By definition, Supreme Court decisions are national stories. However, the Westboro Baptist Church case remains a local story here in Maryland because this is where this particular case started -- with the tiny independent church's hateful media fest near the funeral of Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder in Westminster. Thus, it is no surprise that the Baltimore Sun devoted more ink to the story than other newspapers. All news is local.
The story is quite conventional in its coverage of the court's decision.
The ruling, issued a day before the anniversary of Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder's death, was a bitter disappointment for the Marine's father, Albert Snyder, who sued the Topeka, Kan., church for picketing his son's funeral in 2006, alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress. But the ruling was expected by free-speech advocates, who found themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to align with a group that protests against gays, Roman Catholics, Jews and others.
"It's an opinion that supports very fundamental First Amendment principles," said Timothy Zick, a professor at William & Mary Law School in Williamsburg, Va. ... "A lot of people react to the church itself and its message ... not focusing on larger issues of public speech and free speech," Zick said.
In a telephone interview, Margie Phelps, a lawyer and the daughter of Westboro's founder, called the opinion "a victory by God" that was "10 times better than I ever imagined."
That's the tough message of this First Amendment case. However, what hit me in this report was some strangeness of a religious nature later in the story.
Yes, I realize that the Westboro take on religion is strange in the first place. After all, these are people who literally believe that there are sins that God refuses to forgive, even after repentance (check it out). For these folks, the Southern Baptist Convention is on the religious left.
Now, in that earlier chunk of the story, notice that in the "victory by God" quote from Margie Phelps, the reference to the deity begins with an uppercase "G." That's normal under the Associated Press Stylebook.
However, something strange is going on in another quote from Ms. Phelps, hear the end of this lengthy report. Check this out.
Even Margie Phelps, who argued the case on Westboro's behalf before the Supreme Court, acknowledged that the opinion wasn't likely to be popular.
"The whole country's going to rise up in rage against this," Phelps said, "But we're thanking our god. We're going to have a special thanksgiving prayer service this very evening, and our pastor is recording a video news release as we speak. It will get tweeted and blogged all over the universe. ... This case put a megaphone, an international megaphone to the mouth of this little church."
What's up with the lowercase "g" in the "we're thanking our god" quote?
The stylebook instructs reporters and editors: "Capitalize God in references to the deity of all monotheistic religions." However, it also notes that journalists should "Lowercase god, gods and goddesses in references to false gods: He made money his god."
Trust me: I would be the first to wonder, as an Orthodox Christian, whether the Phelps family creed doesn't focus more on court fees and hate that it does on the Holy Trinity. However, can there really be any doubt about whether this "thanking our god" reference isn't to the God of the Bible? That's painful, but that is clearly what Margie Phelps meant in this case.
I just checked and this Sun reference has not been corrected. Like it or not, it should be.