Westboro Baptist Church -- The Haters Win!

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Westboro Baptist Church -- The Haters Win!

Post by TexasBlue on Wed Mar 02, 2011 7:43 pm

Supreme Court: Anti-gay funeral picketers allowed

Mark Sherman
Associated Press
March 02, 2011


WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a grieving father's pain over mocking protests at his Marine son's funeral must yield to First Amendment protections for free speech. All but one justice sided with a fundamentalist church that has stirred outrage with raucous demonstrations contending God is punishing the military for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality.

The 8-1 decision in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., was the latest in a line of court rulings that, as Chief Justice John Roberts said in his opinion for the court, protects "even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate."

The decision ended a lawsuit by Albert Snyder, who sued church members for the emotional pain they caused by showing up at his son Matthew's funeral. As they have at hundreds of other funerals, the Westboro members held signs with provocative messages, 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.

Justice Samuel Alito, the lone dissenter, said Snyder wanted only to "bury his son in peace." Instead, Alito said, the protesters "brutally attacked" Matthew Snyder to attract public attention. "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.

The ruling, though, was in line with many earlier court decisions that said the First Amendment exists to protect robust debate on public issues and free expression, no matter how distasteful. A year ago, the justices struck down a federal ban on videos that show graphic violence against animals. In 1988, the court unanimously overturned a verdict for the Rev. Jerry Falwell in his libel lawsuit against Hustler magazine founder Larry Flynt over a raunchy parody ad.

What might have made this case different was that the Snyders are not celebrities or public officials but private citizens. Both Roberts and Alito agreed that the Snyders were the innocent victims of the long-running campaign by the church's pastor, the Rev. Fred Phelps, and his family members who make up most of the Westboro Baptist Church. Roberts said there was no doubt the protesters added to Albert Snyder's "already incalculable grief."

But Roberts said the frequency of the protests - and the church's practice of demonstrating against Catholics, Jews and many other groups - is an indication that Phelps and his flock were not mounting a personal attack against Snyder but expressing deeply held views on public topics.

Indeed, Matthew Snyder was not gay. But "Westboro believes that God is killing American soldiers as punishment for the nation's sinful policies," Roberts said.

"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.

Snyder's reaction, at a news conference in York, Pa.: "My first thought was, eight justices don't have the common sense God gave a goat." He added, "We found out today we can no longer bury our dead in this country with dignity."

He said it was possible he would have to pay the Phelpses around $100,000, which they are seeking in legal fees, since he lost the lawsuit. The money would, in effect, finance more of the same activity he fought against, Snyder said.

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."

Veterans groups reacted to the ruling with dismay. Veterans of Foreign Wars national commander Richard L. Eubank said, "The Westboro Baptist Church may think they have won, but the VFW will continue to support community efforts to ensure no one hears their voice, because the right to free speech does not trump a family's right to mourn in private."

The picketers obeyed police instructions and stood about 1,000 feet from the Catholic church in Westminster, Md., where the funeral took place in March of 2006.

The protesters 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 assailed 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. The Supreme Court agreed.

Forty-eight states, 42 U.S. senators and veterans groups had 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 that 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."
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Re: Westboro Baptist Church -- The Haters Win!

Post by TexasBlue on Wed Mar 02, 2011 7:44 pm

Bill O'Reilly said tonight that his offer still stands. He'll pay all the court costs for the plaintiff, Al Snyder. Thumbs Up
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Re: Westboro Baptist Church -- The Haters Win!

Post by TexasBlue on Wed Mar 02, 2011 7:46 pm

Love the Right to Free Speech, Hate the Speaker

Ilya Shapiro
Cato Institute
March 2, 2011


As I predicted after oral argument last October, today the Court ruled 8-1 (Alito dissenting) in favor of free speech at the expense of giving a legal victory to a repugnant group. While the Westboro Baptist Church hates what they view as both the sinner and the sin, the Court properly rebuked the Phelpses while correctly expressing utmost devotion to their right to propagate their wayward message.

Stepping aside from the emotions and bizarre facts, this case implicates all sorts of legal issues aside from the First Amendment. A private cemetery can and should remove unwanted visitors for trespassing — but the Phelpses didn’t enter the cemetery. A town can pass ordinances restricting the time, place, and manner of protests — but the Phelpses stayed within all applicable regulations and followed police instructions. Violent or aggressive protestors can be both prosecuted and sued for assault, harassment, and the like — but the Phelpses’ protests did not involve “getting up in the grill” of people, as their lawyer put it during oral argument.

As the brevity of Chief Justice Roberts’s opinion confirms, there’s very little to this case and the Phelpses’ actions, ugly and objectionable as they are, are as constitutionally protected as a neo-Nazi parade. If people don’t like that, they can change state laws to put certain further restrictions on protests near funerals or other sensitive areas — or federal laws in the case of military cemeteries — but they shouldn’t be able to sue simply for being offended.
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Re: Westboro Baptist Church -- The Haters Win!

Post by dblboggie on Wed Mar 02, 2011 8:06 pm

As much as I hate Phelps, his "church" and his messages - he is a thoroughly despicable and vile human being - I have to applaud the Court for their decision. It was, in the end, the right decision to make.

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Re: Westboro Baptist Church -- The Haters Win!

Post by TexasBlue on Wed Mar 02, 2011 8:15 pm

That I will agree to. When the USSC starts the slippery slope of borking anything with the 1st Amendment, then it's bye-bye USA.


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Re: Westboro Baptist Church -- The Haters Win!

Post by dblboggie on Wed Mar 02, 2011 8:17 pm

TexasBlue wrote:That I will agree to. When the USSC starts the slippery slope of borking anything with the 1st Amendment, then it's bye-bye USA.

Nod2 It is not the First Amendment by accident.
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Re: Westboro Baptist Church -- The Haters Win!

Post by The_Amber_Spyglass on Thu Mar 03, 2011 8:36 am

Why were the Phelps lot not charged with public order offences? That's what happened to the poppy burners here.
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Re: Westboro Baptist Church -- The Haters Win!

Post by TexasBlue on Thu Mar 03, 2011 4:04 pm

The_Amber_Spyglass wrote:Why were the Phelps lot not charged with public order offences? That's what happened to the poppy burners here.

Not sure if I can answer that. Maybe it's because they didn't break any laws, so to speak. Many cities have ordinances on demonstrations, etc. They have limits om where one can go and one also has to apply for permits in some cases.
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Re: Westboro Baptist Church -- The Haters Win!

Post by kronos on Thu Mar 03, 2011 4:11 pm

The_Amber_Spyglass wrote:Why were the Phelps lot not charged with public order offences? That's what happened to the poppy burners here.

It seems they were very careful not to break any laws. See paragraph 2 of the second article Tex posted.

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Re: Westboro Baptist Church -- The Haters Win!

Post by The_Amber_Spyglass on Thu Mar 03, 2011 4:32 pm

I think there is a fine line between exercising one's free speech and using deliberate antagonistic behaviour, intending to cause distress to others in the exercising of that free speech. Signs like "God Hates Fags" clearly intends to cause distress, especially if it is at a gay pride march in the same way that Islamists burning poppies was deliberately intended to antagonise at a Remembrance event.

The Public Order Act over here, specific sections:

Section 4a
A person is guilty of an offence if, with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress, he:

(a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
(b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting.

thereby causing that or another person harassment, alarm or distress.
(2) An offence under this section may be committed in a public or a private place, except that no offence is committed where the words or behaviour are used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation is displayed, by a person inside a dwelling and the person who is harassed, alarmed or distressed is also inside that or another dwelling.
(3) It is a defence for the accused to prove:

(a) that he was inside a dwelling and had no reason to believe that the words or behaviour used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation displayed, would be heard or seen by a person outside that or any other dwelling, or
(b) that his conduct was reasonable.

Section 5.
(1) A person is guilty of an offence if he:

(a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
(b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,

within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby."

This offence has the following statutory defences:

(a) The defendant had no reason to believe that there was any person within hearing or sight who was likely to be alarmed or distressed by his action.
(b) The defendant was in a dwelling and had no reason to believe that his behaviour would be seen or heard by any person outside any dwelling.
(c) The conduct was reasonable.
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Re: Westboro Baptist Church -- The Haters Win!

Post by TexasBlue on Thu Mar 03, 2011 4:48 pm

The_Amber_Spyglass wrote:I think there is a fine line between exercising one's free speech and using deliberate antagonistic behaviour, intending to cause distress to others in the exercising of that free speech. Signs like "God Hates Fags" clearly intends to cause distress, especially if it is at a gay pride march in the same way that Islamists burning poppies was deliberately intended to antagonise at a Remembrance event.

You're siding with the one USSC judge, you know. And he a conservative!

But seriously, it's a matter of free speech here. As long as no laws were broken, it's the same as neo-Nazi's marching back in 1978 on Skokie, Illinois (a Jewish town).

The_Amber_Spyglass wrote:The Public Order Act over here, specific sections:

This is the huge difference between your country and ours. Your law that you cited is a UK federal law. We have no federal laws like that (if any at all). The big difference here is that it comes down to the individual states and the cities within those states. We do have federal hate crime laws though (an that's another matter I won't get in to here).
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Re: Westboro Baptist Church -- The Haters Win!

Post by The_Amber_Spyglass on Thu Mar 03, 2011 4:53 pm

I'm not necessarily siding with anyone, I was just asking whether there was a law - federal or otherwise - that they might have been charged with.

In order to be satisfied that an arrest needs to be made, the Police must be convinced that there was a deliberate attempt to antagonise or harass, that the exercising of free speech by the individual was less important than their attempt to intimidate.

I'm not complaining about their right to free speech. As far as I am concerned they can say and think what they want unless they are using that free speech to suppress or intimidate others from exercising their free speech.
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Re: Westboro Baptist Church -- The Haters Win!

Post by TexasBlue on Thu Mar 03, 2011 4:59 pm

Not much police can do as long as they are demonstrating. If it was one on one (getting into their face), then it can change.

The beauty of this case is that Americans, left and right, think this group is nothing but a bunch of kooks. When there's no more wars, then they can go back into the hole they crawled out of.


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“I’m not in favor of fairness. I’m in favor of freedom, and freedom is not fairness. Fairness means somebody has to decide what’s fair.” - Milton Friedman
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Re: Westboro Baptist Church -- The Haters Win!

Post by kronos on Thu Mar 03, 2011 5:19 pm

TexasBlue wrote:This is the huge difference between your country and ours. Your law that you cited is a UK federal law. We have no federal laws like that (if any at all). The big difference here is that it comes down to the individual states and the cities within those states. We do have federal hate crime laws though (an that's another matter I won't get in to here).

The states have no more power to censor free speech than the federal government does.

And another big difference, if you look at the wording of the Public Order Act, is that it protects people's feelings. We don't have any laws that do that. There are very few limitations on free speech in the US. Among them are defamation, imminent incitement to violence, and (bizarrely) "obscenity."

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Re: Westboro Baptist Church -- The Haters Win!

Post by TexasBlue on Thu Mar 03, 2011 5:28 pm

kronos wrote:
TexasBlue wrote:This is the huge difference between your country and ours. Your law that you cited is a UK federal law. We have no federal laws like that (if any at all). The big difference here is that it comes down to the individual states and the cities within those states. We do have federal hate crime laws though (an that's another matter I won't get in to here).

The states have no more power to censor free speech than the federal government does.

And another big difference, if you look at the wording of the Public Order Act, is that it protects people's feelings. We don't have any laws that do that. There are very few limitations on free speech in the US. Among them are defamation, imminent incitement to violence, and (bizarrely) "obscenity."

But states (and cities) can come up with laws like not having a political poster/button at an election polling place. One can argue that it's a violation of the 1st.

The rest is correct (and good points).
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Re: Westboro Baptist Church -- The Haters Win!

Post by The_Amber_Spyglass on Thu Mar 03, 2011 5:31 pm

kronos wrote:
TexasBlue wrote:This is the huge difference between your country and ours. Your law that you cited is a UK federal law. We have no federal laws like that (if any at all). The big difference here is that it comes down to the individual states and the cities within those states. We do have federal hate crime laws though (an that's another matter I won't get in to here).

The states have no more power to censor free speech than the federal government does.

And another big difference, if you look at the wording of the Public Order Act, is that it protects people's feelings. We don't have any laws that do that. There are very few limitations on free speech in the US. Among them are defamation, imminent incitement to violence, and (bizarrely) "obscenity."
Well actually at its core, it is a law against intimidation. The case for the prosecution is to prove that there was a deliberate attempt to antagonise and intimidate. Hence the permissable defences cited in the law itself.
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Re: Westboro Baptist Church -- The Haters Win!

Post by BecMacFeegle on Tue Mar 08, 2011 3:34 pm

Simple solution, every time a member of the Westboro Baptist Church dies, have a gay pride parade outside the cemetery.

Or they could do this:

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Re: Westboro Baptist Church -- The Haters Win!

Post by TexasBlue on Tue Mar 08, 2011 3:39 pm

ROFL


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Re: Westboro Baptist Church -- The Haters Win!

Post by i_luv_miley on Tue Mar 08, 2011 4:45 pm

This is the part of the first amendment that pisses me off. Yeah, I completely believe in freedom of speech... But when the speech is meant to do nothing more than instigate then I think it should be dealt with. And in this particular case, something should be done. This example is nothing more than someone spreading hate. It's like if I was face to face with someone who said something to piss me off, and I responded by punching the person in the face. Who would be the one prosecuted? Me, that's who... And it's not right. It's why I hate people who abuse the first amendment and then hide behind it. Rolling Eyes
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Re: Westboro Baptist Church -- The Haters Win!

Post by BecMacFeegle on Tue Mar 08, 2011 5:44 pm

Freedoms come at a cost and one of those costs is that some people will abuse those freedoms. You can always fight fire with fire, but that usually ends with people getting burnt. Freedoms also come with responsibilities, and far too many people focus on their rights, rather than their responsibilities. I would suggest, like Matt, that when freedom of speech is a responsibility as well as a right, does a line need to be drawn with regards to what is intimidation and incitement, and everything else? Should an abuse of rights be allow to pass unchallenged due to a fear of the consequences of changing the established? Then again, is it fair that the extremists should change things for everyone else?
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Re: Westboro Baptist Church -- The Haters Win!

Post by kronos on Tue Mar 08, 2011 9:59 pm

i_luv_miley wrote:This is the part of the first amendment that pisses me off. Yeah, I completely believe in freedom of speech... But when the speech is meant to do nothing more than instigate then I think it should be dealt with. And in this particular case, something should be done. This example is nothing more than someone spreading hate.

Dealt with how? What should be done? These words suggest a less-than-complete belief in free speech.

It's like if I was face to face with someone who said something to piss me off, and I responded by punching the person in the face. Who would be the one prosecuted? Me, that's who... And it's not right.

If you punched someone in the face because of something they said, it is absolutely right that you should be prosecuted for it.

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Re: Westboro Baptist Church -- The Haters Win!

Post by i_luv_miley on Tue Mar 08, 2011 10:40 pm

kronos wrote:
i_luv_miley wrote:This is the part of the first amendment that pisses me off. Yeah, I completely believe in freedom of speech... But when the speech is meant to do nothing more than instigate then I think it should be dealt with. And in this particular case, something should be done. This example is nothing more than someone spreading hate.

Dealt with how? What should be done? These words suggest a less-than-complete belief in free speech.
Actually, no. I do believe in free speech. But I also think that when one says something for no other reason than to instigate an argument, then that person should be held accountable for the results. It seems though as it's just the opposite. The "haters" are never held accountable. That's my problem.

kronos wrote:
i_luv_miley wrote:It's like if I was face to face with someone who said something to piss me off, and I responded by punching the person in the face. Who would be the one prosecuted? Me, that's who... And it's not right.
If you punched someone in the face because of something they said, it is absolutely right that you should be prosecuted for it.
Yeah, if someone insulted my cat, then I would agree. But what if someone threatened my existence? It may only be words, but it's still a threat... That's what I'm talking about (obviously). But even that is "protected speech", as long as the threat is not actually carried out.
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Re: Westboro Baptist Church -- The Haters Win!

Post by The_Amber_Spyglass on Wed Mar 09, 2011 4:56 am

Do we truly have free speech? The fact that we have laws against libel, slander, defamation, hate speech, incitement to violence and intimidation demonstrates that there are legal limitations on our freedom of expression. As far as I am concerned these limits are necessary.
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Re: Westboro Baptist Church -- The Haters Win!

Post by kronos on Wed Mar 09, 2011 8:37 am

i_luv_miley wrote:Actually, no. I do believe in free speech. But I also think that when one says something for no other reason than to instigate an argument, then that person should be held accountable for the results. It seems though as it's just the opposite. The "haters" are never held accountable. That's my problem.

Alright, but to me, the phrase "held accountable" implies consequences. If we hold Westboro Church accountable, what happens, then?

Yeah, if someone insulted my cat, then I would agree. But what if someone threatened my existence? It may only be words, but it's still a threat... That's what I'm talking about (obviously). But even that is "protected speech", as long as the threat is not actually carried out.

Intimidation is usually a misdemeanor unless a deadly weapon is involved.

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Re: Westboro Baptist Church -- The Haters Win!

Post by kronos on Wed Mar 09, 2011 8:46 am

The_Amber_Spyglass wrote:Do we truly have free speech? The fact that we have laws against libel, slander, defamation, hate speech, incitement to violence and intimidation demonstrates that there are legal limitations on our freedom of expression. As far as I am concerned these limits are necessary.

Right, it's not absolute, and I acknowledged those restrictions earlier. Though "hate speech" is a very iffy concept. Here at least, you're allowed to express hate. Even incitement to violence needs to be imminent.

I think the SCOTUS judges all found Westboro vile and would have nailed them any legal way they could. But apparently Westboro wasn't inciting violence, let alone imminent violence. They were simply expressing a vile opinion in an abusive way. Perfectly constitutional thing to do.

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