jones University in which the Supreme Court ruled that tax exemption may be denied to a religious university based on its racially discriminatory policies. I haven't read the Westboro opinion yet but a quick word search reveals that Bob Jones was not cited and I guess it should not have been since the case did not deal with tax exemption. Still, it seems there are subtle implications relating to tax exemption. I wonder if the First Amendment would prevent the IRS from revoking the Church's tax exemption based on the murky public policy rationale. I'm pretty sure the answer would be "yes," but then why doesn't the First Amendment prevent the revocation of tax exemption for a religious institution that enforces a ban on interracial dating? Maybe the two cases are apples and oranges but I am still bothered by my inability to articulate an easy answer.