Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) says an 8 to 1 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday that the First Amendment protects speech by a fringe church that targets military funerals "vindicated" his decision to stay out of the case.
Cuccinelli was one of only two state attorneys general who did not sign on to an amicus brief expressing support for the family of Matthew Snyder, a Marine killed in Iraq whose funeral was targeted for protests by Westboro Baptist Church. Cuccinelli had faced rare criticism from fellow Republicans when he declined to sign the amicus brief -- and even rarer praise from some liberal voices.
The court today ruled that free-speech rights protect the church from liability for its protests, which suggest that military deaths are America's punishment from God for tolerating homosexuality.
"The First Amendment is designed to protect ideas, even ideas that upset, that inflame, or that the majority of the country would find offensive," Cuccinelli said in a statement. "It protects the rights of speakers we agree with, but also -- and more importantly -- it protects those speakers we would condemn."
In his statement Wednesday, he acknowledged that his stand had been "decidedly unpopular." But he asserted, again, that Westboro and its founder Fred Phelps have the right to voice their opinions, even in the vicinity of military funerals.
"If the court had found against Westboro, the case could have set a precedent that would severely curtail certain valid exercises of free speech. If protestors -- whether political, civil rights, pro-life, or environmental-- said something that offended the object of the protest to the point where that person felt harmed, the protestors could successfully be sued," he said.
Cuccinelli noted that Virginia, like 42 other states, has a law that makes it a crime to disrupt a military funeral -- he said if a protest by Phelps or someone else were to disrupt a funeral, his office would assist in prosecuting the disrupter.
Cuccinelli's full statement can be found after the jump.