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1st Amendment protects military funeral protesters (Westboro Baptist Church)

Posted by on Mar. 2, 2011 at 12:50 PM
  • 40 Replies

1st Amendment protects military funeral protesters

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the First Amendment protects fundamentalist church members who mount anti-gay protests outside military funerals, despite the pain they cause grieving families.

The court voted 8-1 in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. The decision upheld an appeals court ruling that threw out a $5 million judgment to the father of a dead Marine who sued church members after they picketed his son's funeral.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for the court. Justice Samuel Alito dissented.

Roberts said free speech rights in the First Amendment shield the funeral protesters, noting that they obeyed police directions and were 1,000 feet from the church.

"Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and — as it did here — inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker," Roberts said. "As a nation we have chosen a different course — to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate."

Alito strongly disagreed. "Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case," he said.

Matthew Snyder died in Iraq in 2006 and his body was returned to the United States for burial. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church, who have picketed military funerals for several years, decided to protest outside the Westminster, Md., church where his funeral was to be held.

The Rev. Fred Phelps and his family members who make up most of the Westboro Baptist Church have picketed many military funerals in their quest to draw attention to their incendiary view that U.S. deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq are God's punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality.

They showed up with their usual signs, including "Thank God for dead soldiers," "You're Going to Hell," "God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11," and one that combined the U.S. Marine Corps motto, Semper Fi, with a slur against gay men.

The church members drew counter-demonstrators, as well as media coverage and a heavy police presence to maintain order. The result was a spectacle that led to altering the route of the funeral procession.

Several weeks later, Albert Snyder was surfing the Internet for tributes to his son from other soldiers and strangers when he came upon a poem on the church's website that attacked Matthew's parents for the way they brought up their son.

Soon after, Snyder filed a lawsuit accusing the Phelpses of intentionally inflicting emotional distress. He won $11 million at trial, later reduced by a judge to $5 million.

The federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., threw out the verdict and said the Constitution shielded the church members from liability.

Forty-eight states, 42 U.S. senators and veterans groups sided with Snyder, asking the court to shield funerals from the Phelps family's "psychological terrorism."

While distancing themselves from the church's message, media organizations, including The Associated Press, urged the court to side with the Phelps family because of concerns that a victory for Snyder could erode speech rights.

Roberts described the court's holding as narrow, and in a separate opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer suggested in other circumstances, governments would not be "powerless to provide private individuals with necessary protection."

But in this case, Breyer said, it would be wrong to "punish Westboro for seeking to communicate its views on matters of public concern."

Margie Phelps, a daughter of the minister and a lawyer who argued the case at the Supreme Court, said she expected the outcome. "The only surprise is that Justice Alito did not feel compelled to follow his oath," Phelps said. "We read the law. We follow the law. The only way for a different ruling is to shred the First Amendment."

She also offered her church's view of the decision. "I think it's pretty self-explanatory, but here's the core point: The wrath of God is pouring onto this land. Rather than trying to shut us up, use your platforms to tell this nation to mourn for your sins."


I am all for freedom of speech.. but, what they spew is hate... and can incite violence.. which I feel should not be protected... booo on this ruling.


by on Mar. 2, 2011 at 12:50 PM
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Replies (1-10):
Bean1980
by on Mar. 2, 2011 at 12:59 PM
Feel the same way!
Posted on CafeMom Mobile
romalove
by Roma on Mar. 2, 2011 at 1:03 PM

The best way to combat this church is to use that ruling to have, every single time they congregate, masses of protestors condemning their hateful spin on religion.  The same First Amendment that allows them to protest at the funerals allows everyone else to protest their very existence.

tweety101149
by Platinum Member on Mar. 2, 2011 at 1:23 PM

Sorry set the picture wrong...should have been at the bottom. Anyway, in many states there is an organization called the PGR (Patriot Guard Riders), we usually attend all military funerals whether the WBC a$$hats are threatening to protest or not.  We usually form  from the door of the funeral home/church out down the sidewalk most of the time extending 500 feet in either direction..to ensure that if WBC jerks are there they are far enough away from the mourners.  Just because they have the first amendment right to show their nasty selves and carry nasty signs doesn't mean we have to allow them to dishonor the fallen.

butterfly on headlynda  




Kaelansmom
by on Mar. 2, 2011 at 1:25 PM


Quoting tweety101149:

Sorry set the picture wrong...should have been at the bottom. Anyway, in many states there is an organization called the PGR (Patriot Guard Riders), we usually attend all military funerals whether the WBC a$$hats are threatening to protest or not.  We usually form  from the door of the funeral home/church out down the sidewalk most of the time extending 500 feet in either direction..to ensure that if WBC jerks are there they are far enough away from the mourners.  Just because they have the first amendment right to show their nasty selves and carry nasty signs doesn't mean we have to allow them to dishonor the fallen.

DH wants to join that (if they are still riding) when he retires.. I appreciate those men and women who take the time out of their lives to protect the families of the fallen from the hate of this group...

(Are you a member? If so, thank you as well)

tweety101149
by Platinum Member on Mar. 2, 2011 at 1:34 PM

 

Quoting Kaelansmom:


Quoting tweety101149:

Sorry set the picture wrong...should have been at the bottom. Anyway, in many states there is an organization called the PGR (Patriot Guard Riders), we usually attend all military funerals whether the WBC a$$hats are threatening to protest or not.  We usually form  from the door of the funeral home/church out down the sidewalk most of the time extending 500 feet in either direction..to ensure that if WBC jerks are there they are far enough away from the mourners.  Just because they have the first amendment right to show their nasty selves and carry nasty signs doesn't mean we have to allow them to dishonor the fallen.

DH wants to join that (if they are still riding) when he retires.. I appreciate those men and women who take the time out of their lives to protect the families of the fallen from the hate of this group...

(Are you a member? If so, thank you as well)

Yes we are, in Illinois where we lived (and will visit every now and then) and in SE Florida.  Actually that is me and hubby in the picture.   :-)

ETA:  Oops, meant to say Your Welcome.  I may not always agree with with our actions in regards to "war" but, I certainly support our men and women of the Military. 

butterfly on headlynda  




glitterteaz
by Ruby Member on Mar. 2, 2011 at 1:36 PM

 Makes you want to puked doesn't it?

bullony
by Silver Member on Mar. 2, 2011 at 1:37 PM

 

Quoting tweety101149:

Sorry set the picture wrong...should have been at the bottom. Anyway, in many states there is an organization called the PGR (Patriot Guard Riders), we usually attend all military funerals whether the WBC a$$hats are threatening to protest or not.  We usually form  from the door of the funeral home/church out down the sidewalk most of the time extending 500 feet in either direction..to ensure that if WBC jerks are there they are far enough away from the mourners.  Just because they have the first amendment right to show their nasty selves and carry nasty signs doesn't mean we have to allow them to dishonor the fallen.

It always tugs on my heart to see or hear about this.  WBC was coming here to picket the funeral of a local family who died in a house fire.  A local radio station gave them air time in exchange for staying away.  I'm assuming it takes practice to keep your calm while doing this.

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.


`Alvin Toffler`

Mandipants
by on Mar. 2, 2011 at 1:37 PM

IDK. I of course support the SCOTUS in their defense of the Constitution. However, I tend to agree with Alito as well:

"Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and — as it did here — inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker," Roberts said. "As a nation we have chosen a different course — to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate."

Alito strongly disagreed. "Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case," he said.

I think that the public can and should react in peaceful and supportive (of the deads family and mourners) ways by blocking these dickwads, but I also think Britain may just have the right idea by writing laws in such a way that these assholes couldn't hide behind the Constitution. Phelps monger can't even enter Britain.

wootza
by on Mar. 2, 2011 at 1:41 PM

I absolutely hate what WBC does/stands for/etc, but I truly believe if we start to censor free speech (however ef'd up it is) then there's no telling how far we may go.  Thank goodness for organizations like the PGR, but I do oppose censorship. 

tweety101149
by Platinum Member on Mar. 2, 2011 at 1:43 PM


Quoting bullony:

 

Quoting tweety101149:

Sorry set the picture wrong...should have been at the bottom. Anyway, in many states there is an organization called the PGR (Patriot Guard Riders), we usually attend all military funerals whether the WBC a$$hats are threatening to protest or not.  We usually form  from the door of the funeral home/church out down the sidewalk most of the time extending 500 feet in either direction..to ensure that if WBC jerks are there they are far enough away from the mourners.  Just because they have the first amendment right to show their nasty selves and carry nasty signs doesn't mean we have to allow them to dishonor the fallen.

It always tugs on my heart to see or hear about this.  WBC was coming here to picket the funeral of a local family who died in a house fire.  A local radio station gave them air time in exchange for staying away.  I'm assuming it takes practice to keep your calm while doing this.

It can take a lot of patience.  We do not interact with WBC.., even when they try to start a physical "pushing by accident" demonstration.   Usually though, many communities have a police presence as well if the WBC members do show up.., and a couple have been arrested because of spitting at the PGR.  Many times now they threaten to show up...just for the attention it creates...and then they don't.., so at this point most of the time all they want is the publicity...attention whores that they are.

butterfly on headlynda  




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