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. Freedom of speech is a fundamental right that Americans do cherish, but it does have limits. Slander and libel are prime examples of this limitations. It was also mentioned that you cannot shout "Fire!" in a movie theater. This is because it will incite panic. The WBC has every right to say what it wants to say, but there should be limitations on where it can say such things. At a soldier's funeral, or at a funeral of any kind? The family is already in a state of grief and adding a bunch of radical church members with signs saying that God killed their son because America is trying to extend rights to all of its citizens will cause unnecessary emotional damage to the family of the deceased. I am not against peaceful protesting, but there is line you should not cross; funerals and weddings are places you should not be subject to protests. If there were a group of people protesting outside one of your family members funerals how would you feel? Freedom of Speech has its limits, so saying that you do not want to see repercussions if the the decision calls for the church to not protest at funerals is folly.

    Posted by: Calith | Apr 16, 2010 8:54:53 AM

  2. I am much more desturbed by the actions of the "patriat guard" contingent than I am by the handful of whoefully misguided members of the Westboro Baptist Church, because the partriat guards actions were designed to repress the free speech of others, as reprehensible as that speech might be. As I watched the video, I was filled with a sense of dread. I imagined I was seeing first hand what facism would look like if it ever came to America. An America where dissent was no longer tollerated. And the fact these "patriat guards" are veterans, made it all the more frightening as well as depressing. The following cliche describes it best: "When facism comes to America, it will be wrapped in a flag, carrying a cross."

    Posted by: Mike | May 10, 2010 11:04:56 AM

  3. I am the daughter of a Baptist preacher and have never in my life heard of such disregard for human life. The Bible never teaches us to be rudely disrespectful to a family who is burying their dead. And to think that the dead man and women you are disgracing died so you could have freedom of speech... I personally think you better stop and re-think what you are doing. It could be one of your own children that dies in war the next time. Or do you teach your children that serving America is a sin? And as for sending your church to Erwin,Tn to protest our fallen soldier just stay away let us bury our hero in peace... he died for your freedom!!!!

    Posted by: Jamie Allison | Jun 18, 2010 9:27:46 AM

  4. There's free speech and then there is harassment. While the WBC may enjoy their right to free speech, when they target individuals, it's harassment.

    Posted by: Louis | Sep 24, 2010 3:12:04 PM

  5. With respect to Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, the issue of Free Speech seems to be attenuated in this case.

    Intentional infliction of emotional distress applies to one who without privilege to do so intentionally causes severe emotional distress to another. Courts have long recognized that the interest in freedom from severe emotional distress is of sufficient importance to require others to refrain from conduct intended to invade it.

    The intent the person is acting with need not be specific, meaning that person does not have to be acting for the purpose of causing emotional distress to the victim. It is sufficient that such emotional distress is substantially certain to be produced from their actions.

    Placing signs in the plain view of the decedent's family that say "all soldiers are in hell" or whatever crazy things they were saying is substantially certain to cause severe emotional distress. The sign holders knew that the mourners would see their signs.

    I just don't see how Free Speech is a concern w/r/t IIED. You wouldn't be concerned about a defendant's first amendment rights if you found out that they went up to a child and say "I just killed your parents" and as a result the child developed some sort of mental disorder. Isn't that technically "free speech"? There is conduct that is so outrageous that it cannot be tolerated in our society.

    On the other hand, if the Westboro Baptist Church held their your son is in hell signs in a place where the decedent's family was not present, it cannot be said that their actions are intended to (substantially certain) cause emotional distress. Thus, their first amendment rights to be assholes are completely intact.

    With respect to defamation, courts have recognized that the first amendment was not intended to protect the promulgation of falsehoods. However, it seems like the comments they posted online about the decedent was mostly religious rhetoric. I don't think that posting comments like his parents raised him to defy his creator are really the type of falsehoods that merit an exception. Any reasonable person would read those comments to be opinion, not fact.

    Posted by: Ray | Sep 26, 2010 12:17:46 PM

  6. There are more appropriate and effective place and time for WBC to express their "free speech" try using the ballot. By protesting with vile acts and words at a soldier's funeral are acts of a coward who picked on someone who can no longer defends him/herself. The WBC should remember that their rights to "free speech" were paid for by those soldiers' lives. If the WBC church are trying to recruit new members for their cult then they are doing it the wrong way. No God or religion would condone such distrespectful and immoral acts and words against another human being, dead or alive.

    Posted by: Jamie | Oct 7, 2010 3:01:08 PM

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