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Letters to the Editor

Phelps parallel?

June 17, 2011

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To the editor:

This letter is in reference to the Leonard Pitts Jr. column published in the June 6 Journal-World, “Dancing spurs legal overreaction.”

In 2008, Mary Brook Oberwetter and some friends were arrested for doing a silent interpretative dance at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. Oberwetter sued. “Last month,” Pitts wrote, “a federal court dismissed the case, ruling the government is not required to allow ‘the full range of free expression’ in a space built for ‘a solemn commemorative purpose.’”

What is more solemn commemorative space than a combat soldier’s gravesite? Yet the Supreme Court ruled that Fred Phelps and his brood of hagglers can demonstrate in a manner they choose. Can Fred and family do in Washington, D.C, at the National Cemetery as they do in small town U.S.A.?

Comments

Ron Holzwarth 3 years, 6 months ago

Fred Phelps and the clan are "different" because they sue a lot.

Well, among other things too, I suppose.

Fred Mertz 3 years, 6 months ago

Bruce, I am sure most people find the Phelps' actions disgusting and vile, but let's be truthful about facts. The Phelps cannot protest on a gravesite. In the recent case the father did not even know they were protesting his son's funeral because they were kept far away from the actual funeral.

I didn't see the original dance, but there is a video of protesters dancing to protest the decision and I can't see how their dance would be disruptive. But, where do we draw the line to protect the rights of others?

jafs 3 years, 6 months ago

What "rights" were these folks infringing on by dancing?

Fred Mertz 3 years, 6 months ago

As I stated, "I can't see how their dance would be disruptive." So obviously I don't think they were violating anyone's rights, but where do we draw the line on free speech in venues like this one.

Slient dancing is okay, but what about quietly standing with t-shirts bearing a hateful message? Or quietly standing on an American flag? Maybe standing on the American flag is okay at the Lincoln memorial, but if allowed there shoudl it be allowed at the Viet Nam memorial?

It is not an easy balance - free speech vs other's rights to visit the memorials.

jafs 3 years, 6 months ago

Speech doesn't take away anybody's right to visit public places.

Fred Mertz 3 years, 6 months ago

So you would support the right of people to stand at the Viet Nam war memorial chanting "baby killers! Your family died because they were baby killers!"

Wouldn't this type of speech impact other's being able to visit the memorial?

jafs 3 years, 6 months ago

No, I wouldn't support that.

I would consider that harassment - behavior designed to disturb or upset.

But the fact is that the examples you mentioned wouldn't take away anybody's right to be there - it would affect their experience while there.

People get offended much too easily, in my view, and I don't think we should be protecting them from that, if we believe in free speech.

Fred Mertz 3 years, 6 months ago

Okay so I agree with your last paragraph which is why I stated in my original post that where we draw the line is unclear.

The government has limited speech including that of the Phelps'. They just can't protest anywhere they want. There are limitations.

And, I don't think in this case, the dance was disruptive but only wonder aloud where do we draw the line?

Fred Mertz 3 years, 6 months ago

Okay so I agree with your last paragraph which is why I stated in my original post that where we draw the line is unclear.

The government has limited speech including that of the Phelps'. They just can't protest anywhere they want. There are limitations.

And, I don't think in this case, the dance was disruptive but only wonder aloud where do we draw the line?

Fred Mertz 3 years, 6 months ago

Okay so I agree with your last paragraph which is why I stated in my original post that where we draw the line is unclear.

The government has limited speech including that of the Phelps'. They just can't protest anywhere they want. There are limitations.

And, I don't think in this case, the dance was disruptive but only wonder aloud where do we draw the line?

jhawkinsf 3 years, 6 months ago

I'm no legal scholar, but I suspect that if the dancers were to appeal the 2008 decision, they would win on appeal in light of the more recent Supreme Court decision.

Fred Mertz 3 years, 6 months ago

Are you referring to the Snyder case against the Phelps? If so, you should review the opinion as it doesn't address this issue, but is focused on the damages sought by Snyder from Phelps.

One part of the syllabus that does pertain to this issue is.

That said, “ ‘[e]ven protected speech is not equally permissible in allplaces and at all times.’ ” Frisby v. Schultz, 487 U. S. 474, 479. Westboro’s choice of where and when to conduct its picketing is notbeyond the Government’s regulatory reach—it is “subject to reason-able time, place, or manner restrictions.”

Flap Doodle 3 years, 6 months ago

Next thing you know, people will be morris dancing all over the place.

grammaddy 3 years, 6 months ago

Nothing better than a good "flash mob"!!

somedude20 3 years, 6 months ago

I want to dirty dance with Christina Hendricks (or Anne Hathaway or Zooey Deschanel or Jennifer Connelly or Marisa Tomei or Monica Bellucci or Elizabeth Hurley or Elisha Cuthbert or Heather Graham or Thora Birch or Scarlett Johansson)

I want to protest something very important by dancing with these ladies. I served my Country in the Corps and I will be happy to serve again by d-d-ing with those female human beings

Liberty275 3 years, 6 months ago

"What is more solemn commemorative space than a combat soldier’s gravesite?"

He was a marine. Do you not know the difference or do you just not care?

Phelps and his clan were demonstrating on the sidewalk, on public property with the requisite permission and did not infringe on the rights of others. Do you think that brave marine died so the government could stifle offensive speech? You should be ashamed to think that. I signed the same oath (the wimpy army version), and I signed it to protect freedom, not to see the constitution trampled on behalf of hurt feelings and greedy civil lawsuits.

Your entire LTTE is based upon a logical fallacy and therefore null.

The people dancing should have been left alone to do anything that did not damage property or infringe upon the rights of other people. Period. It is sad when the buildings, spaces and flags are more valued than the concept they represent.

Maybe it never occurred to you that both Phelps and the memorial dancers are protected by the same law that allows either to express their opinion in ways that other people may find offensive. IMNSHO, The more people offended, the better the message.

To you the parallel is just a chance to ask "they can do it, why can't we" when you should be asking "why can't everyone"? You must be a liberal.

livinginlawrence 3 years, 6 months ago

Aside from the "You must be a liberal" part, which is the sort of line I find tiresome to read on here, I agree with the sentiment of this post more than any other on this article.

Obviously the dancers were in no way in the wrong. And obviously Phelps & Co. are a disgusting bunch of douchebags (to say the least). Both parties should have equal liberty to express themselves as they see fit.

If people in the vicinity of a demonstrator find themselves too offended to get on with their lives, let it be their burden to employ civil means to convince the offending party that what they are saying or doing is wrong. May luck be with you when you attempt this feat.

My suggestion is that you simply move on with your life. As nice as it would be if people never were motivated to be as distasteful and disrespectful towards fellow man as is the Phelps bunch, can you really legislate respect?

beatrice 3 years, 6 months ago

"What is more solemn commemorative space than a combat soldier’s gravesite?"

Jefferson is buried at Monticello, not at the Memorial.

The Jefferson Memorial is a monument built in the 1940s to honor the man and his achievements. It isn't a tomb.

Oh, and before you get upset about Glenn Beck, Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert holding rallies at the Lincoln Memorial, Lincoln isn't buried their either.

beatrice 3 years, 6 months ago

... isn't buried "there" either.

Guess that is what I get for acting like a smarty pants.

littlexav 3 years, 5 months ago

i think he was referring to the phelps protesting a funeral, not to the jefferson memorial...

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