Fred Phelps | Military | News | Westboro Baptist Church

Supreme Court To Take on Westboro Baptist Church Case


The case of a Maryland man whose slain soldier son's (Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder) funeral was targeted by Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church picketers will be heard by the Supreme Court. As you may remember, the man was awarded nearly $11 million in October 2007 in punitive damages, damages for emotional distress, and compensation.

The WBC thumbed its collective nose at that judgment, which was later cut in half, and finally thrown out entirely by the U.S. Court of Appeals.

The Phelps clan believes God is killing soldiers because of the U.S.A.'s tolerance of homosexuality.

The WaPo reports: "The case will seek to balance a group's free speech rights with the rights of private individuals to be protected from unwanted demonstrations and defamatory remarks. A federal appeals court said the church's protests were 'utterly distasteful' but protected because they were related to 'matters of public concern.' The case was one of three the court announced it would be considering in its new term that begins in October."

Watch a news report about Phelps' actions at military funerals (not specifically Snyder's),

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  1. Am I the only one who, although I find the Fred Phelps Westboro clan to be disgusting and their actions to be obscene, is troubled by the free speech implications of this case?

    Posted by: Chris In MN | Mar 9, 2010 8:36:53 AM

  2. I hate the WBC... But I'm afraid of the implications if the verdict at trial is upheld. To say that someone can be liable for inflicting emotional distress for making a political statement, or talking about their (evil, broken) faith, in a public place, 1/5 of a mile from the injured party, is absurd.

    Posted by: Jr | Mar 9, 2010 9:07:51 AM

  3. Yep probably the only one, i for one would like to see places like funeral homes, churches and grave yards places where behavior like that is banned entirely. if you want to protest go to washington.

    Posted by: michael | Mar 9, 2010 9:12:56 AM

  4. I agree that no matter how vile the speech, it must be protected. As Larry Flynt once said, "If the First Amendment will protect a scumbag like me, then it will protect all of you." That being said, I hope that that kid in the picture is gay and ends up committing suicide in his parent's house. That's my free speech.

    Posted by: Wren | Mar 9, 2010 9:16:23 AM

  5. As satisfying as it would be to see the original $11MM judgment upheld and the Westboro Baptist Church seized, I agree that the potential repercussions to free speech are too severe.

    Posted by: MJChicago | Mar 9, 2010 9:31:21 AM

  6. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit located in Richmond, Virginia sided with the KKK'ers in the Westboro Baptist Church.... what a surprise! The Fourth Circuit is a KKK court itself. They are by far the most reactionary and conservative of all the federal courts!

    Posted by: Dan Cobb | Mar 9, 2010 9:31:31 AM

  7. Hey Michael and Dan Cobb:

    Do you realize that if this verdict is upheld, the folks who protested private individuals/business owners over their support for Prop 8 may be exposed to liability?

    Then you'd be crying that the courts are homophobic, because you only want free speech when you agree with it. Two way street.

    Posted by: Jack | Mar 9, 2010 9:44:49 AM

  8. How DARE you say "God Hates" !!! YOU are the one guilty of That sin. not to mention several others.

    IF you really believed half of what you spew - you'd shut up. Period.

    Posted by: Fu | Mar 9, 2010 10:10:57 AM

  9. I'd much rather that their right to free speech be upheld for obvious reasons, but also because they do us a favor by being so uniformly hateful and despicable (I mean, protesting dead soldiers' funerals--they may as well kill puppies while they're at it) they demonstrate the ugliest side of bigotry. If anything, they help our cause. I understand why families would be upset by their hatred, but that's one of the costs of free speech: nasty people saying nasty stuff.

    Posted by: Ernie | Mar 9, 2010 10:15:37 AM

  10. Of course, free speech, they help our cause, etc etc etc.

    That doesn't mean accidents can't happen.

    Posted by: JeffRob | Mar 9, 2010 10:44:47 AM

  11. Everyone has the right to free speech, they do not have the right to be free of the consequences of their speech, though. I have the right to go around flailing my arms to get attention, but if I hit someone there should be consequences.

    Posted by: jtaskw | Mar 9, 2010 2:11:43 PM

  12. Any takers that the SCOTUS will rule in favor of WBC?

    Posted by: jamal49 | Mar 9, 2010 2:24:59 PM

  13. As much as I hate the WBC, I really really hope the USSC doesn't start limiting the right to free speech. God help us if they do.

    Posted by: Rodney | Mar 9, 2010 2:47:00 PM

  14. Dan Cobb,

    The Fourth Circuit ruling was authored by a Clinton appointee. And plenty of progressive/liberal groups were arguing it should have been thrown out. You are a moron if you think this was a conservative ruling.

    Posted by: lark | Mar 9, 2010 3:59:18 PM

  15. As long as these guys are on public property, they can say whatever they want no matter vile it is.

    People need to think how this applies to us. If we didn't have free speech in this country, we'd never have gotten as far as we have, 40 years ago people thought gay rights as offensive as the do they Phelps nowadays.

    Posted by: missanthrope | Mar 9, 2010 4:56:05 PM

  16. The Court has long agreed that “it is understood that the right of free speech is not absolute at all times and under all circumstances. These [limitations] include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or "fighting" words--those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.” See Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568. The Court has further “recognized that not all speech is of equal First Amendment importance.” see, Dun & Bradstreet, Inc. v. Greenmoss Builders, Inc., 472 U.S. 749, 758 (1985). In, Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323 (1974), the court held that the First Amendment interest in protecting speech must be balanced against a state's interest in protecting its residents from tortuous injury. As I see it the right to privacy superceeds one's right to free speech.

    Posted by: MissV | Mar 9, 2010 6:13:35 PM

  17. Missy:

    You can cite some cases, but I sure hope you're not a lawyer. If so, the law school that gave you your degree should have its accreditation yanked.

    Posted by: Jack | Mar 9, 2010 7:15:41 PM

  18. Jack,

    I see you're opinion (and we know how opitions are) but no rebuttle or facts. Why is that? (I can only reason this with my opinion). There are many cases that can be cited on each sides behalf. I just cited a few that can apply to privacy. What is you're argument again? (Something in reference to Prop 8, and how does that apply to this case again?)

    Posted by: MissV | Mar 9, 2010 8:18:12 PM

  19. Honestly, I hope the court sides with WBC. Being a gay man, I'm definitely no fan of them or their politics, but God helps us if the USSC rules that freedom of speech isn't absolute.

    Posted by: Lee | Mar 9, 2010 10:45:17 PM

  20. MISSV: I disagree with both opinions rendered in Chaplinsky and Schenk.

    Posted by: missanthrope | Mar 10, 2010 1:58:24 AM

  21. It does seem despite all the free speech arguments and I am in favor of free speech that this is akin to yelling "fire" in a crowded theatre. Free speech with the intent to harm others. This version of free speech just crosses a line of common sense and good taste. If it was your loved one there, would you want their funeral picketed by a bunch of loud mouths telling you that your family member or friend was burning in hell? No. Not while you are busy grieving.

    I say we save up our anger and descend upon Fred Phelps' funeral and inform everyone in huge colored signs about Fred being sodomized on a certain level of Dante's inferno.

    Posted by: Darren | Mar 10, 2010 12:08:09 PM

  22. Really the question was whether the speech was sufficiently outrageous as to offend the sensibilities, and whether it was intended to inflict harm. The jury answered yes to both. Those are findings of fact that are usually left solely to the trial court, i.e. the jury. The appellate court (generally) has no business disturbing those factual findings, only whether those findings, as applied to the law, support the verdict. In other words, was the verdict reasonable based on the evidentiary record. I don't think the USSC reversing the circuit court means end of free speech as we know it (unlike campaign finance reform, thanks a lot for that). Free speech isn't limitless and the reality, as other posters have said, is that while the GOVERNMENT can't restrict speech, it doesn't automatically make the speaker immune from liability for its consequences.

    Posted by: BobC562 | Mar 10, 2010 10:09:58 PM

  23. Greatly worded Bob.

    Posted by: MissV | Mar 10, 2010 11:24:32 PM

  24. I know this is awful, but I do hope the WBC prevails in this case. I am OUTRAGED that their anti-gay, anti-Jew, anti-Catholic behavior has been tolerated and protected, but now that they have offended the WASP establishment, we're going to talk about it?? Suck it up, middle America! Welcome to our nightmare. These folks have been permitted to torment us for decades; I've grown accustomed to the horrible nasty violent disgusted reaction in my stomach. Doesn't feel good, does it?

    Posted by: Robb | Mar 11, 2010 1:56:30 PM

  25. They should have the whole westboro church fucking deported. This way we don't have take their shit and freedom of speech won't be effected. This probably is not going to happen. I hate these fucking people for fucking up what we have. They are sick fucking bastards and deserve to fucking die

    Posted by: Matt | Apr 13, 2010 3:14:32 PM

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