Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Westboro Baptist Church and Flag Desecration

Shirley Phelps-Roper, of Wetboro Baptist Church fame (infamy?), has lost an appeal to the Nebraska Supreme Court in which she challenged the state's flag desecration law.  Phelps-Roper is accused of allowing her son to stand on a flag during a public protest (and of herself wearing a flag-patterned skirt which she allowed to drag on the ground).  WBC is known primarily for its protests outside military funerals, at which it communicates the "message" that God is punishing America by killing soldiers) owing to the country's tolerance for homosexuality.  The protests have generated lots of controversy, as well as a spate of federal, state, and local laws that seek to regulate (or in some cases prohibit) the funeral protests.  In the terminology I use in the book, WBC seeks access to "contested" places -- symbolic places that facilitate communication of its message. 

The Nebraska statute appears to run afoul of Texas v. Johnson (1989), which invalidated a similar flag desecration law. 

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