Supreme Court Justices to consider 'funeral protests' in free-speech case

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    May 31, 2010 12:16 AM GMT
    "... The collision of privacy rights and the Constitution's protection of free speech will be heard by the Supreme Court in the fall. Snyder's lawyer, Sean Summers, recently filed his brief to the court, and the fortuitous deadline for others to support Snyder is the day after Memorial Day.

    Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) for once found common ground with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on the issue. Reid held a news conference with Snyder Friday to say 42 members of the Senate had signed on to an amicus brief to condemn the actions of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., and its founding pastor, Fred W. Phelps Sr. ... "

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/30/AR2010053003018.html?hpid=moreheadlines
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    May 31, 2010 12:19 AM GMT
    Freedom of speech does not entail making emotional people more emotional by spewing fallacious jargon when they're trying to make peace with a dead person. I'd literally kill someone if they did that to me while I was trying to mourn over someone in a cemetery.
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    May 31, 2010 12:31 AM GMT
    "George Washington University law professor Daniel J. Solove, the author of "Understanding Privacy," said he finds it "perplexing" that the justices took the case. The message of Phelps and his followers is "stupid and obnoxious," Solove said, but seems to fit squarely into the kind of unpopular speech that the Constitution protects.
    ...
    A sampling of the signs carried at Snyder's 2006 funeral at St. John's Catholic Church in Westminster, Md., included "God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11," "Semper Fi Fags," "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and "Priests Rape Boys." The demonstrators abided by the law and stayed away from the funeral itself. [emphasis added]
    ...
    Virginia and Maine are the two states not supporting Snyder. Brian Gottstein, a spokesman for Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R), said that the state has a law against funeral protests and that his office fears the precedent that Snyder's case could set.

    "We do not think that regulation of speech through vague common-law torts, like intentional infliction of emotional distress, strikes the proper balance between free speech and avoiding the unconscionable disruption of funerals," Gottstein said. "

  • stevendust

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    May 31, 2010 4:34 AM GMT
    JakeBenson saidFreedom of speech does not entail making emotional people more emotional by spewing fallacious jargon when they're trying to make peace with a dead person. I'd literally kill someone if they did that to me while I was trying to mourn over someone in a cemetery.
    It's exactly this reason why I can't understand how their 'free speech' isn't considered provocation at this point.
  • calibro

    Posts: 8888

    May 31, 2010 4:49 AM GMT
    If they're not actually by the funeral, as much as I hate these guys, they have every right to say what they want. The immediate danger to incite violence is rather absent here... if these people were calling to violence it would be different, but it seems that it's their words are causing violence from those who don't support them... the problem arises then who gets to decide what is considered inflammatory speech if the speech itself does not call for violence amongst its members but from those who disagree... theoretically someone who is die-hard against gay marriage could claim someone talking about gay marriage riled him up to attack a gay person. In that example, we don't condone the violence created and wouldn't question the original speech at hand. I think Fred Phelps is disgusting and an insult to humanity, but as long as he is legally removed from the premises he cannot speak at and isn't advocating violence (as opposed to inspiring it from non-followers of his beliefs), then I can't see how you can regulate this sort of hate speech since it appears constitutionally protected.
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    May 31, 2010 4:58 AM GMT
    I think we can all see its a dangerous topic to deal with as i hope no body wants to limit free speech but at the same time protesting these funerals...well it makes the devil blush its so evil. the best thing to do is to fine/charge for these protests to be held that way they cant just spout anything they want anytime they want as much as they want. As soon as you put a cost on it, seeing as it has to intrinsic value, the protests will cease. icon_cool.gif
  • neosyllogy

    Posts: 1714

    May 31, 2010 4:59 AM GMT
    stevendust said
    JakeBenson saidFreedom of speech does not entail making emotional people more emotional by spewing fallacious jargon when they're trying to make peace with a dead person. I'd literally kill someone if they did that to me while I was trying to mourn over someone in a cemetery.
    It's exactly this reason why I can't understand how their 'free speech' isn't considered provocation at this point.


    Free speech is not limited to things we do not find obnoxious.
    The idea that it is "provocation" is ridiculous as grounds for denying free speech. It's like logic used by people who get violent when they are angry then blame the person who made them angry.

    People have every right to protest in a public space if they are not materially preventing you from acting as you're allowed to within the law.

    This is almost directly parallel to the recent discussion regarding illustrations of Muhammad and whether that should be blocked given that it offends many Muslims.
    In both cases I think the answer is a resounding "no".

    I'm deeply sorry for those whose feelings are hurt, but it's, at the least, a small price to pay to live in a society that does not hinder free expression.
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    May 31, 2010 5:07 AM GMT
    calibro saidIf they're not actually by the funeral, as much as I hate these guys, they have every right to say what they want. The immediate danger to incite violence is rather absent here... if these people were calling to violence it would be different, but it seems that it's their words are causing violence from those who don't support them... the problem arises then who gets to decide what is considered inflammatory speech if the speech itself does not call for violence amongst its members but from those who disagree... theoretically someone who is die-hard against gay marriage could claim someone talking about gay marriage riled him up to attack a gay person. In that example, we don't condone the violence created and wouldn't question the original speech at hand. I think Fred Phelps is disgusting and an insult to humanity, but as long as he is legally removed from the premises he cannot speak at and isn't advocating violence (as opposed to inspiring it from non-followers of his beliefs), then I can't see how you can regulate this sort of hate speech since it appears constitutionally protected.


    I agree completely. The true test of the first and 14th amendments is if we can allow freedom of speach and due process to those we disagree with. Otherwise, we move along the road that Canada has gone down and stifle free speach of those that one group disagrees with. While it may be enticing when we are in controll, what happens when the other group gains controll and then the definitions of acceptable speach change? Who decides what speach is acceptable and what speach is not ?
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    May 31, 2010 5:20 AM GMT
    Free speech has always had some constraints. You can't disturb the peace late at night in many places without being arrested. You can only go so far in harassing people. You can only get so close to voting places when voting is going on with campaign signs. etc.... There are many limits to "free speech" under various circumstances.

    Therefore if you are trying to conduct some sort of ceremony or event, you should be able to have some degree of privacy and freedom from interference. There are many ways that someone can have speech without causing physical problems for others. I think that should always be considered. You can decide that ways people can speak out without dictating what they can say ..
  • calibro

    Posts: 8888

    May 31, 2010 5:43 AM GMT
    ActiveAndFit saidFree speech has always had some constraints. You can't disturb the peace late at night in many places without being arrested. You can only go so far in harassing people. You can only get so close to voting places when voting is going on with campaign signs. etc.... There are many limits to "free speech" under various circumstances.

    Therefore if you are trying to conduct some sort of ceremony or event, you should be able to have some degree of privacy and freedom from interference. There are many ways that someone can have speech without causing physical problems for others. I think that should always be considered. You can decide that ways people can speak out without dictating what they can say ..


    That's apples and oranges. Noise violations at night aren't issues of free speech. They are disruptive and harassing because they occur in immediate proximity to those who take offense to the speech in question; conversely, Phelps is very careful to conduct his crazy protests at legal distances from the funerals so the argument of inciting violence or harassment is not present since no one can see or hear the protests directly.
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    May 31, 2010 5:52 AM GMT
    political-pictures-nerdy-kids-win.jpg
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    May 31, 2010 8:01 AM GMT
    calibro said
    ActiveAndFit saidFree speech has always had some constraints. You can't disturb the peace late at night in many places without being arrested. You can only go so far in harassing people. You can only get so close to voting places when voting is going on with campaign signs. etc.... There are many limits to "free speech" under various circumstances.

    Therefore if you are trying to conduct some sort of ceremony or event, you should be able to have some degree of privacy and freedom from interference. There are many ways that someone can have speech without causing physical problems for others. I think that should always be considered. You can decide that ways people can speak out without dictating what they can say ..


    That's apples and oranges. Noise violations at night aren't issues of free speech. They are disruptive and harassing because they occur in immediate proximity to those who take offense to the speech in question; conversely, Phelps is very careful to conduct his crazy protests at legal distances from the funerals so the argument of inciting violence or harassment is not present since no one can see or hear the protests directly.
    I was actually not talking about the particular case in question, but how free is free speech and whether Phelps and his gang should be able to do all the things they are doing now. Nevertheless all those restrictions I mentioned are arbitrary in the time. place, and distance .. you could just as easily say "you can't protest 1hr before or after a funeral, or you can't be closer than 10 miles from the funeral path" and a person could still have free speech.
  • Webster666

    Posts: 9217

    May 31, 2010 8:15 AM GMT
    The thing is, we're not talking about a "normal" Supreme Court. The radical right wing Republican majority on the Court has their own personal agenda which conveniently ignores the Constitution.

    I think that it's a very safe bet that they will rule against Fred Phelps, for the same reason that countless other Courts have ruled against him: NOT because of his use of hate speech, but because he was picketing a soldier's funeral.

    Congress, the Supreme Court, and most of the rest of the country thought it was no big deal when he was picketing gay funerals and tormenting their surviving families and friends.

    It wasn't until he started picketing soldier's funerals that any legislation was enacted to restrict him.

    And, I agree that they should rule against Fred Phelps.
    He and his family are evil personified.

  • Webster666

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    May 31, 2010 8:26 AM GMT
    Many types of speech are against the law.
    The First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech is not without exceptions.

    --Intentionally yelling, "Fire" in a crowded theater, when there is no fire
    --Giving false testimony (lying), under oath
    --Certain forms of "hate" speech
  • calibro

    Posts: 8888

    May 31, 2010 9:20 AM GMT
    Webster666 saidMany types of speech are against the law.
    The First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech is not without exceptions.

    --Intentionally yelling, "Fire" in a crowded theater, when there is no fire
    --Giving false testimony (lying), under oath
    --Certain forms of "hate" speech


    Example 1 is illegal because of the clear and present danger it causes. You can't just throw that out as an example of limited speech when these are two different areas of speech. This is example is considered a hazard to public safety by directly causing panic and there is a clear and present danger to it.

    Example 2 makes no sense. Perjury has nothing to do with free speech. You have the right to say whatever you want under oath; they can't force you to tell the truth or even to speak. But if you are found lying or held in contempt of the court those are punishments associated with obstructing justice, not with free speech issues.

    Example 3 is important because you use the word "certain." Again, there must be clear and present danger to the hate speech. There was a famous National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie case where the Supreme Court affirmed freedom of assembly for unpopular views. Again, the court affirmed the protection of unpopular beliefs. Phelps isn't meeting the criteria of advocating violence and he can't be denied the freedom of assembly when he pickets at perfectly legal spots.

    As I said before, this has nothing to do with hating the man. Yes, he is a monster, but he isn't breaking any laws and we can't just change the constitution because we don't like what he is saying,
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    May 31, 2010 10:19 AM GMT
    neosyllogy said
    stevendust said
    JakeBenson saidFreedom of speech does not entail making emotional people more emotional by spewing fallacious jargon when they're trying to make peace with a dead person. I'd literally kill someone if they did that to me while I was trying to mourn over someone in a cemetery.
    It's exactly this reason why I can't understand how their 'free speech' isn't considered provocation at this point.


    Free speech is not limited to things we do not find obnoxious.
    The idea that it is "provocation" is ridiculous as grounds for denying free speech. It's like logic used by people who get violent when they are angry then blame the person who made them angry.

    People have every right to protest in a public space if they are not materially preventing you from acting as you're allowed to within the law.

    This is almost directly parallel to the recent discussion regarding illustrations of Muhammad and whether that should be blocked given that it offends many Muslims.
    In both cases I think the answer is a resounding "no".

    I'm deeply sorry for those whose feelings are hurt, but it's, at the least, a small price to pay to live in a society that does not hinder free expression.


    Well the, one day someone's gonna hold a sign saying your mom died because she's a faggot 25 feet away from your face while you try mourn over her grave when she dies. And don't expect me to sympathize. I'm fine with this disgusting freedom of speech example, but NOT in front of the mourners while they try to mourn. They can do it across the street from the cemetery.

    I suppose your comparison is justified, because drawing pictures of Mohammad will likely get some crazy Muslim to kill you, just like holding a sign saying your son died because he's a faggot will likely get any reasonable person trying to mourn him to kill you.

    Again, holding those signs is unfortunately freedom of speech, but NOT in front of the mourners. That's harassment. Completely harassment.
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    May 31, 2010 11:00 AM GMT
    I hope someone shuts these assholes at the Westboro Baptist Church down FAST AND HARD! They are a hate group hiding behind the "religious freedom" guaranteed in the Constitution.
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    May 31, 2010 11:16 AM GMT
    Exactly!
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    May 31, 2010 12:13 PM GMT
    Freedom is not always a beautiful thing. Freedom is also distasteful, crass, angry and yes even hateful.
    As a journalist, I hold the First Amendment sacred. It's horrible that some choose to use this right to launch assaults on people because they're black or Hispanic, gay or Muslim, etc. And as much as I hate defend the hateful, racist, bigoted and discusting actions of the KKK, Arian Nation, Neo Nazis, and the Westbrook Baptist Church, their rights to speak freely MUST be protected.
    Once you start to chip away at this #1 Freedom, you open the door to banning other forms of speech that most find distasteful, then you move on to banned things that many don't like, then on to things some don't like, and on and on. Next thing you know, something YOU support is on the chopping block.
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    May 31, 2010 1:37 PM GMT
    calibro said, "The immediate danger to incite violence is rather absent here... if these people were calling to violence it would be different, but it seems that it's their words are causing violence from those who don't support them... the problem arises then who gets to decide what is considered inflammatory speech if the speech itself does not call for violence amongst its members but from those who disagree... theoretically someone who is die-hard against gay marriage could claim someone talking about gay marriage riled him up to attack a gay person."

    Really good point there, but I feel that '"God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11," "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" is in fact inciting violence against others. 9/11 was a pretty violent act, and stating it the way they did feels like inciting the religious to try it. As well, the westboro christians aren't the only group in America that believe in a wrathful god. I think the perpetrators of 9/11 were quite religious....


    -Doug
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    May 31, 2010 2:43 PM GMT
    meninlove said
    Really good point there, but I feel that '"God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11," "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" is in fact inciting violence against others. 9/11 was a pretty violent act, and stating it the way they did feels like inciting the religious to try it. As well, the westboro christians aren't the only group in America that believe in a wrathful god. I think the perpetrators of 9/11 were quite religious....
    -Doug


    I would need someone who knows Constitutional Law to help me out, but aren't fighting words not protected as free speech? This, to me, certainly falls under that category. Their "protests" are nothing more than showing up at soldiers' funerals saying to the children/cohorts/siblings/friends/parents that God hates America for it's wayward attitudes and killed their loved ones to prove it. Now is it just me, or does that look like someone trying to pick a fight for no good reason other than because they can?
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    May 31, 2010 2:49 PM GMT
    Yes...but thanking god for 9/11 and god hates the US sounds like the sanctifying and promotion of terrorism, no?


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    May 31, 2010 2:50 PM GMT
    SAHEM62896 said aren't fighting words not protected as free speech? This, to me, certainly falls under that category.

    You are mixing up the concepts of free speech and provocation as a defense to assault.
    What the Phelps people are doing is utterly loathsome but I think Telejock is right to say that free speech is a paramount value. Unless they actually interfere with the funeral, of course.
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    May 31, 2010 2:52 PM GMT
    meninlove said Yes...but thanking god for 9/11 and god hates the US sounds like the sanctifying and promotion of terrorism, no?

    Under our law you have the absolute right to thank God and sanctify terrorism all you want as long as you don't actually do anything about it.
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    May 31, 2010 2:56 PM GMT

    lol, so you can get other people to do it for you then. Interesting stuff.

    -Doug