first amendment

Westboro Baptist Says It’ll Win At The Supreme Court (Thanks To The Law, And God Too)

So how did yesterday’s Westboro Baptist/FirstAmendment oral arguments go in front of the Supreme Court? Like this: The justices felt bad for the Snyder family, which had to have the funeral for their military son turned into a public spectacle. (Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “This is a case about exploiting a private family’s grief.” Elena Kagan: Westboro was “taking advantage of a private funeral to express their views.” Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer said they want to see people behind outrageous attacks sued.) But the justices also indicated they were going to be very cautious (and rightfully so) about doing anything that would chip away at free speech rights. (Sonia Sotomayor: “What case stands for the proposition that public speech or speech on a public matter directed toward a private person should be treated differently depending upon the recipient of the speech?”)

A ruling will come sometime before the Court lets out in June, which offers many months of possible speculation. But I suspect we’re going to see Westboro — and the media organizations that filed amicus briefs on their behalf — succeed. After all, Albert Snyder, who was holding a funeral for his son Matthew, didn’t even know Westboro was there until he saw the television reports later.

Any win will be thanks to Margie Phelps, Westboro member and the family church’s attorney, who argued in front of the justices — then went outside to scream at the crowd (“Your destruction is imminent. And when it comes, don’t stand there and say the servants of God didn’t warn you.”) and lead the Phelps clan in a rendition of Ozzie Osbourne’s “Crazy Train.” The singer wasn’t so pleased.

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  • James Davis

    A couple of things.

    1. Just because Mr. Snyder didn’t see these people during the funeral, doesn’t mean seeing them later didn’t cause emotional distress. If it was my family member I had just buried I would have been enraged even I learned of the protest many weeks later. The level of vitriol in the signs and statements from Westboro would cause most reasonable people anguish long after they had gone. They are an evil organization

    2. I’m not a legal scholar, but having done some reading I think the case is much more complicated than just chipping away at free speech. There btw, is past precedent which protects this type of inflammatory statements/protest against “public” figures. Key word being public, as the 1988 ruling in Hustler Magazine v. Falwell specified public figure. In this case Westboro was making statements towards a private citizen, not a public figure.

    My 2 cents

  • Chris H

    Why is the same video posted 3 times in this one article?

  • B

    No. 1 · James Davis wrote, “1. Just because Mr. Snyder didn’t see these people during the funeral, doesn’t mean seeing them later didn’t cause emotional distress.”

    It no doubt did cause emotional distress, but it is not like they barged into the funeral. The problem is that legitimate free speech can cause emotional distress without qualifying as harassment or libel. The problem for the court is to come up with some understandable rules that stop obviously bad behavior without infringing on legitimate behavior such as merely expressing an opinion.

    For example, suppose a group is running an HIV awareness, safe-sex event in the Castro at the corner of Castro and Market. At the same time, there is a funeral a couple of blocks away at Sullivan’s Funeral Home for a person who just died from AIDS. After the funeral, he deceased guy’s socially conservative aunt hears about the safe-sex event and is emotionally distressed by it, since she blames being sexually active for the death of her nephew. Should she be able to sue successfully because of that distress? Nearly all of us would say “no” – the event had nothing to do with her or her nephew and he was obviously not being targeted in any way, so the aunt’s claim is not reasonable.

    The problem is telling what is not reasonable as we are sometimes mistaken about what is reasonable and what isn’t – not too many years ago, supporting gay rights would not have been considered reasonable either.

  • CJ

    Nobody said that we need to agree with what people say. It’s called FREE speech for a reason. I don’t want the government to start picking and choosing what can and can’t be said based on people’s sensitivities. Do you really want SCOTUS or our government creating lists of what is too hurtful and what is acceptable?

    Keep free speech free. Just cut it off if it causes a public danger or is a threat of physical harm. We don’t need to change the whole system because of this extremist group. What group is next? Who defines sensitivity?

  • Hyhybt

    Don’t you just wish she’d behaved towards the justices the way she does in public?

  • ewe

    That clan relishes in this attention. they adore every moment.

  • Soupy

    I think the church will win. They will call it a victory for free speech.

    Which is why I will be at Fred Phelps funeral, dancing on his grave.

  • Trelin

    I don’t understand why someone hasn’t “taken out” these people yet? They preach such hatred…My suggestion, wear gloves, ski mask, flat bottom shoes…get in and get out…And/or careen into them in a “runaway Camry” then blame Toyota…whoops

  • damon459

    This is more then freedom of speech it’s also about a right to privacy while burying our dead. In Montana it is illegal to protest 1 hour before and 1 hour after a funeral and since the cemeteries and churches are privately owned there is also trespassing issues if they are on cemetery property.

  • Kev C

    Arguing for exceptions or loopholes to the first ammendment is the wrong argument, I think. They should be arguing for proportionality of free speech rights vs privacy rights. When should one right trump another? And they should be arguing for local ordinances. The right of towns to control what happens in their town.

  • Clarence J.

    I think Mr. Snyder really has the deck stacked against him, and its in one of those situations where you hate to see the bad guys win. However, the church clearly knew what they were doing, they ended before the funeral started, the did not obstruct people from arriving, and they were within their permitted distance.

    And while it probably will cause Mr. Synder some level of emotional distress to always have his son’s funeral tainted with Phelps and his gang, to have it his way would seemingly go too far in creating a nanny state where the government starts to police speech.

    If the court does side with Phelps it will be interesting to read that opinion and dissent, if there are any.

  • Alex

    They’re such ridiculous assholes. However, if we prevent them from going to military funerals they’ll probably come up with something equally awful. They make ‘christian faith’ look totally (and unfairly) ridiculous in the eyes of all america, basically hurting the people that are out to hurt us.


    With all this attention these inbred bunck of scumbags are now recieving, I really hope that a grieving family member of a fallen soldier or Gay person decides to drive home a point about how reprehensive they are at their next protest…………


    Once again all one would need is a single sane juror……..

  • declanto

    The funeral and its accompanying rites are one of the markers that separate us from the beasts of the field and forest. It predates law. It’s one of the markers of a civilization. How dare they defile a family’s greiving farewell to a beloved child? Let justice be done.

  • Queer Supremacist

    @declanto: The only justice that can be done is that the first amendment be upheld as absolute and that these breeder goy motherfuckers be executed instantly and brutally.

  • Tommy

    Suppose there was a funeral of a fundamentalist preacher who raved against gay people as evil and perverted etc. Would you allow gay groups to go there and protest? If the answer is yes, then you have to give this church the same freedom.
    If the answer is no because you think funerals are sacred, then maybe. But I think the funeral rule is a slippery slope and people will then find other venues that are sacred and no one will be able to protest ever anywhere.

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