Westboro Baptist Church: the right to be offensive?

By Elizabeth Tenety The Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in the case of Snyder v. Phelphs: Albert Snyder, a grieving … Continued

By Elizabeth Tenety

The Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in the case of Snyder v. Phelphs: Albert Snyder, a grieving father whose Marine son was killed in Iraq v. Fred Phelphs’ Westboro Baptist Church, whose members protested Snyder’s son’s funeral.

Westboro’s congregants believe that “tolerance of homosexuality has drawn God’s condemnation,” and hold signs like “THANK GOD FOR DEAD SOLDIERS” at memorial services for fallen servicemembers.

From Post reporter Robert Barnes’ article on the case:

Roy T. Englert Jr., a frequent Supreme Court practitioner not involved in the case, said there are really only two possibilities for the court.

“Either the court is going to make some new First Amendment law that says funerals are different, which certainly would be a popular position,” Englert said. “Or the court is going to say, ‘Let’s take the most obnoxious speech in America today, and let’s reaffirm that even obnoxious speech is protected.’

What will Westboro’s explanation be if God (the Supreme Court) rules against them?

In another recent case of religious hate vs. free speech, Florida Pastor Terry Jones threatened to burn copies of the Qur’an on 9/11, a provacation that not only elicited international outrage, but was considered by experts to be a national security threat.

Should concerns about national security override the Jones’ right to free speech? Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer said in an interview with George Stephanopoulos that he is “not prepared to conclude that — in the internet age — the First Amendment condones Koran burning.”

From the interview:

Holmes said it doesn’t mean you can shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theater,” Breyer said. Why? Because people will be trampled to death. And what is the crowded theater today? What is the being trampled to death?”

How worried are you about modifications to the First Amendment? Would you prefer that the Supreme Court ruled on the side of the religiously obnoxious and the offensive?

Or do you agree with Snyder, that protecting the rights of Westboro Baptist Church “is an insult to every American who has died for the freedom of speech“?

WEDNESDAY UPDATE AFTER THE HEARING:
From an AP report:

“WASHINGTON — Supreme Court justices seemed to struggle with the question of whether the father of a dead Marine should win his lawsuit against fundamentalist church members who picketed his son’s funeral.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the question is whether the First Amendment must tolerate ‘exploiting this bereaved family.’”

What is your take? Should the First Amendment tolerate “exploiting” families of fallen service members?

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More coverage of Westboro case:
Funeral-protest case at Supreme Court draws demonstrators
Bikers protest Westboro Baptist demonstrators at Arlington burial

About

Elizabeth Tenety Elizabeth Tenety is the former editor of On Faith, where she produced "Divine Impulses," On Faith’s video interview series. She studied Theology and Government at Georgetown University and received her master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. A New York native, Elizabeth grew up in the home of Catholic news junkies where, somewhere in between watching the nightly news and participating in parish life, she learned to ponder both the superficial and the sacred.
  • michelleham

    The Phelps family has no soul, they are not children of God. Their actions are NOT considered free speech, but harrassment. There are laws specifically made for people who harrass others. Our lawmakers need to apply those laws. Again, it is not freedom of speech, its harrassment.

  • amelia45

    As much as these people are despicable I don’t see how they can be stopped. There is no law against rudeness or unkindness, as hurtful as either or both can be. Westboro Baptist is led by a truly hateful pastor and its congregation has turned as hateful as he is. Isn’t it possible for the Baptists to kick them out of their convention?

  • pjmoneill

    How is their right to protest and freedom of speech more important than the families right to bury their loved one in a dignified and peaceful manner. What has happened to common decency? This is a form of harassment not freedom of speech.

  • joe_allen_doty

    If the TV news media and the print news media had not decided to ignore Fred Phelps and his family cult misnamed the “Westboro Baptist Church when he was holding anti-gay protests at public schools, churches, funerals of those who died from HIV/AIDS symptomatic diseases and diversity pride celebrations, they might not have showed up at funerals of those who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • Alex511

    I’ve a friend, a retired trial judge, that freddy went after a number of years ago. My friend, K, performed our wedding ceremony two years ago, and is a gay man. He used to be a debate coach at U of Kansas when one of freddy’s kids was there. When old man fred discovered that K is gay, he went after him. K told fred where to go. ONCE. fred never bothered K again. It’s too bad fred hasn’t learned how to play nice with other kids yet.

  • ncc1701d

    The Westboro Baptist Church is proof positive that Christianity is a religion of hate.

  • GodlyLady1

    I am appalled that a Reverend would be so uninformed as to God’s word. God is LOVE. While God is quite clear that He hates sin, He is also very clear that He LOVES each and every one of us. We are all sinners, but those who choose leadership within the church are held to an even higher accountability. As I read the comment above mine, it is all the more distressing that Christian leadership would so misrepresent God to the world. I do believe in freedom of speech, but I also believe that with freedom comes great responsibility. My heart goes out to the families, who in their time of grief should have been comforted, and shown the love of God.

  • Carstonio

    The issues seems to be primarily that Phelps and his followers are causing a tremendous amount of heartache for the loved ones of fallen service members. I would be leery of any ruling that stated that the group’s protests didn’t have First Amendment protections. What about the possibility of funeral homes or churches hiring private security guards to keep the protesters away from the mourners?

  • WmarkW

    Of course everyone has the right to offend. Terry Jones’ Koran-burning is as Constitutionally protect as flag-burning is.The problem with funerals is not the right to offend with speech, but that our culture’s funeral practices are designed around the assumption that no one will attend who doesn’t want to respectfully memorialize the deceadant’s life. It’s like having to discuss how burial practices would need to change if people showed up to dance on cemetery plots.

  • maddyharry

    Free speech does not permit slander, statements that are untrue, Rev. Fred W. Phelps should not be able to make statements that are distressing to people unless he can prove that he speaks for god. Obviously he cannot prove that so he must be recognized for speaking for himself. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. once said The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.” Phelps is hiding his opinion behind god and should be required to admit that it is singularly his opinion and not that of god. If he chooses to make placards to admit that it is only his opinion and not that of god’s instruction, he would then be entitled to free speech. Then Is there not some civil law that prevents people from harassing others unnecessarily. Should there be some way to restrain Phelps. Harry Coss, 302 Captains Circle. Lewes, DE 19958 302-644-9182

  • Carstonio

    MaddyHarry, Strip away the theological aspect and phelps is effectively committing slander by claiming that the fallen soldiers deserved to die. There may be a legal avenue for the families that wouldn’t involve a First Amendment ruling. Perhaps the families would be justified in suing Phelps for harassment.

  • WmarkW

    EDBYRONADAMS,There is an exception to free speech called “fighting words.” Call a black person the n-word and if a fight ensues, you’d be guilty of assault.The First Amendment’s religion clauses, though, pretty much protect any statements made about God’s opinions.

  • Carstonio

    I think we should make exceptions to assault and battery laws for certain cases of “free speech”. Sure you can do it but do it at your own risk.While I wouldn’t favor such an exception, the idea has a certain emotional appeal. Imagine contingents from New Orleans and Haiti confronting Pat Robertson about his claims that those two places had it coming.

  • Carstonio

    The First Amendment’s religion clauses, though, pretty much protect any statements made about God’s opinions.The specifics of the law aside, I’m not sure there is much of a distinction here. With the family of a fallen soldier, “I say your boy deserved to die” and “My god says your boy deserved to die” may amount to the same thing emotionally. That may not be sufficient for a legal ruling.

  • leephoenixriser

    wbc and a renegade like pastor terry are elevating christianity to newlevels.time for the heathen to retire. let the dead bury the dead.

  • vicsoir1

    Freedom of speech does not encompass or support provocative acts that provide tinder for acrimonious violence that such language ultimately precipitates.

  • StanKlein

    Phelps and his WBC cult have an absolute right to utter their hateful and offensive speech. However they have no right to utter that speech where the people they hate and offend can hear them. It seems to me that the offensive demonstration can very reasonably be required to be held at least a quarter mile away from the funeral to allow the bereaved to bury their dead in peace.

  • kschlem1

    Although I think their speech is vulgar and filled with hate, I also hesitate to say it shouldn’t be allowed. I think the most important thing to do to diminish the effectiveness of their speech is for all media – repeat – ALL – to discontinue coverage of the Phelps family and Westboro Baptist Church activities. The message can’t be heard if it isn’t broadcast.

  • 0kami

    i’d say they have a right to protest at the Pentagon 24 hours a day. they have no right to protest at the funerals of fallen soldiers.if they’re that fired up, they should move to DC and llet the ones in charge know what they feel.

  • xconservative

    Would you prefer that the Supreme Court ruled on the side of the religiously obnoxious and the offensive?Beware self appointed sensors because tomorrow YOUR speech may be considered obnoxious and offensive.

  • xconservative

    The Westboro Baptist Church is proof positive that Christianity is a religion of hate.I don’t actually know any TRUE Christian Churches. Man ruins everything he touches. As a friend once said, “Don’t blame that mess on Jesus.”

  • Nymous

    Funny how tolerant people are of these evil people, but decent people try to build a mosque and everybody craps a cow.That aside, WBC is some seriously evil people. They’re an insult to religion itself, an affront to decency, and a hate cult.

  • daniel12

    The answer to this question is the same as the one about whether a mosque should be built near ground zero. Constitutional right to build the mosque, Constitutional right to free speech, but just as it was in bad taste to suggest a mosque near ground zero it is in bad taste to say certain things.

  • PALADIN7E

    Roy T. Englert Jr., a frequent Supreme Court practitioner not involved in the case, said there are really only two possibilities for the court.”Either the court is going to make some new First Amendment law that says funerals are different, which certainly would be a popular position,” Englert said. “Or the court is going to say, ‘Let’s take the most obnoxious speech in America today, and let’s reaffirm that even obnoxious speech is protected.’The Supreme Court would rule that the circumstances of a funeral where the mourners cannot avoid being subjected to the speech make the case into a “captive audience” case, in which the State may use apprpropriate time, place, and manner restrictions to ensure a balancing of the 9th Amendment Right of Privacy of the mourners with the 1st Amendment Right of Free Speech.Don’t think one can come up with an answer in 5000 characters or less on this one though….

  • areyousaying

    Notice the teabaggers wail about the “insensitivity” of a Mosque near the former World Trade Center but they remain silent over the obscenity of their inbred Baptist cousin Fred Phelps. Like they cherry-pick their scriptures and the Constitution, they cherry pick what they regard as obscene and offensive.In November, vote against them and the Republican party they hijacked along with poor old Jesus. These people are no less a threat to our freedoms than are the Taliban.

  • areyousaying

    WBC should NOT be viewed as a real Church, nor as a representative of Christianity.Posted by: momof20yo Then why do Baptists let Phelps use their name for his church? Where is their outrage?The are no different than Muslims who do not denounce their murderous terrorists.

  • wvsnowbirdgirl

    Pastor Phelps is no rube when it comes to what he can or cannot do legally. In 2006 he brought his followers to West Virginia Wesleyan College to promote his special brand of hate to friends/family/community members mourning the loss of 11 miners in a January 2, 2006 explosion at the Sago Mine. Phelps knew exactly how close he could get to the mourners without breaking any laws and taunted them during a time of profound grief. The State and County police asked the group to leave and escorted them for their own safety to the County and then State line…with a warning. Return at your own peril. Phelps did not return. My point is that I do not believe that Phelps is interested in freedom of speech. He simply has found an obnoxious way to spur people who are in an emotionally delicate frame of mind into violating his rights so that he can in turn file lawsuits against them and thereby fund his “church”. This man is a charlatan, not a christian, and he knows exactly what he is doing when he holds his “protests”. Most West Virginians are very conservative in their religious, sexual, and political views. The only reason Phelps picked this particular occasion to “protest” was that he hoped he could taunt some emotionally distraught mourner at that memorial service into violating his civil rights. Phelps and his followers were lucky to escape with that most important of civil rights, their own lives. Is it despicable to protest at a funeral? Absolutely. Is it illegal? No. Should we amend our Constitution in order to silence the voice of one “man” who has decided to fund his church through hatred that shocks the sensibilities of decent people? No, that would just stroke his ego and stoke the fire of hatred already burning in his heart.

  • newagent99

    funny how we allow the cover of “religion” to spread hate.

  • sherpadoug37754

    There is no constitutional right NOT to be offended. The Constitution protects speech we don’t like as well as speech that we like. Speech that we like doesn’t need protection, of course. Absolutely, Phelps and Jones and their odious ilk have every right to spew their vituperative nonsense until their gums bleed. The Constitution guarantees such idiots the right to make fools of themselves.On a separate but related note, the court decided wrongly in the “bong hits for Jesus” decision; that kid had every right to wave his sign during an off campus school parade. The Supremes need to keep their hands off the First Amendment. (And what, exactly, does “bong hits for Jesus” mean? It’s a complete absurdity, a non sequiter, a sentence without meaning that the Court’s decision seeks to protect us from. That decision is inane.)

  • 1toughlady

    I despise Fred Phelps and Terry Jones, but I will defend to the death their right to be offensive, because only freedom for the speech we hate can guarantee freedom for the speech we love. There is no right not to be offended, and our founders would be astonished that anyone would believe in one.

  • ConcernedDutchman89

    First of all, It is my opinion that it is just a matter of decency to respect a funeral. To show up and intentionally hurt the people present just to make a statement which you could easily make at other platforms is nothing but disrespectful. This man and his followers should stop showing up at funerals and give their opinion on a more neutral site, like a public square.However, he does have the right to state his opinion. It is just a matter of decency to state your opinion in a more public sphere in stead of another mans personal sphere. This is simply aiming at the man in stead of the problem.

  • chatard

    The more intriguing question is, do gay rights activists have the right to lie? Gay rights activistss blame people who are opposed to homosexuality and the celebration of homosexuality for the death of a homosexual in New Jersey. He killed himself. The only reason ga.y rights activists speak against Westboro is because of the homosexual.isssue, Gay rights activsts care no more about the Rutgers student than they do the dead soldier. They are liars. Their speech is protected, but they are liars. And they are bullies. They are in the process of bullying American society into abandoning it’s tradition of distancing itself from the homosexual agenda. But as with all bullies, they are cowards. They won’t go to Saudi Arabia and try that crapola.

  • garoth

    The question is not simply a firt amendment question; it is the balancing of the first amendment against the right to privacy, in this case. In that way, it is different than the Terry Jones matter. The question should be whether there are things in life where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. The first amendment stops at my door – a person may have a right to say what they want, but not in my house. I have a right to throw them out, if they violate the “house rules.” In this case, the question should be, “does that right extend to other primarily private matters, like a funeral?” If people do not like me, they have a right to picket my house. Most communities, however, have laws restricting distance, etc. This should be true, in my estimation, of funerals as well – picketers should not have an automatic right to be present, and communities should be allowed to have laws restricting where they may picket. All personal rights, it has been noted, end “at the end of my nose,” that is, where another’s rights infringe on “mine.”

  • EdSantaFe

    Like Bush, they should all be hanging in the public square….

  • thejjmoody

    This is strictly about freedom of speech and freedom from speech that you are a captive audience to. I’m pretty sure it also touches on the idea of if Snyder was a public figure or not at the time of the protest and the publication of Roper’s ‘epic’ on the website. I believe the issue is the idea that Snyder’s original judgement again them revolved around the fact that he was a private citizen and their actions intruded on his right to seclusion for the funeral and time to grieve. WBC responded that because he gave statements to a couple of local reporters for newspaper articles, and the funeral announcement was printed in area newspapers that he had no right to expect seclusion during the funeral because it was a public event. And because he admitted that he never saw them at the funeral they never intruded on the seclusion of the event. Then I think in addition to that same claim about the epic that was posted the following week, Snyder also claimed intentional infliction of emotional distress because of the statements made in the epic. I’m pretty sure the libel or slander suit never made it out of the district court. And I think what the issue there is the standard set by Hustler vs. Falwell regarding satirical speech directed at a public figure. It seems like the whole thing comes down to if Snyder was made a public figure by the announcement of the funeral or if he was at all times a private citizen and how that would effect his implied right to privacy and seclusion, and then if he’s a private citizen if the actions taken by WBC made him a captive audience to their speech. I’m not a lawyer I just play one in law school so I might have this wrong, if I do I’m sorry. I don’t have access to the briefs at the moment so I’m pulling this all out of my head, and I don’t claim that my head keeps anything right. There’s no question that their speech is covered by the 1st amendment, that’s not going to change. I think the question will be if they can be held accountable in court for exercising their right to free speech and expect to never be held accountable for it’s effect on the people they are directing it at. This probably would never have made it into court if it wasn’t for the epic they published and named the deceased and his parents personally in that document. By his own admission he never saw them at the funeral, the signs contained no direct reference to the anyone only general statements about the military and the Catholic Church, and they were standing on public land. I think the bottom line about their little pickets is that as offensive as they still are, no body really looks at them as anything more than a joke. The epic could be a different story, not that it will stop them from putting more of them up, but it will open them up to spending a lot more time in court and limiting the time they can put on their little three ring flea circus.

  • garoth

    Skowronek, actually, that is the case. If you can show your activities to be “primarily religious,” you can get exemptions on taxes, etc. I was a pastor down south for a while, where there are what we used to refer to as “Heinz 57″ Baptists. Most of them are single families that have had a beef with one church or another, or whose “pastor” (usually the head of the household) has had a “revelation,” and started their own “church.” The Baptist church has no say over these “churches,” which often spew garbage that has nothing to do with anything resembling Christianity, and they are thick as flies on s***. The IRS allows it as long as the “church” can show that its activities are “primarily religious in nature.” Then file a 501C(3) and you’re in business.

  • greenstheman

    They call themselves baptist, but I assure you they are not Baptist nor Christians by their behavior and miss use of Gods name for their own blasphemous agenda.AS a Christian person, I know they do not represent a Christian perspective and condem their deplorable behavior. God will judge them and deal with them in due time.They are not Baptist, they are Impostors

  • thejjmoody

    One other final thought about the issue here. Because WBC is trying to apply the ‘public figure’ standard from Hustler v. Falwell to their speech here, if the problem becomes that because Snyder made himself a public figure and can’t claim intrusion on what has been announced as public event, then anytime anyone publishes the announcement of a funeral stating date, time, and location then effectively WBC can show up at any funeral, any time, anywhere and protest however they want. It all really comes down to what makes an event like a funeral a private vs. a public event.

  • ny26lars

    People keep referring to the “mosque” at the WTC site. It’s a community center that happens to have a prayer room. If this is a mosque, the Pentagon is a cathedral, because it has a chapel.

  • FarnazMansouri2

    Phelps and his congregation, mainly his inbred family, stage protests at military funerals, harass Jews, gays, and others.When the fiance of murdered Yale co-ed, Anna Lee, held organized a memorial service for her at his synagogue in Long Island, Phelps and his band of Baptist inbreds protested noisily outside.Inbred baptists had travelled all the way across country to disrupt a memorial service, the funding for their inbred hate fest provided by our tax dollars. Police protection for the inbreds was also paid for by us.If there was ever a stronger reason for revoking taxpayer funding for religious institutions than Phelps and JOnes, that reason would have to be the RCC pedophile shielding entity.Time to take the haters off the dole. As for freedom of speech, nothing should prevent Phelps and the inbreds from protesting, nor should anything prevent Jones, so long as they keep themselves far away from the rest of us who don’t want to be disturbed by lowlife and prefer to see hatred contained.

  • Steveinaz

    As a Christian and as clergy, I could not disagree with Rev. Phelps more. As a gay man, I am offended by him at all times. As an American, I would support his right to say what he thinks, but… When his speach hurts others (like the family and friends at a funeral) and is disrespectful, he should be able to say what he wants but should also be made to pay for his offense. The family should have the right to sue him for disruption of the funeral (if it was disrupted), for emotional distress caused by his hatefulness and lack of respect for others. He should also have to pay for the police protection he insists he needs if he wants to protest. I’m sure that if Mr. Phelps had to pay for his protection and for the pain he causes, he would soon stop this unacceptable behavior.

  • jacksprat1

    Is there no limit to the bizarreness that religion provides a shelter for? Let’s get together and dismantle organized religion and just follow the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount.

  • Skowronek

    I’m sure that if Mr. Phelps had to pay for his protection and for the pain he causes, he would soon stop this unacceptable behavior.Posted by: Steveinaz | October 6, 2010 1:49 PM I like this idea. We could call it the “twisted old bat” surcharge. I wouldn’t want to see the cost passed along to the funeral homes and cemetaries, because the family would have to bear the increased costs. It costs a lot of money already. I would imagine that when someone is buried at a VA cemetary, any additional protection costs would be borne by the US Government, one that we would all pay (but shouldn’t have to).Garoth–Wow. I’m kinda stunned that people can get away with that. I guess they feel that the Baptist “brand” isn’t worthy of any particular respect?

  • tkoho

    If these Evangelicals want to dabble in policy and politics, fine; but they should lose their tax exempt status as a consequence.

  • thejjmoody

    If you made him pay for protection he would never do it, all it would do is open up a new line of revenue for them, and he has been billed in the past for police protection. Most places they go don’t provide direct protection for them, but are present to make sure they aren’t assaulted by anyone. In the past they have sued localities who didn’t have a police presence there for not protecting them. If you can ever find any video from about five or six years ago and you compare their behavior then and now there’s a noticeable difference. They toned it down around police officers after a couple of incidents where their little display resulted in punches being thrown and people on both sides being arrested… and them not being able to sue because of the ‘fighting words’ exception to the first. Now they try not to provoke it because it’s not a cash cow for them anymore.

  • PSolus

    “How worried are you about modifications to the First Amendment?”The First Amendment is not being modified.”Would you prefer that the Supreme Court ruled on the side of the religiously obnoxious and the offensive?”Yes.”Or do you agree with Snyder, that protecting the rights of Westboro Baptist Church “is an insult to every American who has died for the freedom of speech”?”No.”What is your take? Should the First Amendment tolerate “exploiting” families of fallen service members?”The First Amendment cannot tolerate anything.We, however, can tolerate much.

  • FarnazMansouri2

    It seems that as matters stand, Phelps and the inbred Baptists must be given police protection. In one, largely Christian community, to which Phelps and the inbreds came to disrupt a synagogue service, the community categorically stated that they did not wish to provide police protection for the inbreds. It was provided nevertheless. Things got messy when some synagogue attendees left the services to “speak” with Phelps. The police restrained them, but the whole affair was wretched.Simply put, religious institutions should fund themselves, kept out of Congress, etc.They do not seem to be contributing anything of value to this world.

  • burlough

    I’m disgusted by Phelps & Family. I think the First Amendment allows their insane speech. I think we’re stronger for allowing itWhen flag-burning was all the rage in the 80′s, the suggestion was let ‘em burn flags everywhere. Change the laws on assault, it’s a real cheap traffic ticket to beat the snot out of somebody burning a US flag. Maybe that wouldn’t work with the Phelps family ….

  • Gracefulboomer

    The antics of the Westboro Baptist Church are very similar to the tactics used by abortion protesters outside of Planned Parenthood Clinics.Even some of the signs are almost identical.

  • ben16

    I’m all for freedom of speech, but aren’t they also violating our rights of privacy? A funeral is certainly not viewed as a public event. Neither is a wedding. Do we really want to support as “free speech” protesters seeking out gay weddings to disrupt? Do we want those hating Jews protesting bar mitzvahs? Private is private, and events like this shouldn’t be subject to harassment masquerading as “free speech”. As for the Phelps, they are simply Satan’s disciples. Their judgement is coming.

  • sassafrasnewport

    All of these folks who do things like this under the guise of religion are despicable – period – particularly when they do it under the guise of some religion. What makes Phelps and his crowd different from radical members of the Muslim religion?

  • makouli

    Any of you knuckle-draggers wonder what all of this looks like to an atheist?

  • sassafrasnewport

    If the Supreme Court permits this, then I saw we take our free speech rights and do vulgar things on the public sidewalk in front of their church to “honor” the dead being eulogized inside. Bet they won’t be so happy about free speech rights then, will they?

  • ny26lars

    In other words, stoop to their level? How does that “honor” the soldiers?

  • daendzel59

    It is outrageous to protest at anyone’s funeral, no matter who they are.

  • jonswitzer

    I’m not sure someone can be much more conservative and fundamentalist than I am. Let me be clear. Protesting at a funeral and disturbing the mourning of those who grieve is vile and unacceptable.

  • stanassc

    “REPORT OFFENSIVE COMMENT”Unfortunately, the Rev Phillips is very offensive. And will defend to my death, his right to be offensive, a jerk and all round irresponsible repulsive representative of Christianity. He and his ilk make my resolve to vote on the 1st Tuesday in November for the Democrats even stronger than it has in the last 10 years. Tell him to keep it up. Maybe we can send the Republican party the way of the Wig Party in 1860.

  • patmatthews

    Free speach is just that freedom to express oneself. If a person believes that GOD speaks through them, than so be it. As a Buddhist, I would askthe simple question, where is your note from GOD indicating his/her displeasure with Homosexuality.BTW, the military is a no ask bno tell environmnet, indicating they do not embrace homosexual lifestyles. So why pick on the military saying GOD hates Gay soldiers, when that is an oxymoron, in America.I think your GOD is confused. If your GOD hates anyone, he/she has failed their first rule. GOD HATES!

  • Judy-in-TX

    As a military wife, I put myself in the position of these families who have lost one of their family during these conflicts.

  • NoVaPatriot

    The following comment from this morning is worth reposting — I couldn’t agree more with the observations:Pastor Phelps is no rube when it comes to what he can or cannot do legally. In 2006 he brought his followers to West Virginia Wesleyan College to promote his special brand of hate to friends/family/community members mourning the loss of 11 miners in a January 2, 2006 explosion at the Sago Mine. Phelps knew exactly how close he could get to the mourners without breaking any laws and taunted them during a time of profound grief. The State and County police asked the group to leave and escorted them for their own safety to the County and then State line…with a warning. Return at your own peril. Phelps did not return. My point is that I do not believe that Phelps is interested in freedom of speech. He simply has found an obnoxious way to spur people who are in an emotionally delicate frame of mind into violating his rights so that he can in turn file lawsuits against them and thereby fund his “church”. This man is a charlatan, not a christian, and he knows exactly what he is doing when he holds his “protests”. Most West Virginians are very conservative in their religious, sexual, and political views. The only reason Phelps picked this particular occasion to “protest” was that he hoped he could taunt some emotionally distraught mourner at that memorial service into violating his civil rights. Phelps and his followers were lucky to escape with that most important of civil rights, their own lives. Is it despicable to protest at a funeral? Absolutely. Is it illegal? No. Should we amend our Constitution in order to silence the voice of one “man” who has decided to fund his church through hatred that shocks the sensibilities of decent people? No, that would just stroke his ego and stoke the fire of hatred already burning in his heart.

  • observer1776

    What Phelps and his followers,(mostly his extended family) are doing, is an attack on innocent people. We have laws that punish speech that harms others. Their “speech” clearly does so. They should be sued, prosecuted, and forced to pay heavy damages.

  • kjprotil

    Unfortunately, this church is allowed to protest because of the 1st Amendment. As horrible as what they are doing is, it does not endanger anyone the way shouting fire in a crowded theater would. While the large majority of the country rightfully recognizes their signs and demonstrations as hateful blustering, we also have to remember that, in our country, everyone has the right to be wrong, no matter how hatefully wrong they are. The key to fighting back against these hate groups is to pressure them, as a society, into silence. If we don’t let them speak, we restrict their freedoms–and compromise our country’s values.

  • FarnazMansouri2

    A number of Phelps’ inbred family are lawyers. The simple fact is that when this Baptist and his hateful Baptist congregation disrupt military funerals, harass Jews, gays, disrupt memorial services for a slaughtered girl (Anna Lee–neither military, nor Jewish, nor gay), held by her fiancee at a synagogue, these Baptists are engaging in hate speech. That they are using “fighting words” is evidenced by the reaction of some of those whose services have been disrupted.As I posted earlier, in one case, attendees left synagogue services to have a word with Phelps and his inbred Baptist family congregation. They were restrained by police.If the Phelps and JOnes of this world, if haters, regardless of denomination are to be protected, so are the rest of us who do not hate.All we ask is that they be kept far, far away from the rest of us, that we do not have to fund them with our tax dollars.The same applies to the RCC pedophile-shielding entity, which we not only funded and continue to fund, but which effectively legislates in Congress. Time to end the dole.

  • InTheMiddle

    A tough issue, as it was when the American Nazi Party marched through Skokie, Illinois in the 1970s. The Westboro crowd are on the level of the American Nazi Party. They are rude, boorish, and utterly ignorant of the God of the Bible. The Bible declares: “God is love.” Their signs say “God Hates You.” However, it is a serious matter to limit free speech and should be done only in cases where public safety is at risk — the “fire in a crowded theater” standard — or when it is intended to incite people to a crime. The Westboro protests don’t meet that standard.Free speech has a high price. We have to listen to people who we would like to keep quiet. But it is a price well worth paying.

  • staterighter

    It’s sad but the Constitution gives us the right to be stupid, we prove it everyday. I think SCOTUS will have to rule in favor of the “stupids” but they certainly should add a well written and scholorly adendum that condemns the act. My curiousity is that if they were to show up at a Gay-Lesbian event would they be charged with a hate crime? Maybe some day we will find out.

  • babybaby

    Let the hatemongers hang themselves. The media has been covering this, and rightly so. Reasonable people can see and make their own judgments. Let the Supreme Court rule for the first amendment and the right for stupid, hateful people to exist – so the rest of us can educate ourselves and our children against this hatred.

  • ggwalt

    This is indeed a tough one. To me it’s a privacy issue. Unfortunately, when someone dies, we’re limited where we can hold religious services and burials. It’s not as though most people have the option of locking out any unwelcome intruders , since services are often held in churches, and burials in cemeteries. These Westboro people are despicable, but my sense is that their heinous behavior and words will be protected under the first amendment. What would Jesus do? I suspect he would counter this kind of ugliness with love, prayers, and beautiful music. That’s what one high school did when the Westboro devils came to their town. It was impressive and moving. It really defused the hate, made the Westboro group look insignificant and evil. Maybe they could make a law whereby they allow a certain perimeter around the funeral. Send them the bill if law enforcement is required to protect the perimeter.

  • FarnazMansouri2

    It’s sad but the Constitution gives us the right to be stupid, we prove it everyday. I think SCOTUS will have to rule in favor of the “stupids” but they certainly should add a well written and scholorly adendum that condemns the act. My curiousity is that if they were to show up at a Gay-Lesbian event would they be charged with a hate crime? Maybe some day we will find out.Posted by: staterighter I don’t want my tax dollars funding them. Another blogger mentioned the Nazis and Skokie, a community that when the Nazis wanted to march there, was home to many Holocaust survivors.The court ruled in favor of the Nazis. However, they never marched through Skokie. A few of them showed up and were directed to at the outskirts and given what amounted to an armed police guard.I don’t want my taxpayer dollars supporting police protection for PHelps, the Nazis, KKK, etc., but if it must be sobeit.JUst keep them far, far away from the rest of us, as was done in Skokie.

  • catweasel3

    I’m sorry, but isn’t a funeral private? I mean, people showing up to weddings to protest wouldn’t be tolerated. Why are these nutcases allowed within a mile of a funeral? They should be ashamed of themselves.

  • mariaestavez

    First amendment rights – try harassment! – there are laws against harassment which is what this church did; they hijacked a private mourning and turned it into a mockery for publicity sake. There is a difference! I hope the courts view this as an infringement on the private right to mourn without harrassment! And I AM a Christian who believes in tolerance – it’s not man’s place to judge but the Lord’s!

  • FarnazMansouri2

    It seems that Phelps’ right to “free speech” trumps everyone else’s right to privacy and freedom from harassment.

  • CHAOTICIAN101

    This is just plain silly, very hurtful but still just silly and stupid!Of real concern is the deliberate and endless lies, disinformation, and outright propaganda of Fox and its mostly Republican traitors and corporate sycophants! This Fox rabble is threatening the existence of the Republic, corrupting everything and everyone it relates too, and actively promoting a conservative, religious, Fascist coupe to replace our Democracy with a fanatical, fantastical, corrupt Fascist Theocracy…. that is a real danger and one that needs to be opposed in every way by every real patriot!

  • mariaestavez

    You want to see a Christian denounce this wing-nut church – I will! These people SICKEN me. They do not represent the Lord’s teachings of tolerance and love or the Bible. They stand in judgement as if self-appointed. They are no better than any extremist who forces their beliefs on others. They should be arrested for harassment.

  • mariaestavez

    As a Christian – I denounce what amounts to harassment by this church. They do not represent Christ’s teachings and they do not have the authority to stand in judgement. They should be arrested for harassment. I will pray for them that they find the medication they so desperately need and I will pray for the family who lost the chance to grieve in peace!

  • mariaestavez

    I am a Christian and I denounce what amounts to harassment by this church! I will pray that these people find the medication they so desperately need and I will pray for the family that lost their only opportunity to grieve in peace!

  • dnjake

    There are two levels to this issue. The first is the question of freedom to hold a funeral service without it being disrupted by some kind of protest. The second is the freedom to express beliefs and political views that may cause deep distress to others. It is reasonable to argue that people should have the right to honor and bury their dead without having the funeral service disrupted by protestors. But it is much more questionable to claim that right should extend far enough to enable them to silence any expression that dishonors their dead. Apparently, in this case, the protest was carried out at some distance from the funeral service and the grieving father was not even aware of it until he saw it on television. Trying to outlaw that kind of protest is starting down a very slippery slope with free speech and freedom of religious belief.

  • Maddogg

    Personally, I feel the Westboro folks should be protesting at soldiers funerals over nitwits that die in the nitwit wars of nitwit George W Bush.Or, we could close America down everytime someone dies out of respect.If the court rules in favor of Snyder what is their guarantee that further restrictions of free speech won’t be fortcoming?

  • wapocensorsbite

    I’m glad I’m not the one deciding this case. How do you split hairs with this?Hopefully someone who has some influence over those nitwits can get them make a public apology and promise not to intrude on the grieving of a loved one’s funeral, rather than forcing the Supreme Court to satisfy both the 1st Amendment and grieving families.I urge everyone to pray for the Justices on the Supreme Court that they have the wisdom to find a way to protect both Free Speech and the rights of family members to have a dignified funeral and grieve in peace.

  • dkirby44

    I thnk Fred Phelps should be hung up by his balls from a tree near the cemetaries and let hin protest from there. That way we would not be denying him his rights.

  • williamhuxtan

    POSTED BY: NCC1701D =====Agreed. Since day 1 Christianity has employed an “us-versus-them” mentality to build its coffers, control the simple, and oppress the weak. With all of the murders, stealing, and physical and mental abuses committed by all Christian churches, how can anyone not agree that this religion is one of hatred for mankind. Westboro Baptist Church is a Christian church and just another messenger of Christian hate.

  • RBCrook

    The church may think they have a right to be total douche bags — and the supremes might even agree — but they also have a right to meet my fists should they make a total fool of themselves and impose their vile “speech” at a funeral I attend. They would get the beat down of their lives if they didn’t move far enough away to be out of my line of sight and hearing. They don’t have a right to invade and ruin a funeral of a loved one. Doesn’t exist and no court is gonna be around to protect them from my “speech.”

  • ejgallagher1

    The conduct of the WBC may be disgusting but is probably protected by the First Amendment. There are worse examples of religious extremism in Kansas such as murdering a doctor inside his own church which are clearly and indisputably criminal conduct, but like that of Phelps and his church, motivated by religious belief. Most folks on a self proclaimed mission from God have faulty receiving units.

  • shaiarra

    THE HUMANE CIVILITY EQUALITY MOVEMENT ( HCEM PARTY ), PROTECT THE RIGHTS OF OTHERS BECAUSE YOURS IS NEXT TO GO VERY SOON (BLACKS/ FEMALES/ DISABLED/ ALL OTHER RACES/ NOT WHITE (NORDIC) ENOUGH @100% etc (ADA BIOLOGICAL GENETIC VARIANTS) EVERYONE’S 25TH COUSINS ANYWAY. US CITIZENS MUST BE REMINDED BY CHANTING: OLD JIM CROW MUST GO, RELIGION IS NO EXCUSE FOR INHUMANE TREATMENT OF OTHERS, (HATE CRIMES/ PEDOPHILE SET-UPS/ HARASSMENT , DENIAL OF EDUCATION , HOUSING AND EMPLOYMENT [ BOTH GOVERNMENT AND PRIVATE SECTORS] )please review THE COURT LAW DOCTRINES SUCH AS : FIGHTING WORD, CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER, AND IF ATTACKES ON SAME SEXERS AND MILITARY US CITIZENS THEN THERE BOTH CRIMINALLY AND CIVILLY GUILTY AS THE KKK CASE LAWS AS WELL AS VIOLATING THE PARTIOT/ NATIONAL SECURITY ACTS , BY INSITE VIOLENCE BY THIER PROTEST ON US CITIZEN ie (MILITARY AND SAME SEX CITIZENS), FREE SPEECH/EXPRESSION IS NOT ALL INCLUSIVE NOR EXCLUSIVE, HUMANE CIVILITY SHOULD BY EVERYONE GOALS FOR THEIR OWN LIFE

  • nauticaln

    When the klan decided to hold a rally in Annapolis on Lawyer’s Mall – a large group of civil rights folk marched in counter protest (see synopsis below). As part of the counter protest I was greatly amused to see that a peaceful and effective solution to drown out the klan as well as to “protect”them had been to line up the MD Transportation buses around Lawyers Mall. In an odd twist the klan had the mall all to themselves and vented their rhetoric in front of the “amused” countenance of a bronze statue of Justice Thurgood Marshall that presides over the mall. The klan numbers were small and we could not see or hear them behind the solid wall of buses. Ingenious.Civil rights leaders in Annapolis are organizing a demonstration to counter a Ku Klux Klan rally scheduled for Oct. 29 at Lawyers Mall in front of the State House.As the Klansmen demonstrate on one side of town, civil rights groups will march down Main Street, then congregate at the First Baptist Church on West Washington Street. The counter-protesters say they will not gather or march near the Klan rally.Klan leaders have predicted that their demonstration could bring about the largest gathering of white supremacists in the city since the 1960s.

  • Zebragirl

    (Not sure I’ll be heard after ALL THAT SHOUTING in the comment above!)I see time and again questions about where all the moderate Muslims are to condemn the fundamentalist terrorists in their religion… well, where are all the indignant Baptists? Why don’t we hear them protesting that WBC does not represent Baptist views? Why doesn’t the Baptist church patrol their own – or sue them for using the name Baptist if they don’t have a right to it?

  • areyousaying

    Has anyone followed the money? Where does the Phelps family get contributions to fly around the country and not work? Not enough from their small congregation? Who is behind the hate?I suspect they receive their funding from other “Conservative Christians”

  • opinionfromIA

    I would like to know who gave this church group the right to pass judgement on others, homesexuals or not. Doesn’t it stae in the Bible ” Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls.” Romans 14.4 How is it any diffrent if I were to go to the funeral of Fred Phelps and protest that he died because God was punishing his family and friends for a person 100,000 miles away for being gay? Let try it once and see how they feel and see if it is not personal then? Doesn’t it also state in the Bible “That if you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved” Romas 10.9 So all the homosexuals that have done this are still not going to heaven and God will not forgive them. Again not YOUR place to judge. Why target the soliders that are the ones fighting for your right to the first amendenment anyway. If they weren’t over the dying for us then we would have such a luxury, if you have a problem with someone and the way they live thier lives take it up with them!!!

  • areyousaying

    If Baptists claim Phelps is not one of them, why don’t they sue him not to use their religion’s name?Why do Baptists let Phelps call it Westboro Baptist Church?Could a NAMBLA chapter in New Jersey call themselves Cardinal Mahoney Catholic Church or could I start one called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Gay Haters?

  • BTinSF

    I really don’t see why this should be such a hard issue. The Constitution protects your right to say what you want and express yourself, but it doesn’t protect a right to say anything anywhere anytime. Phelps’s right to say what he says is not at issue here, only his right to say it within sight and hearing or mourners at a funeral and to direct specific hate speech at them as they mourn. This should constitute a verbal assault or at least the intentional infliction of emotional pain that is not protected. Phelps can still say what he wants–just somewhere else, and he can post it on the internet or say it to a reporter for broadcast or publication. It seems to me that adequately protects his rights.

  • DrS1

    It looks like we have a classic case of competing rights coupled with problems of definitional clarity. Expressing your views is speech. Disrupting lawful religious services (in this case the funeral) or attempting to dissuade participant from attending those services crosses the realm of speech into unprotected behavior. In other words, bullying behavior is bullying behavior no matter what religion the perpetrator professes.

  • washpost18

    While I’d smile if I saw the group obit. for the Phelps and I sympathize with all families and friends who have lost a military family member, I have to put a line down that allows WBC to continue being sociopathic twatwaffles. The Constitution protects free speech; it doesn’t provide a right to not be offended. Consider also – they’ll all be dead in a few decades; any decision restricting First Amendment rights will have an effect for the indeterminate future. If they are not already, funerals should be officially considered private functions that are open to the public only with a clearly published affirmative statement to that effect. If that privacy is then violated by anyone there are legal remedies available.

  • tweisensee

    My quetion is What makes these people any better than terrorists? They say the same things. Carry the same signs. If a group of muslims were doing the exact same thing they would be hauled off as terrorists. The people of the Westboro Baptist Church are terrorists and should be treated as such.

  • areyousaying

    The Westboro Baptist Chruch does not qualify as a religion. It is a radical, homophobic hate group. If Muslims are to be denied First Amendment rights because teabaggers claim the same about them, why do their inbred Baptist cousins get special dispensation?

  • randers001104

    I agree with ‘CATWEASEL3′ despite the poster’s bizarre name. Catweasel3…If weddings are private then funerals should be too.By the way being originally from Kansas City, KS and going to school in Lawrence just down 6th street from Topeka I’ve got to say I hope the judge rules against Westboro. They have been doing this for at least two decades. Stop this.

  • CRinVegas

    Right now, in the Netherlands, a Dutch member of parliament is being tried on five counts of ‘inciting to hatred and discrimination.’ He’s been saying some very nasty anti-Muslim things. The Dutch also have freedom of speech but do draw some lines. We also need to draw some lines, and this case would be a good beginning. Also heard on the BBC the other night that, although most of western Europe believes in freedom of speech, they’re horrified by what our country allows to be said.

  • rm3rdview

    I have been Appalled by the actions of these misguided Westboro people.They think they are doing something that poor grieving families should see on their hateful signs. They are cruel and wrong to inflict pain and suffering on these American families. They do not represent any Christian or Jewish person I have ever known. They are Anti-Love and against the freedom we all have to grieve and celebrate too where we want and when without hateful actions. They plan what will cause suffering and not care of the people they will hurt.They are more than mixed up!

  • rpies1

    The issue is not whether the church in question has a right to express their views; rather, the question is whether their method of expression amounts to a form of harassment–and therefore, to speech that is not protected under the first amendment. Clearly, nobody is preventing the church from spreading their vicious message of hatred through fliers, editorials, radio or TV messages, the internet, etc. Simply focusing on one mode of expression–protesting at funerals–is misguided, and, in my view, misreads the underlying principle of free speech inherent in the first amendment. We would not protect a person’s right to trail 10 feet behind another individual, all day, every day, shouting insults at that person, under the dubious theory that such speech is “protected” by the First Amendment. We should not protect harassment at funerals, either, when many other modes of expression are open to an individual or group.Ronald Pies MD

  • StarRiders

    Phelps is a foul and disgusting creature, but to my mind, no more foul and disgusting that Palin and Tea Party morons. I have to tolerate their mindless nonsense, and they have to tolderate my brilliant insight. That’s what free speech is all about.

  • wilbursstuff2

    Having Mr.Snyder pay the attorney fees which was probally one of Phelps Own Family Attorney’s is quite a scam. You sue end up paying attorney fees to them because they are protected under the First Amendment; Freedom of speech. What a money making scam and they probally file taxes under a non-profit organization. I don’t really beleive that they are concerned about there rights; they are into a money making scheme that seems to be working in their favor.

  • bobbo2

    There are those who must hide behind the first amendment when speaking. The people of the Westboro Baptist Church are such people. They are cowards.

  • justhefacs

    There is no constitutionally protected right to harm others….physically, mentally, emotionally, or otherwise. Which is why First Amendment rights to do not extend to yelling: Fire, in a crowded theater. I’m certain that if this court can create a rationale to protect the destructive, corrupting influence of the fictional person, the corporation’s billions of lobbyist dollars distorting to the point of decimation, our previously representative democracy…they can as well, find a way to not extend protections of speech into the realm that does actual harm to real people.

  • colonelpanic

    We can start with Holmes. Free speech does not allow us to cry “Fire!” in a crowded theatre. This opinion does not restrict our right to cry “Fire!” in an open prairie, however.We see two key circumstances in the opinion: 1) location and 2) the effect on the audience and the predictable result.I believe that we can remove certain speech away cemetery and even the occasion of putting our friends and loved ones to rest without a restriction on our freedom to speak our minds.To me, the actions of the Westboro “Church” are nothing more than an act of aggression in the sense of “fighting words” and at the very least the misdemeanor of disturbing the peace.

  • CraiginJersey

    These people should be physically pummeled at every event, even at the risk of being charged with assault. The grieving families deserve at least that much from us.

  • aliziad

    These acts are despicable and these insensitive people are abusing the system. I hope the court protects the fallen soldiers and their families with laws against such protests. The laws alone assumed people have decency and those people don’t, so maybe it’s time to extend the reach of the law to teach some people manners. I’d label their acts treason.

  • georgetowngrad

    It is a sad day in America when the freedom of speech is equated with being mean and hateful like this so-called pastor and his followers. No one has a right to think they have a right to say what god hates. I can’t recall anywhere in the bible where god or his followers wished death on someone. This group sickens me.

  • Tangent2

    AREYOUSAYING:

  • camasca

    Our nation is better served by allowing free speech to be as broad as possible. It’s a huge strength for us.Interpreting speech is very tricky, often you need context. If someone had a sign, “Thank God for Dead Soldiers”, but they had a beautiful shrine around it, signifying that the intent of the sign is that those that have died have kept our nation safe. Would that be offensive?It’s better to not have laws that try to set parameters, both signs could be banned at the funeral if there is a law banning that kind of speech. As to Koran burning, national security is an exception, but only when it involved things like a paper publishing troop movements during war. Perhaps it would fall under inciting acts of violence exception. But again, most of the time, it’s better to allow more free speech than restrict it. Free speech was able to counter the Koran burning, and that resolved the issue. Restrictions could deprive us of the debate.

  • douglaslbarber

    At some point common sense and a minimal level of decency toward our fellow citizens must inform the law. I’m with Justice Ginsburg. If Fred Phelp’s people want to do their thing in Times Square, or on the National Mall, or in Arlington National Cemetery when no grieving family is present, fine.It just seems to me that what they do at funerals is a tort, if not an assault. They have the right to say those things, but not a few feet away from a grieving family.

  • Parsley1

    Westboro prominently displays on their website their protest schedule through the middle of November. They are in DC today. They will be at Arlington later today. In the past 2 days a counter protest by bikers was held & the noise from the bikers revving their bikes drowned out the Phelps. There was also a counter protest in Hagerstown, Md & those protesting against the Phelps outnumbered the Phelps 3-1. I applaud these brave Americans. With the power of the Internet it is possible for Americans to come together & rebuke these horrible people using their particular means – signs, chanting & loud, loud noise. The American people may have to gather & do what the Supreme Court can’t. Drown Westboro out.

  • hofbrauhausde

    The Westboro Baptist Church is proof positive that Christianity is a religion of hate.No, it’s proof positive that Westboro Baptist Church is a church of hate, and that you don’t know your rear end from third base.

  • spike591011

    Does this phelps person have a First Amendment right to say what he is saying where he is saying it? Yes. There really is no argument to counter this fact. That said, people like phelps, pastor “i’m gonna burn the Koran” jones, etc. should probably be going through life constantly on guard for the rest of their little lives looking over their shoulders. Why? Because their incendiary speech might just result in angering folks who might take their anger, and a firearm, into their own hands and use both. Obviously phelps and the rest of the ilk haven’t noticed how angry joe citizen is growing and also have forgotten that joe citizen might be a firearm owner. Angry + firearm is never a good combination. Thousands of joe citizens are losing sons and daughters to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I wonder if phelps is wearing body armor while he is being a horses-a_ss at funerals? Wouldn’t that be rather hypocritical; not leaving it in G_d’s hands?First Amendment or no, the loss of any of these types of people will be no great loss. Their use of the First Amendment is guaranteed. The way they use it makes them look like ignoramuses and therefore very expendable: they add nothing of worth to society. Seems to me that letting this ilk have their say so that they get their fondest with–a face-to-face with the almighty–is probably the best thing for society. And them.

  • poppysue85

    These horrible people have the right to say what they want. The rest of us have the right to enact limits to WHERE they say it. You cannot legislate tact, grace or charitable behavior. But you can create rules in specific circumstances. God will sort these people out later, but for now we must protect those who are at their most vulnerable and who have given us their most precious gifts- the lives of their children in protecting our security and way of life. We have the right to protect them.

  • lgaide

    The case against Phelps and his moronic followers has absolutely NOTHING to do with freedom of speech. It gas everything to do with slander, libel and harassment. None of these offenses are protected by the Constitution.I have not seen any attempt to argue that Phelps and his gang are not attempting to inflict emotional distress. That is what they plan to do and they succeed. That is an actionable offense. So are libel and slander. And unless Phelps can get God to take the witness stand to testify that Phelps is quoting him accurately, Phelps hasn’t got a case.The Supreme Court should overturn the Appellate Court decision and reinstate the damage award.

  • votingrevolution1

    These imposter’s do not represent most Christians.Jesus said to love your neighbor as you would(golden rule) want to be loved.These people seem more like the Taliban then being a loving ambassadors for Christ. People in that church should RUN from that controlling leadership.I’m real sure our founding fathers would not allow this under the title of “free speech”It’s not free when it is costing the other party immense pain and suffering!!

  • quark606

    Of course you have the right to offend. What you don’t have is the right to intrude on another’s private event. This ought to be a very cut-and-dry case.

  • forgetthis

    I think this is an unfortunate incident. The pastor did not break the law, but this protest was in poor taste. I don’t see how this is a matter of privacy, but it should have never happened. Obviously, some people cannot be trusted to behave decently.

  • adwashburn

    I don’t believe this is a religous issue. If that is the case, then I can do whatever I want and say “God wanted me to do it” and I’m off the hook?

  • EdSantaFe

    These “protesters” are vermin.

  • Liam_L

    People include emotional pain and suffering in lawsuits all the time. I’d like to see a family member of one of these soldiers go after these guys for enhanced emotional distress, pain, and suffering. What jury wouldn’t be on they’re side?

  • smt123

    Maybe a funeral should be made a matter of privacy. People have their right to protest and express their views, but they don’t have the right to do that on my front lawn. Or in someone’s office. Maybe funerals should be treated the same way.

  • baseballguy

    Are funerals a public event or a private event? That seems to be a question worth answering – it might get around much of the debate. If the funeral is defined as a private event than the removalofthe protestors is less a free speech issue than an issue of tresspass.

  • Davidd1

    Popular speech needs no special protection. As long as these church members are standing on the public way, and their protest is essentially political(they oppose gay rights-a political matter,)I do not see how they can be abjured.

  • djmolter

    This country began with free speech that was called seditious by the British., and a free society allows for the expression of opinion, no matter how offensive. Although I disagree with the sentiments of these “protestors,” it is painfully clear that they have the right to express them, just as it is the right of others to say that Islam is a religion of violence or that illegal immigrants are the real problem with America. Courts aren’t asked to make new laws but to interpret the laws already enacted. Fining the protestors won’t make them change their minds. It’s too bad, however, that so many people think they speak for God.

  • morryb

    As disgusting are these protestors, the Constitution protects their right to demonstrate. I would think that one of the most important principles is not to cause innocent people any grief or harm. Apparently this principle does not exist for these religous nuts.

  • jmlison

    The First Amendment says that “Congress shall make no law…”. It’s there precisely to protect offensive speech. Although its quite clear, I am sure the Roberts wing of the Court will try mightily to make law favorable to their 18th Century point of view. The only thing more dependable that the hypocrisy of conservatives is their ingenuity to ignore when it suits their purpose.

  • asmith1

    I’m not sure even the Supreme Court has the authority to deny a person’s right to speak freely on public land, no matter how repugnant their message may be.Lesson learned from Park 51. Building a mosque near Ground Zero is legal in every way, but not a sensitive or smart thing to do. Nor is burning a Koran on private property, but for some reason Obama felt he had the need to pull out the big guns to force Rev Jones into submission to his will. The Park 51 mosque project will probably go forward – because Raul and Daisy tell us it is their right and it will incite radical Muslims around the world to continue the recruitment of Imams like Raul and his wife. Rev Jones however will never be able to exercise his right to burn a koran on private property because our President feels his right is lesser even though it will incite radical Muslims around the world to continue kills those who are recruitable and coveratable.And then we have the “Christians” who sing and chant most unchristian-like things at the funerals of our soldiers in a form of protest. By their actions, they too incite the radicals who will work both sides of the aisle – some supporting the “christians” some opposing them. In the end, everyone has a Constitutional right to do pretty much whatever they want and in this Me-First society – short of crying fire in a crowded theater.

  • thrh

    It’s a pity they haven’t come up with a way to sentence the Phelps family and their congregation to death; however, I guess it’s enough that God has already cursed them to live in Kansas.

  • deej18032002

    I am a hard core right winger and former Marine and I say we must protect the right to protest. Do not open the door to modification of the 1st Amendment.

  • thrh

    The difference is the one between criminal behavior (where the First Amendment holds sway) and tortious behavior (where it arguably doesn’t, or is at least weaker). What is “state action” in this case? One private citizen is suing another.

  • RAB2

    There is an old saying: “My right to swing my arm stops two inches short of your nose!”

  • thrh

    This being a military funeral, there must have been an Honor Guard with weapons. Why didn’t they open fire on the vermin? Protecting the honor of the dead veteran.

  • inmanorj

    We have hate crimes on the books.These radicals are clearly guilty of hate crimes, disrupting military funerals and espousing hatred against those not accepting their vitriol. They should be locked up and fined. The Baptist Association should sue them for defamation for using their name.

  • tommyss4l

    While I (as a soldier) find these people to be the lowest form of life in the universe, their first amendment rights to free speech cannot be denied just because we do not like what they are saying. If they protested at a friends funeral, I personally would rough talk them and run them off at the very least.

  • mchaun

    Leave it to the Jew media, baiting these Halfwits into their Lunatic raging while pouring gasoline on the Tea Cup Tempest du Jour.Anti Abortion Protesters did worse things to Women entering Abortion Clinics but no one seemed to mind much.But look at the comments, each dumber then the next with never a word of explanation nor correction from the Jew Media.It’s obvious these Morons have read neither their Bibles nor their Constitution but the Jew Media is happy to let them wallow in their own precious ignorance.Monte Haun [email protected]

  • dolph924

    Only offensive speech needs protection under the First Amendment. Saying “have a nice day” doesn’t need to be protected. I think they have every right to do what they’re doing and say what they’re saying. BUT, if they are intentionally inflicting emotional distress on the grieving families then those families should be able to take every nickel these jerks have in a tort suit. Being free to say something is one thing; paying for the consequences of what you say is quite another. Of course, being profoundly stupid, these folks probably don’t have two nickels to rub together. If one of the family members takes a physical revenge, I’d love to be on his or her jury — I’d hold out for not guilty if it were 11 vs me in the jury room.

  • sunnie2

    The problem with Mr. Phelps is that he has set himself up a “Judge” and his followers up as “self rightous jurors”. I personally do not agree with the homosexual agenda and I believe according to the Bible that it is immoral, however, I am not the homosexual’s judge and Mr. Phelps is not there judge either (only God is judge). Mr. Phelps and his followers are overstepping their First Amendment rights and actually should be charged with slander based on the way they are personally (verbally through speech and signs)attacking the mourners at funerals.

  • Skowronek

    I think the most important thing to do to diminish the effectiveness of their speech is for all media – repeat – ALL – to discontinue coverage of the Phelps family and Westboro Baptist Church activities. The message can’t be heard if it isn’t broadcast.It will be heard by the family members burying their dead.I think what they say and where they say it to be horrible. I support their right to say it, but I don’t understand why they are permitted to be anywhere near the private properties and the families. Of course, if they’re told to be 500′ away, they’ll probably just line the sidewalks and roadways to the cemetary…They’re scum, but they have every legal right to declare that fact.POSTED BY: AREYOUSAYING :Posted by: flipper49 Flipper49, you never answered the question. You brought up Islam, but you never addressed why they are permitted to be, or call themselves, a Baptist church. Does this mean that anyone can hang out a shingle and declare themselves a Baptist church? Hmm, imagine if homeowners took to doing that with their primary domicile and inviting a couple of friends over once a week. Could save a lot of money on your taxes, turning your home into a religious site.

  • AnonyMiss

    As much as I favor free speech, I’m not sure I’d have a problem with classifying this type of behavior as a hate-crime.I don’t fully understand the legal definition of slander, but it DOES seem to me that the Westboro Church is slandering Christianity — which, for the most part, is NOT full of bigoted haters who clearly misunderstood everything Jesus said and did.

  • qqbDEyZW

    This had been done ever since the first gay soldier’s body came home. We say we honor our soldier but we really don’t. The Church is doing Satan’s work with the Priest following Satan’s orders. Notice no Law Makers has ever spoken up for our troops but the President. For 8 years thousands of soldier come home dead and the people nor the Media bothered to even say a prayer and thanks. What would the US be like if men/women didn’t join the service, and remember many of those Law Makers dodged the draft during Vietnam. The good news is when people die they all go to heaven to be Judged and God loves all his children He doesn’t discriminate. At lease the World gets to see what American Christian Religion is all about.

  • brycej

    As a lawyer, I know the 1st Amend has exceptions. Two of them come into play here: 2. Defamation. Most of Phelps’ stuff is NOT factual in content. It is religious, political. But some of it is bordering on factual. Like accusing his parents of raising his child in a terrible manner (I don’t remember the specifics).Also, a parent ought to have the free speech right to grieve without being hounded. If that is a new exception, so be it.

  • pfreeman11

    This whole entire issue is disgusting and posing under the guise of “religion” is even worse. I am a Christian, born and raised in a military family. Both of my parents and some very beloved friend lie in Arlington Cemetery. They laid down their lives for the freedom of this country and others. Those who cannot appreciate that need to stay away and let loved ones grieve for the loss of their family who gave his/her life that we may all continue to have a free life.Thank you to all the bikers who protected yesterday funeral at Arlington by stopping the morons that chose to try to make a mockery of someone’s death. Ride those Harleys, fly our flag high, and rev those engines. Our troops do not deserve the likes Fred Phelps and his family cult misnamed the “Westboro Baptist Church.I am a proud American, who loves the flag, and the troops that protect our land every single day. Don’t make a mockery of someone’s death for the sake of politics!pfreeman11

  • mhoust

    Protesting at funerals is not protected speech.The bereaved are psychologically injured people. A protest is a deliberate, premeditated psychological attack on already injured people. It is, effectively equivalent to throwing a hand grenade into a children’s hospital.The First Amendment was intended to protect people protesting against the government. Because members of a funeral are not government agents, they are not valid targets for the protest, they are private citizens. This is similar to the prohibition of staging protests at the private residences of government agents and elected officials. Government installations, buildings, offices, and political rallies are valid locations for staging protests. And while many military cemetaries are government installations, they are considered sacred places of worship for the funeral ceremony, and therefor not legitimate places to protest at that time.

  • pamschuh9

    If we must accept the Mosque near Ground Zero, we must accept all religious freaks’ points of view…it’s the American way.

  • Bugs3

    I appreciate the thoughtful comments on this issue. Unfortunately, I have to agree with those who think the Court will have to come down on the side of First Amendment rights in this case. If the KKK is free to march, if radicals are free to desecrate the flag, if you and I are free to tell outrageous lies about the President (whether he’s a Bush or an Obama), then I’m afraid these Westboro scum must be free to vent their ignorance and hate at a funeral. On principle, anyway…The amazing thing is, there’s only been one incident (that I know of) where somebody tried to commit violence against these cretins. I think that shows how much ordinary citizens and members of the military respect the First Amendment.That said, the less idealistic part of me hopes that someday someone goes off the deep end, forgets all about the First Amendment, and puts these bigots out of their misery. They may have the right to demonstrate, but they deserve to suffer for it.

  • sherpadoug37754

    Phelps and his message are odious, and thus deserve the full and unmitigated protection of the First Amendment. Forget slandering the deceased; it’s a well established precept that you cannot libel the dead. The Constitution grants no right “not to be offended.” Prohibiting government sanction against speech that offends, speech that is repugnant and reprehensible, is the raison d’etre of the First Amendment. Speech that we like, speech that does not offend and which enjoys majority support, doesn’t *need* (though it certainly enjoys) Constitutional protections. The First Amendment was adopted to protect fringe speech, offensive speech, outsider speech.What part of this don’t people understand? I despise Fred Phelps and and his message, but he has absolutely every right to (nonviolently) express it wherever he sees fit. Yes, it’s awful for any vet or parent of a dead soldier to hear such vile vitriol from a troll such as Phelps. Get over it. He’s a fool, his views are devoid of merit, import, or meaning. The Constitution guarantees his, and every American’s, right to be stupid, ignorant, and foolish. Is he shouting “fire in a crowded theatre?” No. Shouting fire in a theatre is a circumstance of (falsely claiming) imminent danger. Where is the danger in some idiot ranting from across the street? Is the danger that those on the side of the street opposite from Phelps will be provoked to anger? Then that’s not Phelps’ problem or a Constitutional concern; that’s a problem of his opponents misbehaving, of being so lacking in self control that they let words provoke them to violence. Other laws sanction such breaches of civil conduct (in this case, by the offended).That, I posit, is precisely the situation when religious extremists are provoked to violence by a CARTOON. By some denigration of dead trees carrying the label “Qu’ran” or “Holy Bible” on the cover. When the offended party threatens violence and mayhem BECAUSE THEY ARE OFFENDED, it is they who are in the wrong, not the perpetrator of that which they find so offensive. GET OVER IT! Be a grown up. If you revere Muhammaed, revere Muhammed; if you think Phelps is an idiot, tell everyone you see.This is so elementary, it hardly seems worth stating; who didn’t learn this in kindergarten?: “Sticks & stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Draw cartoons of Mohammed, burn every holy book you find, scream crazed homophobic inanities at strangers’ funerals: it’s all so irrelevant to anyone’s life, and harms only those who lower themselves to being provoked and angered. Refute and reject views you find offensive; it’s your duty. Mount counter arguments/protests, advocate your objections. Censor, sanction, or (literally or figuratively) raise a hand against the source of that offense? Inexcusable, and unconstitutional.The Constitution grants NO RIGHT TO NOT BE OFFENDED. No right to be protected from hurt feelings. Be a grown up. Get over it!

  • pamschuh9

    If we must tolerate Muslims desire to build Cordoba Victory Tower, we must tolerate some other religious fringe elements’ desires too.

  • Mom2Kids1

    “How worried are you about modifications to the First Amendment? Would you prefer that the Supreme Court ruled on the side of the religiously obnoxious and the offensive?Or do you agree with Snyder, that protecting the rights of Westboro Baptist Church “is an insult to every American who has died for the freedom of speech”? “Personally, I do not think this type of speech in the manner it was given is “protected”. The WBC protested a private funeral of a individual that (1) never set the policies that they abhore and (2) was not a homosexual. It is the wrong venue for the protest. Personally, I think there should be limits to peaceably assembly and free speech. If the venue has nothing to do with the issue at hand, there should not be protests. But many people argue that this would be a slippery slope and validly question who would decide what venues are appropriate. And I can see differing opinions on what is appropriate. Take abortion… It would be clear that abortion opponents could protest at an abortion clinic or a senators office. What about outside the nurses’ home? Or where the doctor attends church? Or where the doctor was schooled? Or where the women getting an abortion work? Or the company that makes the latex gloves that the nurses use during the procedure? Differing people would have different opinions on what would be acceptable.

  • jbk60391

    My deep concern here is that if we begin making exceptions to the first amendment, how long will it be before other exceptions are made..eventually weakening it to a point where the amendment is effectively done away with….this is no way absolves this group from exercising poor and hateful judgment…perhaps it is time for the Baptist leadership to remove this church from its rolls for failing to follow Christ’s message of love.. or condemn it’s practices..the silence from the leadership is deafening

  • fare777

    Yes! The religious morons have a right to free speech. However, we should end our show of tolerance for the mutterings of the religious morons. We must show our contempt for them in every public place and at every time they spout their nonsense in public. Give them no respect as they bring us all down.

  • dozas

    This church has the right to offend, just like their Republican cousins in the House and Senate and throughout the nation have–especially during these past two years–with their dog whistle, reactionary, anti-immigrant, congressional obstructionist, politics of hate, islamaphobic, lack of humanity (only for rich) politics. Same thing, same Party, just different target of expression. A right guaranteed by our Constitution.

  • crusmisel

    I think that free speech covers the Church and their protest. I think, as well, that hateful speech, while protected, is justification for assault. Not murder or maming, but a good smack in the puss would go a long ways to stopping a lot of this kind of behavior. The smacker should be punished, but the punishment shouldn’t be labeled a hate crime, or violation of civil rights. The problem with the lack of civility in society can be traced directly to the PC/tolerance above all else post modern crap that liberal society needs. You have the right to free speech, but one should expect a reaction to hateful or hurtful speech. Nobody would denounce a minority who reacts with proportional violence when confronted with a derogatory epithet, why should we expect any different from all citizens. I guarantee that if someone shows up to protest at a funeral I am at, they had better be prepared to defend themselves. Like Clint Eastwood said in ‘Unforgiven”, “If he is going to decorate his saloon with my friends, he should have armed himself”.

  • adelef_2000

    Also, a parent ought to have the free speech right to grieve without being hounded. If that is a new exception, so be it.

  • lita826

    This may be a little off topic, but I want to know why “true” Christians are not front and center condemning this type of speech. When radical Islamists make horrible statements about America, Christians (especially the koran-burning members of the religious right) call on “true” muslims to condemn these Islamists’ radical behavior. Yet, when the shoe is on the other foot, Christians do not come out and condemn the radical statements made by the religious right. There is a real double-standard here and the hypocrisy of these people is outrageous, sickening, and un-American.

  • brenanderson2002

    One does not have the right to harrass. That’s already established. I don’t know why we allow papparazzi and other such things. It seems to me these things are already against the law. Yes, we have the right to peaceably assemble and protest, but one does not have the right to harrass already.

  • tsbscotland

    I absolutely despise the views and actions of the Westboro Baptist Church and see there point of view as being as far from God as you can get. But the only way ensure that I am able to keep my freedom to speak out is to continue to grant them theirs.

  • VeloStrummer
  • alexnjan20

    god told me to punch phelps in the nose, and my bible says nose punching is a form of worship, so i feel i should be protected.

  • lepidopteryx

    Yes, Phelps and his little band of inbred, knuckle-dragging mouth-breathers have the right to express their opinions, no matter how farked-up they are.If Phelps and his so-called church want to stand on the sidewalk and shout at mourners during a funeral, they shouldn’t have any objection to a gay pride demonstration on the sidewalk in front of their church during Sunday morning services. Now where did I put my chaps?

  • BootmanDC

    I am loath to restrict speech, but I think in this case it should be considered. This is spiritual warfare against grieving families who can’t change policy.If the Phelps want to come to DC and protest at the Pentagon, the White House, Capitol Hill, etc., fine, but not at private funerals. The intent is to cause emotional harm to private citizens.

  • areyousaying

    Meanwhile, the Mormon Chruch adds fuel to the fire with comments by Elder Boyd K. Packer, heir apparent to the homophobic throne as President and Prophet of Mormondom.In his remarks Packer said some would argue that gays “were pre-set and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?” Other jewels from Glenn Beck’s “Elder”:”Feminists, homosexuals and so-called intellectuals are a danger to the church.” While I was in a mission on one occasion, a missionary said he had something to confess. I was very worried because he just could not get himself to tell me what he had done.After patient encouragement he finally blurted out, “I hit my companion.”"Oh, is that all,” I said in great relief.”But I floored him,” he said.After learning a little more, my response was “Well, thanks. Somebody had to do it, and it wouldn’t be well for a General Authority to solve the problem that way”

  • ScottHollyHenry

    Yes, I believe WBC should be barred from funerals. I also believe “art exhibits” that mock Christ should be outlawed. Sound like a fair trade?

  • EdgewoodVA

    “This is so elementary, it hardly seems worth stating; who didn’t learn this in kindergarten?: ‘Sticks & stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.’”–SHERPADOUG37754Notice that most of the commenters here are specifically outraged about the WBC’s congregation of inbred illiterates’ behavior at FUNERALS. How oblivious are you to fail to see the difference between your constitutional street-corner protest–no matter how offensive to anyone–and people actually CELEBRATING someone’s death at the gates of their cemetery? Walk a mile in the mourners’ shoes….oh, never mind. You can’t even walk upright in your own yet.

  • Jessymyn

    This “organization” certainly has the First Amendment right to protest public events. However, a funeral is a deeply private situation–and I believe that Phelps and his band of hatemongers right to freedom of speech ends at the right to privacy of the families of these dead soldiers to lay their loved ones to rest.

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