Archive for Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Kansas Attorney General seeking supporters for brief in opposition to Phelps’ family’s right to protest funerals

Six seeks support from A.G.s across nation

Kansas Attorney General Steve Six is joining the fight against a church that protested at a soldier's funeral. The Westboro Baptist Church says it protested within its first amendment rights.

May 19, 2010, 11:46 a.m. Updated May 19, 2010, 5:44 p.m.


— Kansas Attorney General Steve Six asked attorneys general from across the country Wednesday to join him in a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of a case that aims to prevent protests at funerals.

Six intends to file the friend-of-the-court brief in an appeal by the family of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder.

Snyder’s father, Albert Snyder, sued Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka after members picketed his son’s 2006 funeral. The church contends U.S. military deaths are God’s punishment for tolerating homosexuality. The lawsuit accuses the church of invading his privacy and intentionally inflicting emotional distress.

The Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether the actions of the Westboro protesters, led by the Phelps family, are protected by the U.S. Constitution’s free speech amendment — no matter how provocative and upsetting.

Six said other states need to stand up for a family’s right to mourn loved ones in dignity. More than 40 states, including Kansas, have enacted laws regulating funeral protests.

“Funeral goers are a captive audience and they are engaged in a deeply personal and private mourning process,” Six said. “The Constitution does not give the Phelpses the right to hijack solemn proceedings such as funerals in order to spread their hateful ideas.”

As of Wednesday, 10 states had agreed to join Six in his brief and he hoped to have a final list of participants by May 26. Joining Kansas are Connecticut, Kentucky, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Sean Summers, the family’s lead attorney, said the Snyders appreciated Six taking the initiative to get all states to join the court filing.

“Frankly, I think it will carry a lot of weight, given what Kansas has been through for the past decades,” Summers said, referring to the attention that the Phelps family brings to the state.

Matthew Snyder, 20, died in a Humvee accident in Iraq. His family lives in York, Pa., about 85 miles west of Philadelphia.

The Phelpses contacted the police before protesting Snyder’s funeral in Westminster, Md., and the protest was confined to a designated public area 1,000 feet from the church.

Albert Snyder won the first round decisively, when a jury in federal court in Baltimore awarded him $10.9 million in damages in October 2007. A judge later reduced the award to $5 million.

Last September, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the verdict, ruling Westboro’s protest was constitutionally protected free speech. In addition, the lower court ordered the Snyder family to pay the Phelps family $16,510 in court costs.

The Phelps family says they intend to use the money to continue their protests across the country. The ruling prompted an outpouring of support and donations for the Snyders, including from Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly and the American Legion.

Summers said the Snyders have received a lot of support from Kansans, many of whom begin by apologizing for the Phelps family and their actions.

Six helped Kansas legislators draft a revised funeral picketing law that was struck down in part by the Kansas Supreme Court on technical grounds. He said his brief would argue that such regulation of conduct was constitutional and that families deserved privacy during funerals.

Summers said he had contacted state officials around the country to encourage them to get their attorneys general to join the Kansas petition.

“Our goal is all 50 states, but we’re realistic about the chances,” Summers said.


emptymind 8 years, 1 month ago

Phelps and his clan are about on their way out

ralphralph 8 years, 1 month ago

For Pete's sake! Get to work on your REAL job and stop wasting our tax dollars fighting the rejects.

Liberty275 8 years, 1 month ago

This has already been settled with laws designed to limit abortion protesters. OTOH, it isn't surprising to see an attorney general fighting against the first amendment. Their job is to restrict what you can say or do.

madameX 8 years, 1 month ago

Actually I belive the first amendment has been interpreted to guarantee the right to privacy (some New England state's birth control case? I think?), so this is not simply an instance of one party exercising their rights, it's an instance of one party violating another party's rights in the process of exercising theirs.

Liberty275 8 years, 1 month ago

You are getting your right's messed up. Anyway, the bill of rights are restrictions on the state, not the people.

If you want to start restricting speech because it is hateful or disrespectful, or it happens within earshot of someone that may find the speech offensive, get ready for a wild ride down a slippery slope where in the end you will be fitted with the same muzzle you would now happily put on fred phelps.

madameX 8 years, 1 month ago

And this is a civil case, where the Snyder family is trying to collect damages from Phelps because of a violation of their right to privacy. IMO, that is precisely why the Snyders' case has merit, because they are people and not a representative of the state.

Liberty275 8 years, 1 month ago

I'm not sure "right to privacy" means "you can't hear people yelling from the sidewalk". Anyway, you can't claim 4th amendment rights to rid yourself of the phelps clan while disregarding the phelps clan's 1st amendment rights. Goose, gander, etc.

At best, the Snyders could sue the city and make some money off them instead for not protecting their right to privacy. Phelps remains untouched, the city loses a few million dollars. Snyder is the bad guy in the city for taking taxpayer's money and Phelps wins.

madameX 8 years, 1 month ago

I disagree, a funeral is a private event which necessarily takes place in public, and this was not an unrelated protest that happend to be going on in the vicinity, the Phelps family deliberately targeted the Snyder family. Way more than just people yelling from the sidewalk. The Snyders were effectively minding their own business and the Phelps chose to exercise their rights in a way that violated someone elses and either knew or should have known that they were doing so, and once again, this is not a case being brought by some state or local government, this is a private citizen seeking damages for a wrong that was inflicted. There's nothing in the case that prevents Phelps from protesting in the future.

ivalueamerica 8 years, 1 month ago

2 rights are conflicting here, the Supreme court will decide how to settle it, not you.

madameX 8 years, 1 month ago

Was that directed at me? If so, we're in agreement.

Steve Jacob 8 years, 1 month ago

I kind of lost respect for Supreme Court this week when they decided the government can lock up anybody (opps, I mean sex offenders for now) to whatever long they feel like it, not matter what a judge or jury say.

mr_right_wing 8 years, 1 month ago

I know this is much easier said than done, but the best we can do against these idiots is ignore them; they absolutely live for, and love confrontation (or any attention for that matter.). The only way to send them away frustrated is if no one notices or pays attention to them. It doesn't matter if you try rational dialogue or just yelling--they react the exact same way to both. I (like everyone else) wish they'd just go away; but despite any court decision -- that's not going to happen.

(The view of a Christian Fundy-definitely a sinner-who neither fears or hates gays.)

Liberty275 8 years, 1 month ago

"Where do your rights end, and my rights begin, Lib?"

Right in the middle between us, or at my property line, whichever comes first.

"Do you believe that "responsibility" is a component of a "right?" "

That would depend on the responsibility in question. You are responsible to not speak in a manner that implores an eminent threat, but you aren't responsible for restraining what you say so as to not offend others. This applies to a public area, not a private one such as this forum (depending on the rules laid down by the owner of the private concern).

"Or are they at odds with each other?" It is self-evident that they are at odds. Anything that restricts another is at odds with the first. The really good speech is the kind that walks right up to the responsibility and sticks out it's tongue. That's what phelps does and that's what makes him so utterly successful.

If your screen name describes your religious choice, that's most of your problem. The only thing worse than making the wrong decision and believing in fairy tales is being afraid to make the decision and sitting on the fence. If you don't have the character to choose whether or not to believe the lie, I wouldn't expect you to have the strength to defend words you hate.

Liberty275 8 years, 1 month ago

mr_right_wing >> the best we can do against these idiots is ignore them

How can the right wingers get this correct so easily while the left remains eternally stumped?

jafs 8 years, 1 month ago

What about intentional infliction of emotional distress?

That's what the family sued for and won.

scribe 8 years, 1 month ago

First Amendment of the US Constitution: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

mr_right_wing 8 years, 1 month ago

No, unfortunately this problem will not go away by ignoring it. Ignoring it just means you're not doing what they are desperately hoping you will do. The more chaos and arguments they can get in, the better they think they're doing. These folks and the skin-heads/Nazis provoke and look for the exact same kind of reaction from you.

I know you weren't talking to me 'agnostik' but as a former agnostic myself I decided (back then) to look into the word so I could better describe it to anyone who questioned; "gnostic" comes from the greek "gnosis" which (loosely) means a wide or broad knowledge. Agnostic means an unsubstantiated or unprovable knowledge. Just an FYI. Talk about dramatic; going from an agnostic to conservative fundy Christian!

Liberty275 8 years, 1 month ago

"Agnosticism isn't about sitting on fences--it's questioning whether the existence of the fence can even be proven"

Mumbo jumbo, eh? OK.

It (the metaphorical fence) can't exist except within you because neither side can be proven. We are left with faith in a book of untested stories or faith in a book of well-tested theories. alogic vs logic. The fence is a crutch to keep you from making the decision just like gods are a crutch for people that need an afterlife to excuse the suffering of their current lives. Crutches are lies. Philosophies built on lies are for the weak-minded. Quit waffling and jump.

"I'd suggest the main reason you chose to take an unrelated potshot at my screen name was because you're incapable of considering all the possible facets of an issue."

I'd suggest it's because I like agnostics less than god-believers. And it wasn't unrelated. Just as you are unable to make a decision regarding religion and owning up to it, you are unable to make a decision regarding phelp's right to free speech and owning up to it.

ebyrdstarr 8 years, 1 month ago

This case has always been a First Amendment case. The First Amendment doesn't just prohibit criminal prosecution for protected speech; it also prohibits civil damages. If the Phelps' speech is protected speech, it would be a violation of the First Amendment for a court (a governmental body) to impose a sanction of any kind, civil or criminal.

ebyrdstarr 8 years, 1 month ago

Why yes, that is the 7th Amendment. What's that got to do with amything? Go read the US Supreme Cpurt case Hustler v. Falwell from 1988. Then we can discuss.

Liberty275 8 years, 1 month ago

So the first amendment can definitely be used as a defense in a civil case.

ebyrdstarr 8 years, 1 month ago

Yes. This case presents some new twists, but the Hustler case was a civil case where Jerry Falwell sued the magazine for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Supremes said that claim could not be pursued by a public figure. The questions for this case, then, are whether the Snyders are public figures and whether that matters.

Liberty275 8 years, 1 month ago

"Did the Phelps cult, in exercising their freedom of speech, infringe upon the right of the Snyder family to bury their son in peace"

Which right is that?

jafs 8 years, 1 month ago

Isn't there an implied right to be free from intentional infliction of emotional distress?

ebyrdstarr 8 years, 1 month ago

No. There is no such constitutional right.

cellogrl 8 years, 1 month ago

I'm going to have to agree with Mr. Right Wing on this one. I'm definitely in the left wing, but having lived in Topeka for 2 years (and I still attend church there) and been firmly entrenched in the liberal culture there, we saw Phelps and his lackies a lot. I have to say, at first, I was outraged by them, but the more I saw them the more I realized that they weren't worth wasting my breath on. I still see them outside of my church from time to time, but I just don't care anymore. Mr. Right Wing is right. You take their power from them when you stop paying attention to them. Anything that lends any attention to what they do only makes them stronger.

mr_right_wing 8 years, 1 month ago

"I'm going to have to agree with Mr. Right Wing on this one. "

See, now was that incredibly uncomfortable? (to be in agreement with-gasp-me) Definitely some discomfort though I'm sure! It should pass... ;o)

heyheymama 8 years, 1 month ago

Proverbs9:7 Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury.

ralphralph 8 years, 1 month ago

It's a balancing act --- the right to free speech vs the right to be left alone. The Courts have long recognized reasonable restrictions on time, place and manner of speech. In the case of Phelps funeral protests, the key is this: Fred has the whole world in which to spew his message 24/7, but the bereaved family generally can only have the funeral or memorial service at one time and in one place, usually a church or funeral home. Thus, Fred needs to choose anyplace else in the whole world to do his speaking during the brief service time, while the family has that brief time to be left alone to conduct their service.
If the family makes some political event out of it, then the limits go away and Fred gets to show up. Otherwise, Fred must spew elsewhere for a couple hours. Resolved.

How hard is this, really?

Liberty275 8 years, 1 month ago

Can we also make it illegal to hold up protest signs when the president drives by? How about the Mayor? How about the dog catcher. Can we just make all protests illegal? That's where you are headed.

ralphralph 8 years, 1 month ago

There is little comparison between protesting a public political figure and a funeral or memorial service.

ebyrdstarr 8 years, 1 month ago

Umm, why would we not want to bring the law into a case about a lawsuit? And it has apparently been lost on you that you are the one who is losing the legal fight because you haven't done your research. You started by claiming this case did not involve the First Amendment, but that is the entire context in which the case has been litigated.

You are right that libel, defamation, and slander are not protected speech. But you fail to recognize how hard it is for a plaintiff to prove that the negative speech about him/her is not protected. In this particular case, the 4th Circuit found the speech at question wasn't about the defendant or his son at all.

You can laugh at Liberty and me all you want. You haven't demonstrated any real knowledge on this subject, so it won't insult me at all.

ebyrdstarr 8 years, 1 month ago

The legal term "malice" in free speech cases has a specific meaning, which isn't just that the actor is being mean. When malice has been a factor in libel/defamation type cases, the malice has to be specifically tied to the content of the speech. If a speaker makes factually untrue statements about the plaintiff and does so with malice (reckless disregard for the truth), then they can be found liable for a tort.

The 4th Circuit considered the signs at the Snyder funeral protest and found that they were not identifiable as specifically referencing Matthew Snyder and that they were not provably false statements. The signs are all statements of opinion which are not provably false. Most of the signs were general comments about the nation as a whole and so clearly did not involve provably false statements about the Snyders.

So, no, ralph's second paragraph does not make a pretty solid case for malice as it is meant in these free speech cases.

jafs 8 years, 1 month ago

What about intentional infliction of emotional distress?

I believe it requires an "outrageous" action which causes emotional distress - this would seem to qualify to me.

ebyrdstarr 8 years, 1 month ago

Yes the tort of IIED in Maryland uses the word outrageous. But you or anyone else deciding the WBC's action are outrageous is not the analysis that must be done when the First Amendment is involved. The First Amendment at its heart is designed to protect the most outrageous speech that we all hate.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 8 years, 1 month ago

I think I have to agree with Mr. Right Wing. If these visious hate mongers are just ignored, and no one, no news agency, no political person, no one so much as breathes their name or goal, they will have no satisfaction.

Wait a minute, are there not laws on the books about "hate speech"?? Are people not prosecuited for violating the laws pretaining to "hate speech"?? These morons (note I did not mention them by name) not unquestionably guilty of fomenting hate and vicious speech? What then of the laws pertaining to "hate speech"???

Liberty275 8 years, 1 month ago

There is no concept of hate speech outside of employee/employer relations in American Law that I know of. You are thinking about Canada.

ebyrdstarr 8 years, 1 month ago

As I explained above in response to Liberty, yes, Falwell was clearly a public figure and Hustler does not go beyond that. Which leaves open two questions: are the Snyders public figures and does that matter? Hustler v. Falwell does not say a non-public figure can sue for intentional infliction of emotional distress. It is silent as to non-public figures.

That open question is most likely what the Supremes are interested in now. (I don't think the Court is likely to find the Snyders were public figures, whether Albert or Matthew.) If you read Hustler, I think you might find that the message of the Phelps', repugnant though it may be, is of the sort that the Court will be reluctant to impose a civil penalty for. Which leads me to suspect that they would be willing to say there can be no recognized tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress for protected speech. Or perhaps, as in the cases of libel/defamation, the Court will devise some distinction between public figures and private citizens, but that distinction would most likely still place serious limits on when plaintiffs could prevail on a tort claim over political speech.

And as for that iceberg, keep in mind that the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals found for the Phelps' on the First Amendment issue.

Liberty275 8 years, 1 month ago

Who was the victim of the defamation. The case isn't about defamation, libel or slander.

"More good reading?"

Irrelevant to the case.

Joe Hyde 8 years, 1 month ago

Maybe it just hasn't come up yet because nobody crazy enough to do it has done it. But to my knowledge nowhere in the United States are people allowed by law to stand outside hospitals and protest/picket the birth of babies. I guess if that isn't a law yet, it needs to be made one soon. At least in Kansas....

Same thing with funeral laws. People should be barred by law from protesting/picketing anyone's funeral. Anyone, whether the deceased person be civilian or military casualty.

Bob_Keeshan 8 years, 1 month ago

The Hustler case is not relevant here as this is not a fight between public parties.

The Supreme Court has held on several occassions that funerals come with a right to privacy.

Just as the Phelps clan has no first amendment right to protest in my living room, they have no first amendment right to protest during my funeral. Reasonable restrictions which set the time that constitutes "funeral" are appropriate.

Outside of that reasonable timeframe, the yahoos are free to hold whatever signs they please. Just watch out for Mr. Green Jeans, he has quite the temper.

ebyrdstarr 8 years, 1 month ago

The Hustler case is entirely relevant to this case because whether it applies is the central question. When a petitioner files a petition for cert to the US Supreme Court, they have to list the questions presented. The first question presented by Snyder is whether Hustler applies in this case. So, yes, Hustler v. Falwell is central to resolution of this case.

Liberty275 8 years, 1 month ago

Time is irrelevant. If your funeral is in New York and phelps protests simultaneously in Kansas, it is absurd to call it an invasion of privacy. The matter is distance. The phelps clan was 1000 feet from the funeral, and in my opinion that is far enough away. In fact, phelps was far enough away that the father didn't even know phelps was protesting at his son's funeral until he saw it later on the news.

The supreme court has something in mind, and it isn't very rosy for Mr Snyder.

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