Supreme Court Rules 8-1 That Westboro Baptist Church Has Right to Picket Funerals of Soldiers

Westboro

SCOTUS has ruled for Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church:

"The Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment protects fundamentalist church members who mount attention-getting, anti-gay protests outside military funerals. The court voted 8-1 Wednesday in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. The decision upheld an appeals court ruling that threw out a $5 million judgment to the father of a dead Marine who sued church members after they picketed his son's funeral."

Justice Samuel Alito was the lone dissenter, according to CBS News:

"Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case," Alito wrote in his dissent.

The case involved a Maryland man whose slain soldier son's (Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder) funeral was targeted by Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church picketers.

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.

Comments

  1. Jon B says

    Lots of free speech issues today. Good decision. Can’t see any potential reason that these people shouldn’t have their free speech rights protected. They say terrible things, but they’re entitled.

  2. TampaZeke says

    As much as their actions and words sicken me, I’m SO glad that they are going to be able to keep doing and saying what they’re doing and saying.

    NO ONE (not HRC, not Dan Choi, not GLAD, not GLSEN, not Obama, not Clinton, not any legislator or activist), NO ONE has done more to promote gay rights, gay tolerance and gay acceptance than Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church.

    I hope they get MORE air time, not less.

  3. Chopsie says

    Does this mean we can picket their Sunday morning services in drag outside their church & sing “Gimme A Pigfoot & A Bottle Of Beer” thru megahorns?

  4. ichabod says

    “Does this mean we can picket their Sunday morning services in drag outside their church & sing “Gimme A Pigfoot & A Bottle Of Beer” thru megahorns?”

    Yes.

  5. Jack says

    This is a good decision. The laws had nothing to do with ending bigotry and intolerance.

    Fred should be able to keep spewing his hate. Hate needs to stay in the open and out in the sun so that people can see it and be disgusted by it.

  6. Sam says

    Alito also dissented in the kitten crushing video case, saying the statute banning it should be upheld. He appears to have a very different take on the First Amendment than his brothers and sisters on the Court.

    I hate to say it, but the majority is probably right here. Alito makes some strong points about the nature of this particular funeral protest that make it hard to side with Phelps, but in the end, I think it is the right decision. And after all, the freedom they have been given is the same freedom gay groups have to organize, protest, march, etc.

    And like some have said here, having people like them so visible will only turn people who haven’t formed strong opinions on gay rights away from that side of the debate.

  7. says

    “Freedom of Speech” is a CROCK!

    There is only Power and its application. Belief in BIG INVISIBLE BI-POLAR DADDY WHO LIVES IN THE SKY gives one an advantage over literally everyone else.

    They call it “Freedom of Religion.”

    I call it War.

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  9. Phil says

    Many people, LGBT among them, have said that the answer to hateful speech is not censorship but more speech.

    @Chopsie: You raise a good point. People should be able to protest hateful Xtian services, assuming they keep the same physical distance as the Westboro people in this case.

  10. arch says

    As a Brit this looks to me not like free speech but a deliberate attempt by the “church” to inflict suffering and mental anguish on the loved ones of the dead soldiers. Speaking as a lawyer, under English law it would be possible to stop this by an injunction to halt the harassment of the grieving families (not to mention the anti-gay stuff being an offence in its own right).

    You tolerate a lot in the name of free speech in the US; whilst I admire it in some ways in others it seems almost a fetish that sometimes causes more harm than good with no control possible to help those deeply harmed, such as the families of the soldiers.

    Your freedom to say what you want comes at a high price that is paid by the most vulnerable. Perhaps you do not need to tolerate this to still have free speech.

    Just a thought from accross the ocean.

  11. Sam says

    @Phil, who says they have ever been stopped from protesting such funerals?

    While I’m sympathetic to Alito’s position regarding this particular funeral, do we really want the courts to start deciding when something is too emotionally charged to be free speech? That only puts more power in the hands of the government, not less. I don’t see how that benefits anyone.

    Does anyone seriously think if you parked yourself on public property near Westboro Baptist with protest signs that anyone would stop you? Of course not. This decision does not give the Phelps family more freedom than you.

  12. jtaskw says

    Interesting that the First Amendment protects them from the repercussions of their own actions, but with this ruling nothing protects their victims from the same. They were protesting at the funeral of another fellow citizen’s funeral. Is there no difference whatsoever between the personal and the political? It appears the only thing a stalker need do now is carry a “politically charged” sign with them. This is extortion, now legally sanctioned.

  13. Keith says

    Although I do agree with their decision, I have to say that WBC is now going to have to answer to the court of public opinion. Notice how more and more groups appear to block them from being seen? This will continue and escalate from there – hopefully not into violence.

  14. Phil says

    @Sam: When I said people should be free to protest hateful Xtian services, I meant church services, since that’s when they promote anti-gay hate. What I said in my post was that the courts should use the same physical distance (number of yards) for Westboro protests or for people protesting Evangelical church services. I don’t really know if courts have ever used a double standard. I’d be curious to find out.

  15. jtaskw says

    “And after all, the freedom they have been given is the same freedom gay groups have to organize, protest, march, etc.”

    Not true. At all. Even if the decision was that the father’s claim to damages was valid, they could still go out and protest again tomorrow, and cause harm to someone else.
    I don’t think they should be prevented from exercising their freedoms or rights, just that everyone should be held accountable for doing so if the way they choose to do it causes harm to another person (violates their rights). This doesn’t fit the definition of political speech, as it heavily targets an individual, in their individual pursuits and the exercise of their own right not to be harassed or harmed. It extorts a use from them, in egregious fashion, to make at best a tangential (read: irrational or illogical) political statement.

  16. Anastasia Beaverhausen says

    And yet those who speak against GOVERNMENT (eg: anti-Bush Protesters) can be isolated BY GOVERNMENT into fenced-in “Free Speech Zones” miles away?

  17. says

    Ofcourse they did…had they not the ruling would have been another establishment slap in the constitution’s face! It’s actually quite a relief, I wasn’t sure they were going to do the right thing! Not that I necessarily agree with what the protesters are saying…not that I disagree. It’s just the simple fact that I have to support their right to say whatever they wish, as they have the right to do so in this country! If they take the protesters speech freedom away, they can take all our speech freedom! Just because you don’t agree doesn’t mean you get to dictate that they can’t say it! Grow up and get over it!

  18. JT says

    “You know, it’s only a matter of time before one of them dies. Why don’t we just picket their funeral?”

    I’m gonna go with a big no there. These death cultists get off on the negative regard with which the rest of the sinful world holds them. They love the attention in life, and the surviving members would love it in death.

    You want to send a real message to them. Don’t show up. Don’t even mention it. Not in the news. Not on blogs. Let them see that they are a bunch of pathetic wastes of space who accomplished nothing of merit in life and whose passing went entirely unnoticed because no one cared one way or the other.

    I stopped being shocked by their antics years ago and it amazes me that people can still find new outrage to expend on these people. When that one trick pony inevitably heads to the glue factory I won’t miss their one yawn-worthy trick and I can only muster so much excitement over there being slightly more glue and dog-food in the world.

    And if you want to frame it in more positive terms. Don’t do it because it would entail stooping to their pathetic waste of space level.

    But hey, free speech won. You do whatever you want regarding the matter. Yay freedom.

  19. Disgusted American says

    ..thats fine…..they just better HIDE where Old Man Phelps is buried when he croaks (or any of them for that matter)…cause his/thier graves – will be the MOST PISSED ON Graves in America….no doubt people WILL MAKE Pilgramages to it – JUST TO PISS ON IT,and say they did!

  20. Francis says

    The right decision, and quite frankly I agree with what many believe, let these people do what they do. It only shows what hate does to a person and just how sick it is to be filled with so much of it.

  21. anon says

    This was essentially the only possible ruling, given all the case law. The First Amendment protects us from outwitting ourselves through opportunistic laws. This case was politically the opposite of the Hustler case in the 80’s. It was hardly any work at all following that precedent. England is hardly a good model for speech rights, having a state religion, blasphemy laws on the books until the 60’s, loyalty oaths to the monarch and now a huge variety of speech regulations based on the notion of preventing the expression of hatred that no one will be able to reconcile fairly.

  22. Craig says

    I have no problem with this decision. They only make fools of themselves and make most want to oppose them. They don’t just hate gays, they hate Jews, catholics and mormons as well. They hate pretty much everyone except members of their “church” – consisting almost entirely of family members.

  23. Patrick says

    However much it pains me to say, I completely agree with this decision, and the majority of you who have commented on this story. However distasteful the Phelps clan may be, they have just as much of a right to be nasty, hateful and ignorant as the next nasty, hateful, ignorant person.

    The beautiful thing is, as some of you have pointed out, is that the ruling further entitles us to fight back against them, organizing our own counter protests, overpowering them with our voices of acceptance, tolerance and love, for just like them, we would be protected under the First Amendment.

    Furthermore, I think Tampazeke has made a valid point. Their negativity shows the rest of the country just how crazy extremist views can be, and seems to be able to do a lot in changing the minds of the rest of the world. Does the whole country want to sound like these people who picket the funerals of them men and women who protect us? Much like religion, you can’t pick and choose the parts you like. Either its all or nothing, an idea most seem to gloss over.

    I also must agree with Arch. We do put a huge cost on freedom of speech. On one hand we oppress those who speak of freedom and on the other, protect those who speak nothing but hate… Somewhere in between lies the common ground that, hopefully, one day, we will meet upon. But its rulings like this that will eventually shape our ideas, and can be used later in our defense. I hope…

  24. Tanner says

    Not in my country, they don’t! Proud to be Canadian where we’re capable of telling the difference between free speech and willful promotion/public incitement of hatred

  25. Danny says

    I’m proud of all my gay brothers here who affirm that this is the right ruling. And I agree that the more exposure WBC gets the better: sunlight is the best disinfectant.

  26. kansastock says

    I’m not going to picket Phed’s funeral… I’m going to dance at it! I better hurry up and pick one of Donna Summer’s songs soon cause Phed ain’t lookin good.

  27. Dissagree says

    I think I need to agree with Alioto for once — just because it’s “free speech” should not mean you’re free to speak it ANYWHERE. Is it free speech if someone yells “fire” in a crowded room? No. Hence, is it right to express YOUR half-assed opinion to someone you don’t even know, to deeply hurt their feelings knowing it will? Courts have ruled against that, and said that is not free speech, but hate.The Supreme court needs to stop defending “religious” slime like this group – if they do not, then a racial slur is now free speech and open territory – quit hiding hatred behind so-called religion – send them to hell where they came from –

  28. anon texan says

    @Arch:
    Can’t agree with you. We are also protected to express ourselves, and that could change if we changed our laws on free speech. Agree with everyone else that free speech “cuts both ways”. WBC is helping our cause.

  29. says

    I can see both sides of this, but one thing that should be remembered, when they were protesting gay funerals no one, except the gay community said anything. Once they started protesting military and others funerals, it suddenly became everyones problem. Does anyone really believe IF THEY STILL WERE ONLY PROTESTING GAY FUNERALS that there would be an outcry/lawsuits?

  30. Luke says

    This makes me grateful to live in Europe. Perhaps John Galliano should move over to America we he’s free to preach his venom towards Jews too…..????

    I don’t understand the hypocracy over US laws where Christina Aguilira gets arrested for being drunk as a passenger in a car. What a fucken joke.

    Who needs enemies when you’ve got your own supreme court on your side aye?

  31. Greg says

    Dear Phelps Extended Family of Inbreds:

    Thanks for helping our cause more than we could ever repay. With each so-called “protest”, your vitriol and hatred stirs people who would NEVER consider our fight important to outright sympathy. Your psychotic leader is the Bull Connor of the 21st century, his own techniques and approach his worst enemy, and the whole world is watching (and laughing, except when you degrade children, which is kinda ill, but then again that’s what we expect when people with severe psychological problems that are left untreated coalesce into large groups). Thanks for being one of many reasons why, finally, in my lifetime, I am able to say that a modicum of public support for my personal freedoms and life can be measured. We’re not there yet, maybe we never will be fully. But with enemies like you, we’ll get there quicker. Thanks, freak!

    Signed, Greg. A gay man.

  32. says

    My sentiments are with David and Arch. If Freedom of Speech means the freedom to be this inhumane and cruel, it needs to be re-evaluated. And frankly, I’m appalled at the people in this thread cheering this awful decision. Maybe you think it was correct, but you damn well don’t need to cheer.

  33. Kyle G. says

    But the problem is…gays AREN’T as vocal as hate mongers. Heck, half of the gay population tell their parents, co workers, and everyone they meet that they are straight. They lead double lives because they are too cowardly. Meanwhile, the other side is vocal, staging protest, even politicians comparing homosexuality to having sex with an animal and a very small gay population actually challenges the bigotry. If every gay person had the BALLS to step out of their closet and combat homophobia, we wouldn’t have to deal with it.

    Sadly, there will never be protests against The Church or hate mongers..why? most gays are too busy convincing the world they are hetro. It’s really miserable when you think about it.

  34. Greg says

    Kyle, weren’t there the same percentages of apologists for “being black” in 1955 America? Yet the increased outrage was external: the more those water hoses and dogs did their work, the quicker there eventually wasn’t a debate. I feel the same is happening, and we don’t need to blame those slacker closet cases any more than blame the Phelpses. The real battle is happening in individual homes, families, schools, churches, and places far away from the theatrics of the vocal few on BOTH sides. We do our thing, and change happens locally. That’s far more crucial in my opinion than ANYTHING Phelps could ever do.

  35. Kyle G. says

    Greg…what you speak of requires openess and being honest with who you are. In order to seek that change locally, it requires gay people make that selfless decision to come out, and be a living example and change minds. You can’t change minds by misleading them hidden in the closet. The idea of some gays (with courage) taking the punches and bullets to make changes occur; changes that would affect those in the side lines doing nothing is frustrating. For every gay person who needs to be closeted, there’s many who CHOOSE to be closeted because they would rather sleep with the enemy and align themselves with hate mongers than come out and make an impact on this world. That to me is no better than the most Conservative right wing anti gay politician. At least with them you know where you stand. With closet cases, they are too busy spewing lies to everyone. I have no respect for that.

  36. says

    The WBC case will eventually be settled with criminal charges of child endangerment and reckless disregard for the safety of others. It is just a matter of time until someone plows into them with a car or shoots up the street corner they are protesting on. They do have freedom of speech. However, when their actions result in injury or death, they will be held accountable. Let’s just hope that innocent lives won’t be lost.

  37. says

    What is not being said is that these scumbags are harassing and picketing Private People and Private Functions, Not Public or Political events! So, I guess it will be just fine if they next go after weddings, or children playing on the playground?
    It is an invasion of privacy, plain and simple, at the very least, pure evil hatred at the worst.
    And since they seem to have ‘rights’ I will exercise My Right and wish them all harm. I will laugh when an angry soldier with PTSD opens fire on them at his buddy’s funeral…and a good lawyer gets him off.

  38. TJ says

    I understand defending the “ideal” of free speech. But I think the problem here is a lack of appreciation, ironically enough, of the value of intangibles. If these scumbags threw a bomb or took an automatic weapon and mowed down the mourners at a funeral, would anyone question the right to legal redress? If they destroyed property? Would intention, philosophy even matter? I don’t think so.

    Yet rights to privacy and an expectation of civility and decency seem indefensible. The intangibles of “closure” or trauma inflicted while in a vulnerable mental state, unless these can be physically measured, are
    not considered.

    This is not just a matter of opinion, or politics. Real, albeit intangible, harm occurs.

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