Archive for Wednesday, March 2, 2011

U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of Westboro Baptist Church protesters

March 2, 2011, 10:01 a.m. Updated March 2, 2011, 2:56 p.m.

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— The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a grieving father's pain over jeering protests at his Marine son's funeral must yield to First Amendment protections for free speech. All but one justice sided with a fundamentalist church that has stirred outrage with raucous demonstrations contending God is punishing the military for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality.

The 8-1 decision in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., was the latest in a line of court rulings that, as Chief Justice John Roberts said in his opinion for the court, protects "even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate."

The decision ended a lawsuit by Albert Snyder, who sued church members for the emotional pain they caused by showing up at his son Matthew's funeral. As they have at hundreds of other funerals, the Westboro members held signs with provocative messages, including "Thank God for dead soldiers," ''You're Going to Hell," ''God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11," and one that combined the U.S. Marine Corps motto, Semper Fi, with a slur against gay men.

Justice Samuel Alito, the lone dissenter, said Snyder wanted only to "bury his son in peace." Instead, Alito said, the protesters "brutally attacked" Matthew Snyder to attract public attention. "Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case," he said.

The ruling, though, was in line with many earlier court decisions that said the First Amendment exists to protect robust debate on public issues and free expression, no matter how distasteful. A year ago, the justices struck down a federal ban on videos that show graphic violence against animals. In 1988, the court unanimously overturned a verdict for the Rev. Jerry Falwell in his libel lawsuit against Hustler magazine founder Larry Flynt over a raunchy parody ad.

What might have made this case different was that the Snyders are not celebrities or public officials but private citizens. Both Roberts and Alito agreed that the Snyders were the innocent victims of the long-running campaign by the church's pastor, the Rev. Fred Phelps, and his family members who make up most of the Westboro Baptist Church. Roberts said there was no doubt the protesters added to Albert Snyder's "already incalculable grief."

But Roberts said the frequency of the protests — and the church's practice of demonstrating against Catholics, Jews and many other groups — is an indication that Phelps and his flock were not mounting a personal attack against Snyder but expressing deeply held views on public topics.

Indeed, Matthew Snyder was not gay. But "Westboro believes that God is killing American soldiers as punishment for the nation's sinful policies," Roberts said.

"Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and — as it did here — inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker," Roberts said.

Margie Phelps, a daughter of the minister and a lawyer who argued the case at the Supreme Court, said she expected the outcome. "The only surprise is that Justice Alito did not feel compelled to follow his oath," Phelps said. "We read the law. We follow the law. The only way for a different ruling is to shred the First Amendment."

She also offered her church's view of the decision. "I think it's pretty self-explanatory, but here's the core point: the wrath of God is pouring onto this land. Rather than trying to shut us up, use your platforms to tell this nation to mourn for your sins."

Veterans groups reacted to the ruling with dismay. Veterans of Foreign Wars national commander Richard L. Eubank said, "The Westboro Baptist Church may think they have won, but the VFW will continue to support community efforts to ensure no one hears their voice, because the right to free speech does not trump a family's right to mourn in private."

The picketers obeyed police instructions and stood about 1,000 feet from the Catholic church in Westminster, Md., where the funeral took place in March of 2006.

The protesters drew counter-demonstrators, as well as media coverage and a heavy police presence to maintain order. The result was a spectacle that led to altering the route of the funeral procession.

Several weeks later, Albert Snyder was surfing the Internet for tributes to his son from other soldiers and strangers when he came upon a poem on the church's website that assailed Matthew's parents for the way they brought up their son.

Soon after, Snyder filed a lawsuit accusing the Phelpses of intentionally inflicting emotional distress. He won $11 million at trial, later reduced by a judge to $5 million.

The federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., threw out the verdict and said the Constitution shielded the church members from liability. The Supreme Court agreed.

Forty-eight states, 42 U.S. senators and veterans groups had sided with Snyder, asking the court to shield funerals from the Phelps family's "psychological terrorism."

While distancing themselves from the church's message, media organizations, including The Associated Press, urged the court to side with the Phelps family because of concerns that a victory for Snyder could erode speech rights.

Roberts described the court's holding as narrow, and in a separate opinion Justice Stephen Breyer suggested that in other circumstances governments would not be "powerless to provide private individuals with necessary protection."

But in this case, Breyer said, it would be wrong to "punish Westboro for seeking to communicate its views on matters of public concern."

Comments

imastinker 4 years, 4 months ago

As disgusting as it is, it was the right decision.

imastinker 4 years, 4 months ago

It's both. As much as I want those guys to disappear, I'm not willing to allow a judge or elected official or anyone else to determine whether MY message is allowed to be heard - so we have no right to silence theirs.

jayhawkblue 4 years, 4 months ago

Dick the butcher - "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." Henry VI, Part 2 | Act IV, Scene 2 William Shakespeare

ThatGirl2 4 years, 4 months ago

I'm not sure that lawyers had anything to do with this.....

MyName 4 years, 4 months ago

Well if they weren't lawyers (or disbarred former lawyers), the Phelps wouldn't have the means to continue their stupid crusade against everyone who isn't a member of WBC.

ThatGirl2 4 years, 4 months ago

How do you figure? You mean they wouldn't be able to pay for legal services? I kinda doubt that. This kind of high profile case, many people would take it on for free.

2xhawk 4 years, 4 months ago

Dick the butcher & his friends, gangsters and anarchists all, were plotting to kill the king and takeover the legitimate government. He wanted to kill the lawyers to achieve his utopia, a lawless society.

Protecting the rights of the vile Phelps clan is distasteful and wonderful at the same time. It demonstrates the difference between a democracy and a theocracy (Iran), police state (Saudi Arabia) or an autocracy (Wisconsin) where only one point of view is allowed.

On the other hand...Phelps? Ewww.

Kirk Larson 4 years, 4 months ago

If you read the context of the quote they are saying that for tyrants to rule and freedom to be destroyed "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers". That quote has often been misused.

2xhawk 4 years, 4 months ago

Some scholars (not me!) think it was just a line to get a cheap laugh - a bunch of nitwits sitting around, boozily discussing what they'd do to make things more enjoyable - similar to the plot of every Judd Apatow movie.

jafs 4 years, 4 months ago

Except that some speech is punishable in our system, including defamation, libel, slander, etc.

And certain kinds of actions (like picketing a funeral) can be considered harassment, I would think.

booyalab 4 years, 4 months ago

Exactly. There is no constitutionally protected freedom of speech in this country...or any country. It's freedom of the press. That means the Westboro Baptist folks have venues to express themselves, away from government interference, but that doesn't mean they can express themselves anywhere.

booyalab 4 years, 4 months ago

I should fix that. I mean there is no protected Universal Right to freedom of speech. If it were, there wouldn't be limitations like the ones jafs mentioned.

sr80 4 years, 4 months ago

For the justices in the SC,the day they strode up the marble steps, all concepts of harassment went with them.They are the untouchables,where in their decisions they are not held accountable, which personally pisses me off more than WBC !!!!

ThatGirl2 4 years, 4 months ago

Agnostick--I'm usually lock step in agreement with you, but I don't understand your comment.

I abhor Westboro and everything that they stand for. But this was the only decision, as far as I am concerned. Where does "responsibility" come in when it comes to this?

madameX 4 years, 4 months ago

I think that Agnotick is referring to the reasoning that if a person or group chooses to exercise the right to freedom of speech in a manner that a resonable person would understand as being harassing or gratuitously harmful then that is, in fact, their choice and their right, but that those harmed by said speech ought to have some means of holding those who did the harming responsible.

Liberty275 4 years, 4 months ago

OK. If the phelps clan finds a gay pride parade 1000 feet from their church and 30 minutes before sunday services gratuitously harmful because they don't want their children exposed to what they consider the sin of homosexuality, then you believe the phelps clan should be able to hold organizers of the parade responsible and have them forced to pay the clan some money?

That's the problem you are oblivious to. If the phelps clan can be blackmailed into silence, then so can everyone else.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 4 months ago

I wonder how much this ruling is rooted in the conservatives' on this court wanting to declare themselves as "defenders of free speech" as a way of deflecting criticism over their judicial activism in equating money with speech in the Citizens United ruling.

notajayhawk 4 years, 4 months ago

Interesting theory, Herr Klowne. So you're saying the Conservatives on the court ruled this way because they were pretending to be Liberals. Gotcha'.

Fossick 4 years, 4 months ago

They did the same thing last April in US v. Stevens, which struck down a law that banned videos depicting cruelty to animals. Same vote (8-1), same dissenter (Alito), same Justice wrote the opinion (Roberts).

Those tricky conservatives. Now they have taken over both sides of the spectrum.

Amy Heeter 4 years, 4 months ago

Be disgusted if you must not it is your right that has been protected.

ThatGirl2 4 years, 4 months ago

Apples to oranges, unfortunately.

What was being challenged here was the right to voice an opinion even if that opinion is hurtful and offensive. Yes, the plaintiff's claimed "harm" in the form of 'emotional distress', but basically any offensive statement has the potential to cause emotional distress.

Yelling "fire" in a crowded theater has the potential to cause actual harm--death, bodily injury. It's not the same thing.

ThatGirl2 4 years, 4 months ago

Are you talking about HR requirements for corporations? (I wasn't clear on what you were referring to, so I didn't respond).

ThatGirl2 4 years, 4 months ago

I want to answer your question (really).....I just don't understand it. I'm not aware of courts ordering "sensitivity training"--can you elaborate? (Seriously, not trying to be a jackass, just kind of lost).

notajayhawk 4 years, 4 months ago

There are laws, not just corporate policies, about sexual harassment. I think what cheeseburger's getting to is would it be okay for me to go up to a female co-worker and say in my opinion she's got a nice rack?

ThatGirl2 4 years, 4 months ago

Well, she wouldn't be able to sue you for that, if that's what you mean. She could sue the employer. But even then, she would have a lousy case if it was a one time thing and the company had no notice of it. Sexual Harassment is a defined harm. So, I am still not sure where there is a connection between that and public speech which is offensive. (and just so everyone is clear, I'm about the most liberal person on earth, so defending this verdict doesn't sit to well with me).

jafs 4 years, 4 months ago

If she finds the conduct to have been intended to upset her, can't she sue him for harassment?

ThatGirl2 4 years, 4 months ago

No. Not without some sort of physical manifestation of harm confirmed by a doctor (counseling, etc.)

jafs 4 years, 4 months ago

I'm not sure that's true.

I've seen small claims judges rule in favor of harassment claims, without such proof.

jafs 4 years, 4 months ago

Shouldn't it be up to the court system to determine whether something is simply offensive or causes actual emotional distress?

Or whether the act of picketing the funeral is harassment?

Aren't those essentially questions of fact for a jury to decide?

Can you say/do whatever you want as long as you use the word "God"?

ThatGirl2 4 years, 4 months ago

Well......no. I mean, by that standard, if I called you an a-hole you could theoretically sue me for it if your feelings were hurt. That's an extreme example, but that is what the court is trying to decide. Considering how litigious society is now anyway, and how backlogged the court system is, can you imagine the frivolous lawsuits that would arise from such a ruling??

jafs 4 years, 4 months ago

That's what happens though, isn't it?

Somebody sues somebody else for the intentional infliction of emotional distress, and the jury has the task of determining whether that is the correct understanding of what happened.

In this case, the jury found for the plaintiffs.

ThatGirl2 4 years, 4 months ago

And then it was overruled by the higher courts. Because the speech is protected by the 1st Amendment.

jafs 4 years, 4 months ago

Even if it's found to cause emotional distress, intentionally?

Or that the conduct was harassment?

If I use the word "God", can I do anything or say anything at all, without any responsibility for the harm I may cause others?

jafs 4 years, 4 months ago

We can look it up.

You didn't answer my question, though.

Are you a free speech absolutist?

ThatGirl2 4 years, 4 months ago

No, and neither is the ruling. Sorry if I didn't answer that before, I never saw that you asked me that.

Also, you can't look it up, and that is my point. Unless you come up with a definition on what defines emotional distress (without a physical manifestation, which is actually the law) then all you have are juries making subjective judgments about which speech is okay and which is not. You need a definition before you can give a jury instruction. That was my point. Tossing out terms like "emotional distress" isn't effective without a test.

jafs 4 years, 4 months ago

If that were the case, nobody could sue for it.

But they can, and do.

ThatGirl2 4 years, 4 months ago

And then it was overruled by the higher courts. Because the speech is protected by the 1st Amendment.

slowplay 4 years, 4 months ago

Apples and oranges. One is the right to peacefully assemble. The other is speech creating imminent danger to others and is not protected under the First Amendment.

Crazy_Larry 4 years, 4 months ago

Peacefully assemble, or incite a riot? I believe the Phelps clans MO is to incite riotous behaviour so that they can then sue the city, police, rioters, etc., etc. It's not peaceful assembly, it's a scam and they're playing it to the hilt. The SCOUSA is wrong on this one. The Phelps aren't exercising free speech, they're inciting riots in order to profit.

slowplay 4 years, 4 months ago

" they're inciting riots in order to profit."

Well, because you believe it, it must be so. However, I'll respectfully defer to the eight SC Justices who voted to uphold the Appellate Court decision.

TikiLee 4 years, 4 months ago

I feel like I need a shower now.

Come on Anonymous.

3up3down 4 years, 4 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

Liberty275 4 years, 4 months ago

America wins. Those that would like to cherry-pick which speech should be free lose. It's a good day.

Jay_lo 4 years, 4 months ago

So does this mean we are free to yell "Fire" in a crowded theater now?

What if they cause a riot? Is it now legal to incite a riot? Can they say and show anything pornographic at anytime on T.V. Just asking.

It seems like sensibility has always lead to some type of picking and choosing where free speech is concerned.

jessanddaron 4 years, 4 months ago

It could be argued that the Phelps family incites physical harm as opposed to emotional harm. Maybe the Supreme Court didn't see it that way but they are judges not calculated robots. I am sure there is a sign somewhere at a protest suggesting something illegal being done, i.e. "Kill Fags" or something which to a lot of people looks like inciting violence. It would be hard to prove any harm came from those exact signs but it is very plausible. For example, Tiller/Roeder situation in which the state would find that the murder was a direct result of Westboro's behavior. I am surprised that Alito was the dissenting opinion, however.

Liberty275 4 years, 4 months ago

"So does this mean we are free to yell "Fire" in a crowded theater now? "

If you were on trial for doing it, and I was sitting on the jury, they'd never get a guilty verdict.

"What if they cause a riot? Is it now legal to incite a riot?"

It depends. You can't specifically tell people to harm others as that would be conspiracy, but if you use generalities and get a crowd so fired up they go out and riot, you aren't responsible. They are.

"Can they say and show anything pornographic at anytime on T.V."

Sure, on cable. You'll have to talk to the dictators in the FCC about broadcast. They find boobs obscene so I don't think you'll have much luck there. Besides, why do you need porn on TV when you have the internet?

"Just asking."

That's nice.

"It seems like sensibility has always lead to some type of picking and choosing where free speech is concerned. "

I missed the part about sensibility in the first amendment. Please point it out.

jonas_opines 4 years, 4 months ago

"If you were on trial for doing it, and I was sitting on the jury, they'd never get a guilty verdict."

Isn't that pretty much true of any situation, for you? Perhaps outside of theft and murder?

Liberty275 4 years, 4 months ago

LOL. This isn't canada. No words, again, no words are illegal in America.

evilpenguin 4 years, 4 months ago

Well, you will find a country on free speech America. What do you expect in a country full of crazies?!

TheStonesSuck 4 years, 4 months ago

The Phelps' 1st Amendment protection should not rest on whether the audience reacts unreasonably to the message. There's no way the Framers' intended our freedom of expression to rest on "so slender a reed."

jafs 4 years, 4 months ago

Harassment: Behavior intended to cause upset.

TheStonesSuck 4 years, 4 months ago

Exactly. The courts have distinguished harassment, which is unprotected speech, with what the Phelps' are doing. Circumscribing freedom of expression based on the content of the speech is unconstitutional, which is really the only way the court could rule in favor of Snider. No matter how ignorant, vile, and hate-filled, the message is what is protected. Harassment speaks to conduct, irrespective of the content of the expression.

jafs 4 years, 4 months ago

Harassment is defined as conduct intended to upset, which clearly would apply to this sort of conduct, in my opinion.

Choosing to hold signs saying "God hates soldiers" outside of a soldier's funeral is clearly harassment, is it not?

What other reason would there be for their choosing to do it outside of the funeral?

TheStonesSuck 4 years, 4 months ago

To succeed in a harassment claim, you have prove the message is aimed at a specific individual. The targets of Phelps' protests run the gamut.

Daniel Speicher 4 years, 4 months ago

This is sadly very true. If the Phelps' were to picket my funeral someday and one of their said signs said "Danny Speicher is Rotting in Hell" than that is harassment. Unfortunately, "You're Going to Hell" is not specific and, therefore, not legally harassment.

The Phelps' are masters at loopholes. The whole lot of them are former or current lawyers. It's sad.

--Danny Speicher

LoveThsLife 4 years, 4 months ago

Can I ask something?

From what I read recently the father came across a letter the Phelps had written attacking his parenting. Couldn't he have sued them for defamation of character, slander etc. if it was a personal verbal attack?

ebyrdstarr 4 years, 4 months ago

The majority found that the Snyder family hadn't preserved any claim related to that internet writing.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals did consider it but found it to be protected speech just like the picketing. I don't have that opinion in front of me right now, but as I recall, the 4th Circuit found it wasn't really specifically aimed at Mr. Snyder.

yankeevet 4 years, 4 months ago

Jeeez.......what kind of country has this become..........i smell a revolution brewing......

MyName 4 years, 4 months ago

Right, another typical "Heads-I-Win, Tails-you-Lose" situation for the Phelps. Who really don't deserve to live in this country.

formerfarmer 4 years, 4 months ago

I am not surprised the AP supported finding for Phelps. They want the headlines to report. If they(AP) and other press venues would ignore Phelps and his crew, they would go away.

jessanddaron 4 years, 4 months ago

I meant Westboro Baptist=Totally disgusting.

Richard Payton 4 years, 4 months ago

Someday the gay's might picket Phelp's funeral. The military might show up with signs saying "Phelp's beside Satan in Hell".

ThatGirl2 4 years, 4 months ago

I doubt it. Most of "the gays" I am friends with are far too classy for that.

danmoore 4 years, 4 months ago

Maybe that's what it will take to get the Phelp's to stop. When Fred dies and the rest of the world throws a big party at his funeral, perhaps they will see how vile and disgusting their behavior has been.

Kathryn Toyne 4 years, 4 months ago

I doubt it. The only way they'll stop is if no one pays any attention to them. Unfortunately that won't happen either.

jonas_opines 4 years, 4 months ago

I don't even think it's true that they'd stop. They'd likely just up the ante. Case in point, they received little attention when they were just picketing gays, so they upped it to soldiers Where would they go next?

They're nuts and they make money from suits. It's a bad combination.

jafs 4 years, 4 months ago

Isn't the question of infliction of emotional distress a question of fact for a jury to decide?

Can you say/do anything at all as long as you use the word "God"?

Why isn't picketing at funerals with their hate-filled signs harassment?

jafs 4 years, 4 months ago

Maybe.

But harassment is defined as behavior intended to cause upset, so even if the attacks weren't personal, the behavior clearly fits the definition of harassment, as far as I can tell.

jafs 4 years, 4 months ago

Picketing at a funeral of a soldier with a sign saying "God hates soldiers" is clearly behavior intended to upset, and does just that.

MyName 4 years, 4 months ago

I thought her brief was crap, though IANAL. She used every opportunity to inject their personal theological BS while only briefly touching on the constitutional points. It didn't matter though as the case is pretty clear cut if you decide that there's no way a jury decision could have more weight than judicial precedent.

nepenthe 4 years, 4 months ago

As much as I abhor the Phelps' clan, I love our rights of free public speech as well. The ruling is in line with our constitution. Even freaks like the Phelps clan have a right to attention who-- er, protest.

Ken Lewis 4 years, 4 months ago

Isn't it strange how broad the definition of free speech can be in some cases and how narrow it can be in others? It seems the politics of the issue drives the outcome.

The Court trashed campaign finance laws in the name of free speech. Then, they allow funeral protests to publically humiliate the families of fallen soldiers in the name of free speech, but the courts in many states cannot allow a woman to dance naked, in name of free speech, in the privacy of a strip bar where only adults are allowed to willfully partonize.

For me, the strip clubs do far less damage than protests at a fallen Marine's funeral or a free-for-all of lobbyists influencing the outcome of major political battles in Washington.

evilpenguin 4 years, 4 months ago

I think free "speech" refers to the expression of words, not writhing around on a pole with your baps out.

Liberty275 4 years, 4 months ago

I'd have to disagree there. The nice young ladies in the gentleman's clubs are performing artists. Nothing about their costume should nullify that. Nudity has been a staple of art from at least the stone-age Venus figures.

yourworstnightmare 4 years, 4 months ago

The court made the correct ruling, no matter how vile Phelps and his minions are.

When Phelps was just picketing the funerals of murdered gays, nobody cared.

Phelps moved on to offending the politically correct right wing by picketing soldiers' funerals, which resulted in this case.

Clearly Alito by his dissent thinks that free speech comes in different flavors. I wonder how he (and the rest of the court) would have ruled if this case was brought by the families of murdered gays rather than soldiers.

lawslady 4 years, 4 months ago

I agree that everything the Phelps clan said was without any scintilla of charity or common sense. Par for the course. However, as long as they are free to spill their bile and vent their spleen, using WORDS ALONE, we can all rest peacefully knowing that this country's freedom of speech is protected. They are the "canaries in the mine," testing the air for any taint of restraint on what is one of the most unique and telling halmarks of a truly free society. Unlike yelling "FIRE" in a crowded theater, their words do not call for any action (other than to turn many homo-phobic people into more considerate and thoughful individuals for fear of siding with such hate-filled non-Godly people). So, as much as sane people may deplore their words and disagree with their venues for exercising free speech, we all benefit each time the Supreme Court upholds Free Speech rights. If everyone would just ignore them, they'd be forced to step it up to get attention - perhaps finally venturing over into the territory of actions.

nobody1793 4 years, 4 months ago

Y'all are free to go picket in front of Westboro Church with "God hates Fred" signs and what-not....

drewnon 4 years, 4 months ago

Good news is, I believe all of their websites are still down, and have been for over a week. Thanks to The Jester and Anonymous.

madameX 4 years, 4 months ago

It seems like, once again, lots of people are misunderstanding specifically what was at issue in this case.

The Snyders were not seeking to prevent the WBC from protesting. They were seeking to hold the the WBC responsible for harm done by their otherwise lawful protest. There are many comments along the lines of "They're awful, but they have a right to protest." Yes, they are, and yes, they do, but the question being asked in this case was not "Do they have a right to protest at all?" It was "Do they have right to be protected from the consequences of harm that their protest may have done because the had a first amendment right to be protesting in the first place?" Just wanted to make that distinction.

(In case it's not obvious, my opinion all long has been, and still is, that the answer to that second question is "no." I think it's silly to say that we, as a nation, are not intelligent enough to figure out how to hold those who engage in deliberatly harmful speech responsible for harm done without creating undue restrictions on the rights of everyone else. I was rooting for the Snyders. I haven't read this decision, but I suspect I'm going to disagree with most of it.)

jafs 4 years, 4 months ago

Sure.

If they're taken to court, and found to have harmed anybody by a jury.

TikiLee 4 years, 4 months ago

Hadn't thought of it that way, thank you for the viewpoint.

jessanddaron 4 years, 4 months ago

Finally, the most intelligent, well put together, and sensible post so far. I agree that we should be an advanced enough society to say we do not tolerate downright harassment at fallen soldiers funerals.

Liberty275 4 years, 4 months ago

"deliberatly harmful speech responsible for harm done without creating undue restrictions on the rights of everyone else"

Let me guess, you want to be the right-to-speak czar. Maybe if you stifle enough voices you can become dictator.

madameX 4 years, 4 months ago

Evidently you missed my main point, which was that this was not a cut-and-dried right-to-speak case. As I understand it, that the WBC has the right to protest was alway treated as a given. Whether or not it is appropriate to hold them responsible for harm done by the time, place and manner in which they choose to do it is what was at issue. Even if the Snyders had won, that decision would not have included any sort of ban on WBC protests.

Anyway, I want nothing of the sort. Individual cases should be decided on an individual basis based on the facts.

I like your avatar, though.

Liberty275 4 years, 4 months ago

"Whether or not it is appropriate to hold them responsible for harm done by the time"

What harm, exactly was done? The father never knew the protesters were there until he saw them on the news after going home from the funeral. Not that it really matters. Civil lawsuits are enforced by the government and therefore subject to the first amendment.

"I like your avatar, though."

The pistols rock. :-)

jafs 4 years, 4 months ago

Not sure what your point is there.

Harassment, slander, libel, defamation, etc. are all punishable in court.

The 1st amendment doesn't seem to have been interpreted to generally protect people from the responsibility to others when they cause harm.

Liberty275 4 years, 4 months ago

"Harassment, slander, libel, defamation, etc. are all punishable in court."

None of which are relevant to anything phelps does nor this case.

On a broader level, the first amendment may not offer absolute protection to the defendant, but it raises the bar on such cases so high they are rarely filed, much less tried and won.

madameX 4 years, 4 months ago

A trial court already determined that harm had been done and awarded damages to the family. I don't know a whole lot about the specifics of the original trial, but if the WBC had wanted to appeal on the grounds of "But we didn't even cause any harm" then they should have figured out a legal error that resulted in an inaccurate verdict and done so. That's how appeals work, but apparently that's not what they chose to do. (Also, I read the appeals court decision, and they did address and dismiss as irrelevant several issued brought by the WBC, so that may have been among them.)

Even so, because it went as far as it did, the specifics of this case become less important than the imact the reasoning behind the decision will have on future cases. Like all Supreme Court decisions, this one is binding on all lower courts. So even if your opinion is that the Snyders never should have won at the trial court level and gotten this far, if someone else had a similar case that you did consider to be valid they are basically barred from recovering anything because, according to this case, the first amendment protects someone who inflicts emotional harm or harassment from being held responsible for that, so long as that harm is the result of a first-amendment protected activity. It's not just about Snyder anymore. If you agree with that reasoning then fine, but I don't.

BUT, once again, all I was really trying to do is draw a distinction between what the general public's perception of the issue in this case was and what the issues actually were. I only included my own opinion because I was pretty sure someone would ask what it was.

jafs 4 years, 4 months ago

Agreed.

I see no reason for 1st amendment rights to mean that people aren't held accountable if they harm others.

ThatGirl2 4 years, 4 months ago

"It was "Do they have right to be protected from the consequences of harm that their protest may have done because the had a first amendment right to be protesting in the first place?" Just wanted to make that distinction."

You're correct. But don't you agree that leaving it up to a jury to decide whether unpopular speech caused someone hurt feelings is a slippery slope? Yes, as a society, we all FEEL for the plaintiff in this case. Does that mean he is entitled to millions of dollars because he didn't like what someone else said?? Really?? I don't think he sought counseling. I don't think he was made ill by these words. I'm pretty sure he was pissed off. Rightfully so. But should we then bend freedom of speech in such a way that a jury gets to decide (subjectively) who was out of line and who wasn't? What's the test for what crosses the line and what doesn't?

jafs 4 years, 4 months ago

Juries are charged with determining the facts of cases, and applying the law as instructed by judges.

Seems like they're exactly the right place for these issues to be decided.

Plaintiffs have to prove that they did indeed suffer emotional distress, which is more than just being offended.

But, I'd say the actions are clearly harassment, and might have used that instead.

ThatGirl2 4 years, 4 months ago

Again--I would ask you to define "emotional distress" because you're right....it has to be more than mere offense. Same goes for "harrassment." These are colloquial terms more than legal ones. So my question then becomes: if the Supreme Court determines that the 1st Amendment will not protect someone exercising free speech which offends someone else (case in point: this case) what is the test for what is deemed offensive? Curse words? Insults?

I guess what I hope people ask themselves is if they really want to set up a system that allows recovery for hurt feelings, as opposed to making a knee jerk statement/reaction born out of hatred for Fred Phelps and his clan.

jafs 4 years, 4 months ago

Again, I never suggested that.

There's a clear and obvious difference between offense and harm - our current system allows plaintiffs to sue for harm done, and juries get to decide whether the facts support their claim.

But if the SC did in fact allow for offense claims, then it would be up to juries to decide that as well.

Are you a free speech absolutist?

ThatGirl2 4 years, 4 months ago

Again--I would ask you to define "emotional distress" because you're right....it has to be more than mere offense. Same goes for "harrassment." These are colloquial terms more than legal ones. So my question then becomes: if the Supreme Court determines that the 1st Amendment will not protect someone exercising free speech which offends someone else (case in point: this case) what is the test for what is deemed offensive? Curse words? Insults?

I guess what I hope people ask themselves is if they really want to set up a system that allows recovery for hurt feelings, as opposed to making a knee jerk statement/reaction born out of hatred for Fred Phelps and his clan.

madameX 4 years, 4 months ago

According to Cornell Law School:

The tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress has four elements: (1) the defendant must act intentionally or recklessly; (2) the defendant's conduct must be extreme and outrageous; and (3) the conduct must be the cause (4) of severe emotional distress.

http://topics.law.cornell.edu/wex/Intentional_infliction_of_emotional_distress

It's already a tort. "Emotional distress" is not specifically defined, but I suspect there's case law or something that at least creates a general standard. I didn't find a legal definition of harassment, but if there isn't one I'm sure a reasonable one could be created.

ThatGirl2 4 years, 4 months ago

You're right, and it includes a physical manifestation of distress. I could be wrong, but I am pretty sure this case lacked that.

ThatGirl2 4 years, 4 months ago

"To prove intentional emotional distress, the plaintiff must show: 1) the defendant must act intentionally or recklessly; (2) the defendant's conduct must be extreme and outrageous; and (3) the conduct must be the cause (4) of severe emotional distress. The definition of outrageous is subjective, but it should be more than mere insults, indignities, threats, annoyances, or petty oppressions."

I don't see that the threshold was met in this case. These were insults and indignities.

madameX 4 years, 4 months ago

If strangers showed up to protest the funeral of a loved one of mine, said protester had delibertely chosen to target said funeral for no good reason other than it was there, and said loved one was a complete stranger and not a public figure in any way, I would consider that more than an insult or indignity. But that's me.

You can see my reply to Liberty275 above, for more detail, but basically at this point the details of the original case are a little beside the point. It's my understanding that with this decision, even if a person does have a clear cut case of emotional distress, the person who inflicted said distress is protected by the first amendment from having to provide compensation so long as the activity which did the harm was something that carries first amendment protection. It's not just about Snyder.

madameX 4 years, 4 months ago

Also, for me at least this is not a knee jerk reaction to the WBC. I take serious philosophical issue with the idea that one party's rights are so protected that they interefere with anothe party's well-being. I realize that it's not always possible to completely balance everyone's rights with everyone else's rights, but I think it's important to at least try.

madameX 4 years, 4 months ago

What jafs said. But I do think the award in this case was excessive.

I think it's possible to create a statutory framework, within which a jury could be instructed what to consider in a case like this. And I think judges have some leeway in changing a verdict if the jury just goes completely off the rails with it. To me, figuring out how to do that in an effective and fair matter is a better alternative to shutting the door on that possibility, which is what this decision seems to do.

ThatGirl2 4 years, 4 months ago

I guess on that we will have to agree to disagree. In my experience.....anything this subjective has a tendency to go bad. Fast.

jafs 4 years, 4 months ago

The entire jury system is "subjective" - would you throw it out?

Juries decide based on their perspective on the case, much of which is subjective.

Sounds like you'd prefer not to have jury trials at all.

Of course, judges aren't objective either, and their decisions vary widely.

Where would you find "objectivity" exactly?

ThatGirl2 4 years, 4 months ago

Actually, no, it's not. Juries are (supposed) to make their decisions based on jury instructions which provide the basis for the application of the law. That's objective. Evidence is objective (ex: an arrest report--it is what it is). Arbitrarily deciding point A) is offensive while speech B) is not....that is subjective.

madameX 4 years, 4 months ago

I don't see how this would be any more or less subjective than any other tort case. I mean, it's not like the jury would have to be instructed to decide if the speech in question is actually offensive, but rather to decide if the plaintiff's claim of emotional distress is valid and whether the claim that said speech was caused said emotional harm is reasonable.

jafs 4 years, 4 months ago

Juries observe trials, and weigh evidence, and credibility. If you think that juries are objective in their views and reasoning, then I imagine you haven't been on one.

Perceptions vary widely, and prejudice filters in, in a variety of ways.

Also, of course, people generally don't want to be there at all, so they want to decide things quickly.

The law, and instructions by the judge, are guiding factors, but the juries are supposed to decide whether a plaintiff has met their burden or not - that's not simply an objective decision - if it were, we could just plug the information into a computer, and decide the case.

There are very few facts which don't admit of differing interpretations.

And, I don't know why you keep harping on "offensive" - I've never said I think that offense should be something punished by jury trial.

yourworstnightmare 4 years, 4 months ago

Your argument is compelling but flawed. At base any speech critical of anyone could be considered to inflict emotional disstress. Any speech with which someone disagrees could be said to cause emotional disstress. Emotional disstress is no basis for restricting free speech.

The bottom line is the Phelps did not physically assault anyone; did not steal money or property; and did not state libelous or slanderous things about the Snyders (they stated their opinion that they thought the Snyders were bad parents but did not accuse them of doing something they did not do).

The Phelps are a plague, but this was the correct decision. Emotional distress is no justification for restricting free speech.

madameX 4 years, 4 months ago

As I've tried to explain in several replies, I wasn't really trying to make an argument (although I've been pulled into one by now), I was just trying to point out that many people seem to have the wrong idea about what the actual issues in this case was. And those actual issues do not include direct restriction of the WBC's speech because no one was asking for that. the only reason I bothered to include my opinion about the case was that I was pretty sure someone would ask.

If you want to read all my other replies that contain the reasons for my opinion that the WBC should be held responsible if they knowingly inflicted harm then go for it. I don't have time to re-type everything.

MyName 4 years, 4 months ago

Yes, because clearly you should have the right to post whatever you want on someone else's server. Those unconstitutional Fascists at the LJWorlds should know that!

irvan moore 4 years, 4 months ago

i remember the phelps children standing in the cold and rain selling candy in Topeka in the early 70s, we felt sorry for them then, now not so much, daddy raised some chips off the old block.

notajayhawk 4 years, 4 months ago

The part about this I find difficult to digest is that the Phelps' 'protests' have nothing to do with their targets. It would be like me organizing a protest outside my neighbor's house because I hate the oil companies and he works in a gas station. Their actions are pure harassment, not political speech, and sorry, but I think the Supreme's blew this one.

As nobody1793 said above, there should be group of demonstrators, chanting and with signs, at every single church service at Westboro, for the next 50 or so years. Oh, and a billboard put up across the street saying anyone that enters the church, or gives them money, is going straight to hell.

jessanddaron 4 years, 4 months ago

If you would like to schedule a peaceful and constitutionally protected protest outside of Westboro during any service let me know and I will be there. I am sure i can recruit at least 50 like minded people seeing as how I think everyone outside of their immediately inbred family hates them...

Clevercowgirl 4 years, 4 months ago

And let's not forget their family funerals.

notajayhawk 4 years, 4 months ago

Hell, we should have a state-wide block party when Phred kicks it.

madameX 4 years, 4 months ago

Agree.

I read a book about the history of the Supreme Court not too long ago and remember that there were a few issues that kept popping up in one variation or another. It was interesting how over the years (several decades in many cases) the opinions of the court shifted, sometimes to the point that the view of the lone dissenter when the issue was first heard ended up as the view of majority. If the WBC is still around 30 or 40 or 50 years from now I'd be interested to see the outcome of another case along these lines.

gogoplata 4 years, 4 months ago

Yea!!! Nice to see freedom protected.

danmoore 4 years, 4 months ago

I’ll bet my house Fred is gay.

Why are the ones who are most vocal about homosexuality gay? Add his name to the list that includes Mark Foley, Ted Haggard and Larry Craig.

jhawkinsf 4 years, 4 months ago

If this does end like "Tiller", I'll give a constitutionally protected cheer.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 4 years, 4 months ago

You have to remember that this gang of crazies hide behind childern. Innocent childern are being used to shield the devil's spawn. They are being abused into the despicable notions of Phelps, and no one seems to care that this horrible abuse is being done right out in plain sight. Young childern are being scarred for life and no one seems to be able to put a stop to this child abuse, while other abusers are prosecuted, tried, found guilty and sent to prison. Where is our legal system when it comes to protecting these childern from such dysfunctional "family" situations? The state takes childern away from incompetant parents. Where is the SRS in this? How can these vile villans continue to abuse and destroy these small lives witht their vile behavior and not have the childern protected from a lifetime of grief?

jafs 4 years, 4 months ago

I've wondered that too.

How have they managed to avoid being charged with child abuse?

evilpenguin 4 years, 4 months ago

While I don't in any way condone the beliefs of the WBC, they can raise their kids just how they like. There are millions of other children in America who are tortured, assaulted, neglected, uncared for, abandoned, smacked, yelled at etc etc by their parents/family/other. At least the Phelps' keep and care for the kids.

Also, a non religious person could argue that raising a child in a Christian environment is brainwashing, where can you draw the line?

SWJayhawk13 4 years, 4 months ago

Recently I was watching a documentary about Neo-Nazi groups in the US, and one of the things they talked about was a child that was taken from its parent's custody because the parents were neo-Nazis and whether that was legal or not. If that can be done, why can't the same be done for the Phelps children?

Hudson Luce 4 years, 4 months ago

Here's where the Kansas SRS is: Special Assistant/Director of Medicaid & Program Oversight - Elizabeth Phelps
785-296-XXXX http://www.srs.ks.gov/agency/Pages/KeyStaff.aspx

BigPrune 4 years, 4 months ago

If only the press ignored Phelps and his ilk.

MyName 4 years, 4 months ago

WTF? 8-1 with only the "conservative" judge making the decision to dissent, and you're blaming "libruls" for something. I have no idea what exactly.. You need to lay off the mind altering substances.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 4 years, 4 months ago

My question is, has been, and evermore shall be. Where is this spawn of the devil, this scum of all humanity getting it's money?????? They cannot travel, stay, buy materials without money. They cannot print money.

WHO is giving them money? Who, God forbid, would be hiring them for legal advice?When is someone going to find out where these despicable bigots get their funding?

They cannot operate without funds. Who is doing it? Who is paying them? Where is their money coming from?

Where are the investigative reporters that have the kahones to reveal the true villans, the implementers, the advocates of their message, the hidden support that these creeps are receiving???

When will someone shine the light on the real villans, the money changers that are contributing to this vile and vicious crowd of crazies?????????

irvan moore 4 years, 4 months ago

the state of Kansas is paying at least one of them who is employed by us.

johnnyreb 4 years, 4 months ago

They get all their money from attorney's fees due to all the whack jobs on the left that have never read the Constitution and think they will win a court case against them.

Kirk Larson 4 years, 4 months ago

Also they get contributions from like minded conservatives who get all lathered up about the gay agenda; people who are publicly horrified at their behavior but send them checks when no one is looking.

Sigmund 4 years, 4 months ago

This was NOT a case about reasonable government restrictions on speech or buffer zones which are all Constitutional. It was simply about whether those offended by speech can sue the speakers in court and recover money for "emotional distress" caused by the speech.

"Held: The First Amendment shields Westboro from ^tort liability^ for its picketing in this case." and "The Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment can serve as a defense in ^state tort suits^ (private lawsuits), including suits for intentional infliction of emotional distress." http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/10pdf/09-751.pdf

madameX 4 years, 4 months ago

Dude (or possibly Dudette) I tried to explain that above. For all the media coverage that this case has gotten, the fact that so much of that coverage is so vague about the issue at hand and the resulting fact that so many people are forming opinions of the ruling based on misperception of what the ruling actually means...

It's pathetic. Come on media, if you're going to cover something this extensively, at least do it right.

yourworstnightmare 4 years, 4 months ago

At base any speech critical of anyone could be considered to inflict emotional distress. Any speech with which someone disagrees could be said to cause emotional distress. Emotional distress is no basis for restricting free speech.

The bottom line is the Phelps did not physically assault anyone; did not steal money or property; and did not state libelous or slanderous things about the Snyders (they stated their opinion that they thought the Snyders were bad parents but did not accuse them of doing something they did not do).

The Phelps are a plague, but this was the correct decision. Emotional distress is no justification for restricting free speech.

jafs 4 years, 4 months ago

It's not about "restricting" speech, it's about holding people accountable when they harm others.

Nobody here was seeking to prevent the Phelps' from picketing through injunctions, or prior restraint, or any of that.

Intentional infliction of emotional distress is a valid thing to claim, and sue on the basis of, and it falls to a jury to decide whether the plaintiff meets their burden of proof, which in a civil case is lower than in a criminal one.

If you think that's a bad law, you could try to change it.

In my opinion, the better claim here would have been harassment, which is conduct intended to upset.

The point is that speech is often also conduct, and that conduct has consequences.

ebyrdstarr 4 years, 4 months ago

This case is about restricting speech. When a state court, a governmental entity, enforces a money judgment against people based on their public speech about public matters, it has a chilling effect on future exercises of the right to speak. The Supreme Court was rightly aware that by allowing a plaintiff to claim civil damages because of WBC's political/religious speech, they would be putting future speakers in a position of being less likely to speak. The First Amendment prohibits the government from engaging in activities that have the effect of chilling speech.

You keep complaining that the plaintiffs should have pursued a harassment claim. First, they pursued 5 separate tort claims and I am willing to assume that the plaintiffs' lawyers know a great deal more about Maryland tort law than you do and so knew which claims were available to them. Second, it would not have mattered because the Court found that the WBC was shielded from tort liability for its picketing in this case. I don't think that outcome would have changed no matter what claim was made.

jafs 4 years, 4 months ago

Well, I know you're pretty absolute in your views on free speech from previous conversations.

You may be right about them knowing more about the specifics of Maryland law.

And, yes, if the ruling is as presented here, it wouldn't matter what the claim was, which I find more chilling than the reasonable attempt to hold people accountable when their actions harm others.

If the American Nazi party marches through a neighborhood with many holocaust survivors, and that march results in a nervous breakdown for some of the residents, that would be ok with you?

I think it's much better to agree that conduct has consequences, and to hold people accountable when their conduct harms others.

What if I incite a group of people to commit violent acts, and they do so?

Are there any circumstances under which you'd hold people accountable?

ebyrdstarr 4 years, 4 months ago

I'm glad you're willing to concede that Maryland tort lawyers may know more about Maryland tort law than you do.

Let's be clear about something here: The WBC is held accountable for its speech. Routinely. They are widely mocked and derided. They are held in contempt by all decent people. We all hold them accountable. I sure as heck would never invite them to my house for dinner. That may not be sufficient for your tastes, but that's our best option. We cannot allow the government, state or federal, to hold them accountable. A civil lawsuit resulting in a monetary award enforced by a court is government holding them accountable.

"If the American Nazi party marches through a neighborhood with many holocaust survivors, and that march results in a nervous breakdown for some of the residents, that would be ok with you?"

Would it not be with you?? What would you suggest could or should be the response either by a criminal or civil court? Of course they can't be held civilly or criminally liable for people having an adverse reaction to a peaceful demonstration to promote an unpopular political viewpoint.

Please note I said "peaceful." Obviously if there is physical engagement, those are acts that are not protected by the First Amendment and for which people should be held accountable. Likewise, if individuals directly encourage violence, they can be held accountable for the resulting damage. I suspect, though, that I would require a clearer nexus between the words and the resulting violence than you would. I would require something like the leader of a rally saying, "Go break windows with baseball bats!" as opposed to just giving a stirring speech that whipped listeners into a frenzy.

I would, as courts do, hold people accountable for knowingly making false statements about others that leads to direct, cognizable harms.

But, no, I would not allow a civil lawsuit for hurt feelings. And make no mistake about it, even if you call it extreme emotional distress, that was what was at issue here: hurt feelings. The severity of the hurt doesn't change the fact that hurt feelings cannot trump First Amendment protections. There is no right not to have your feelings hurt. Frankly, it causes me emotional distress to know how willing you and others like you are to throw away the protections of the First Amendment. I hold you accountable by knowing as I read your comments that I'm not likely to agree with you or think much of your logic and legal understandings. But I don't and never could have any basis for suing you.

jafs 4 years, 4 months ago

No, I consider the American Nazi party holding a march through a neighborhood with many Holocaust survivors to be harassment.

And, I think they should be sued for that and forced to pay damages.

The action of choosing to march through that neighborhood clearly meets the definition of harassment as I see it, which is behavior intended to disturb or upset.

Thanks for the gratuitous insults - that's always fun to deal with.

ebyrdstarr 4 years, 4 months ago

If you think the American Nazi party should be sued for holding a march in a location you disapprove of, then I sincerely hope that you will never get anywhere close to a court bench.

You are so stuck on this idea that harassment would be the correct tort claim to make, it's almost comical. From my brief westlaw search, I do not believe there is any such independent tort claim in Kansas. A pattern of harassment would be evidence to support some other tort claim, but would not be the tort claim in and of itself. The actual tort claim would be intentional infliction of emotional distress, etc.

I'm sorry for insulting you, but you open yourself up to it when you aren't fully willing to concede that Maryland tort lawyers have a better understanding of what tort claims are available to them than you do. You are free to hold me accountable for my hurtful words by disliking me, curling your lip when you see one of my comments, or tacking my comment to a dart board.

But I, too, find your words insulting. It is deeply insulting to me that you would so willingly restrict free speech rights based on what speech you find mean or unpleasant. We prove our commitment to the ideals of free speech on these cases involving the most unpopular speech. You have time and again demonstrated no commitment to the principles of the First Amendment and I find that deeply insulting.

ThatGirl2 4 years, 4 months ago

You're correct, by the way. Harassment is not an independent tort in the state of Kansas.

Secondly, and again, thank you for putting into more eloquent words what I was trying to express all day yesterday!

It is rather frightening the limitations on personal freedoms some people would like to impose. But then again, I've never been insulted and then thought I would feel better if I could sue someone for hurting my feelings.

Kirk Larson 4 years, 4 months ago

It was the right decision. One group of idiots is not cause to trample on our rights. I understand why Alito dissented. He's one of those who think we have too many rights as it is; at least those of us who can't pay for them. Anyway, now that funeral protests are protected, time to start planning for Phred's funeral. It should be the party of the century. I know people who plan to come from out of state when it happens!

Sigmund 4 years, 4 months ago

Cappy (anonymous) says… "It was the right decision. One group of idiots is not cause to trample on our rights. I understand why Alito dissented. He's one of those who think we have too many rights as it is; at least those of us who can't pay for them."

This case was NOT about the government trying to restricts Phred's rights to free speech or protest at funerals. The government regulated the speech and Phred followed the law.

It was simply about when can those offended by speech can sue the speakers in court and recover money for "emotional distress" caused by the speech. In Phred's particular case, he doesn't have to pay money damages to the family. http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/10pdf/09-751.pdf

yourworstnightmare 4 years, 4 months ago

The case was about restricting free speech, and about the consequences of that free speech. Emotional distress cannot be the basis for lawsuits that would restrict free speech. Emotional distress can be caused by any disagreement or protest of any kind and therefore cannot be the basis for lawsuits involving free speech.

Libel, yes. The Phelps to my knowledge made no false statements about the Snyders, but expressed their opinion.

Physical assault, yes. Did not happen in this case.

Stealing or damaging property, yes. Did not happen in this case.

It is emotionally distressing to me that so many people here are expressing disregard for the First Amendment.

ebyrdstarr 4 years, 4 months ago

"It is emotionally distressing to me that so many people here are expressing disregard for the First Amendment."

You beat me to it! I was going to write exactly that as soon as I got back to my computer.

Sigmund 4 years, 4 months ago

SNYDER v. PHELPS ET AL. CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT No. 09–751. Argued October 6, 2010—Decided March 2, 2011 .... The picketing took place on public land approximately 1,000 feet from the church where the funeral was held, in accordance with guidance from local law enforcement officers. .... The picketers peacefully displayed their signs—stating, e.g., “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “Fags Doom Nations,” “America is Doomed,” “Priests Rape Boys,” and “You’re Going to Hell”—*for about 30 minutes before the funeral began. .... Matthew Snyder’s father (Snyder), petitioner here, saw the tops of the picketers’ signs when driving to the funeral, but did not learn what was written on the signs until watching a news broadcast later that night. .... Snyder filed a diversity action against Phelps, his daughters—who participated in the picketing—and the church (collectively Westboro) alleging, as relevant here, state tort claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress, intrusion upon seclusion, and civil conspiracy. A jury held Westboro liable for millions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages. .... Westboro challenged the verdict as grossly excessive and sought judgment as a matter of law on the ground that the First Amendment fully protected its speech. The District Court reduced the punitive damages award, but left the verdict otherwise in tact. ...... Held: The First Amendment shields Westboro from tort liability for its picketing in this case. http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/10pdf/09-751.pdf

Nowhere does the court hold that ALL speech is protected, nowhere does the court hold that cities can not reasonably regulate the time and place of funeral protests (1000 yards, 30 minutes prior), and nowhere does it state that all claims of the intentional infliction of emotional distress are protected by the First Ammendment.

It only held that on the facts of this case (including the facts that the father who claimed to be "emotionally damaged" never even saw the protesters or their signs at the funeral and that Phred followed all the restrictions the city placed on him) the family cannot recover the millions from Phred on their intentional infliction of emotional distress claim.

Change any of those facts and the result may have been quite different.

jafs 4 years, 4 months ago

Your understanding of the ruling differs from others who've posted on here, claiming that protected speech can not result in any claims for emotional distress, harassment, or anything else - in other words, nobody can recover if harmed by someone's exercise of the 1st amendment.

I'd be interested to know which version is correct.

Sigmund 4 years, 4 months ago

Our holding today is narrow. We are required in First Amendment cases to carefully review the record, and the reach of our opinion here is limited by the particular facts before us. As we have noted, “the sensitivity and significance of the interests presented in clashes between First Amendment and [state law] rights counsel relying on limited principles that sweep no more broadly than the appropriate context of the instant case.”

Snyder v. Phelps et al. CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/10pdf/09-751.pdf

Fred Whitehead Jr. 4 years, 4 months ago

What about "hate speech"? People are prosecuted and jailed for "hate speech"

Why have no the phelpsss been charged and prosecuted for "hate speech"?

Answers, anyone?

ebyrdstarr 4 years, 4 months ago

Laws prohibiting hate speech aren't legal. So I have to ask you who are these people who are prosecuted and jailed for hate speech? Because those people might have a great lawsuit against whoever violated their constitutional rights so egregiously.

More likely, you've heard of some people have been prosecuted for thinks like incitement to riot when it just so happened that the words that incited the riot were hateful.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 4 years, 4 months ago

Rumor has it that phred is a closet homosexual. Not that there is anything wrong with that. But it makes you wonder.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 4 years, 4 months ago

I just reminded myself of the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution which I had to memorize in high school. (I guess that shows my age, I don't think they teach that anymore) "We the People" The only people regarded here are the vile, vicious participants at the phelps farm church.

"in order to form a more perfect union" There is nothing perfect about the "union" of decent moral people and indecent, vile, hateful, persons such as the phelps family farm inmates.

"establish justice" There is justice in allowing these throwbacks to annoy, harrass, and demonstrate their relationship to the devil??? Whatever happened to harassment laws???

"Promote the general welfare" Hey, Supreme Court, this is "promoting the general welfare???? What a bunch of spineless, clueless, gutless wonks!

"secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity" Blessings of Liberty? Would you allow these creeps to enter a church and march around while prayers are being said and bestow their "blessings"? Would you allow these jerks to come to your front lawn and spew their bilious opinions just because it is their "right"?

This is wrong, wrong, wrong. I do not think Thomas Jefferson could have, in his wildest imagination, ever have thought that such a vile corruption of justice could occur in his 18th century set of values and morals. The Supreme Court has finally crossed the line in giving auathority to this incredible miscarriage of justice.

ebyrdstarr 4 years, 4 months ago

The miscarriage of justice would have been for the plaintiff to prevail. A decision in the plaintiff's favor would have been a court punishing speakers, speaking out on their political/religious beliefs, simply because the rest of us find the content of their message abhorrent.

I don't like to casually throw the founding fathers around because I didn't know them personally, but I imagine a lot of people who were behind the First Amendment would be gratified to see that our court recognizes that amendment has to protect the ugliest, least popular speech.

compmd 4 years, 4 months ago

This is a sad, sad day for all of us. The fact that the Phelps family used their religious beliefs in a courtroom successfully is disgusting.

As Americans, we have four boxes which we can use to secure our personal freedoms: soap, jury, ballot, and ammo. We have exhausted the first three in attempting to secure freedom from the assault of the Phelps family. Unfortunately we're left with the fourth box. Considering Fred and the gang like to go to funerals of soldiers, and there are no legal remedies left to deal with them, its only a matter of time before the fourth box is opened and this gets very ugly.

Jeremiah Jefferson 4 years, 4 months ago

This is why it should be legal to hit people. If it were my sons funeral, I would mourn, and then I would unleash a furry of fists, elbow drops, and round house kicks that would make Bruce Lee look slow. It would be worth going to jail just to see Freds nose off center missing front teeth and a closed eye.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 4 years, 4 months ago

It is still my contention that the founding fathers could not have had the slightest inclinaiton in their 18th century morality that such depraved, disgusting,vile, persons could possibly spring from our American system of freedom and justice. I also cannot get in the mind of the founding fathers, but if they were moral persons, as I assume they were, I cannot imagine they would allow this sort of harrassment of bereaved persons at a funeral. Other countries will not even allow these scum to even enter their country, why do we "legal and just" Americans allow this sort of outrage when the very Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America states values that the phelps family farm clearly violates???

ebyrdstarr 4 years, 4 months ago

"Other countries will not even allow these scum to even enter their country, why do we "legal and just" Americans allow this sort of outrage when the very Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America states values that the phelps family farm clearly violates???"

Simple: we're better than those other countries.

(Oh, and really, the Phelps clan isn't somehow bound to conform their behavior to the Preamble.)

I think you seriously underestimate the founders' exposure to depraved, disgusting, vile persons.

Hudson Luce 4 years, 4 months ago

150 years ago, if they'd tried their little act at a CSA soldier's funeral, at the very least they would have been soundly horsewhipped, tarred, feathered, and run out of town on a rail.

Kirk Larson 4 years, 4 months ago

The purpose of the First Amendment is to protect speech that many find objectionable. Not to protect speech that everyone agrees with.

jafs 4 years, 4 months ago

Yes.

But should people be able to say and do (speech is often also conduct) whatever they want, even if that conduct harms others?

Objection, or offense, isn't enough in my book, but harm to others would be enough that people should be held accountable.

Kirk Larson 4 years, 4 months ago

Harm others, no. But in this case, the court decided that the plaintiff was not harmed beyond not liking the message. I'm sure he was distraught and that the WBC meant to be hurtful in order to get attention, but I don't think there was damage done. You can't quash speech just because you don't like the message.

Sigmund 4 years, 4 months ago

compmd (anonymous) says… "This is a sad, sad day for all of us. The fact that the Phelps family used their religious beliefs in a courtroom successfully is disgusting."

They did not "use" their religious beliefs" in court, the court upheld their legal right to express their religious beliefs that have a broader "public interest " in a orderly manner, at a specified time and place, without being sued by those who disagreed. They walked a very fine line successfully. Hopefully they will feel invincible and step across the line and get nailed next time. BTW, advocating the violent overthrow of the US is not protected speech.

jackpot 4 years, 4 months ago

Forget the free speech part will Albert Snyder still have to pay WBC?

ebyrdstarr 4 years, 4 months ago

I saw that, too. I just meant that the order is still in place.

Jonathan Becker 4 years, 4 months ago

What many comments have missed is two critical statements of fact in the opinion. First, Mr. Snyder said he did not see the signs of the Phelps protest and second, the 'epic' email- blog on the Phelps web site that attacked and defamed Matthew Snyder well after the funeral was excluded from the trial because Snyder's petition said the defamation and invasion of privacy torts occured "at the funeral". This was a case about a lack of causation - the plaintiff never saw the offensive signs or the 'epic' blog at the funeral, and therefore he was not entitled to damages. This has zero to do with Free Speech and Snyder was Phelps' unwilling patsy to unfortunately extend Phred's fifteen minutes of fame.

ebyrdstarr 4 years, 4 months ago

You missed the most critical statement in the opinion: whether Snyder had established causation and harm was not at issue. The Phelps family had abandoned a claim that the evidence was insufficient. So, no, I don't think this case can be read to be about causation or sufficiency of the evidence because the Court noted it was assuming there was sufficient evidence. It is all about Free Speech and you have to ignore an awful lot of Justice Roberts' language and cited case law to conclude otherwise.

sr80 4 years, 4 months ago

How true 75x55!!!! Very good !!! Your comment explains our judicial system in a nutshell.what is supposedly justice usually isn't righteous.

sr80 4 years, 4 months ago

When we are fortunate enough too lose some of the people on the scotus,i bet the secret service won't allow anything close to what the phelps clan does.No way!,No how! at any distance from the funeral. "Equal Justice For All" !!! My Butt !!!!!

jessanddaron 4 years, 4 months ago

It does seem that most people don't understand the Snyder's were suing under tort law and not challenging first amendment rights. "Damages" awarded can be for A LOT of different things, as I have seen first hand. The SC should have paid less attention to making sure they fall in line with strict constitutionalists and focus on the personal injury aspect. The earlier courts had the tort rulings seemingly fair and the SC probably doesn't want to waste their time on, technically, personal injury cases and turned this into a constitutional issue to make the decision easier to make and not look like they are ruling in small claims courts.

3up3down 4 years, 4 months ago

Time for Rev. Phelps to have a face to face meeting with God!

Linda Endicott 4 years, 4 months ago

I heard on CBS news that, due to this Supreme Court ruling, the Phelps clan now plans to increase their protests at funerals fourfold.

Did you all know that they planned to picket the funerals of Elizabeth Edwards and the little girl that was killed in Arizona? They changed their minds about those at the last minute...I wonder why...

Let's wait until Jimmy Carter or George Bush I dies...and if Phelps plans to picket those funerals, let's see how far he gets with his "free speech" then...

Come to think of it, let's see him try to picket the funeral of any government official...I'd like to see what the government does about that...

kugrad 4 years, 4 months ago

I have heard repeatedly, including from a co-worker who claims to have called and asked herself, that Hobby Lobby here in Lawrence provides financial support to this church. I do not know if this is true, although my coworker says she asked them and they said it was true. It might be worth asking yourself. I have heard this several times over the last few years.

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