Archived Story

Editorial: Supreme Court will address picketing of soldiers’ funerals

Published 4:48pm Sunday, October 3, 2010

An epic First Amendment battle reaches the Supreme Court Oct. 6.

At issue is what the First Amendment protects.

The free speech of Fred Phelps, 80, founder of the hate-filled Westboro Baptist Church in Topeko, Kan.?

He and his followers flew more than 1,000 miles to picket a soldier’s funeral with signs like “Thank God for 9/11” and, in the hands of a 13-year-old girl with a blonde ponytail, “Thank God for dead soldiers.”

Or Albert Snyder’s rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of religion.

The York, Pa., man rerouted his son’s funeral procession with 1,200 mourners at a church in Westminster, Md., to try to avoid seven strangers with their “God hates fags” signs — even though Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, 20, killed in Iraq and laid to rest in March 2006, wasn’t gay.

Doesn’t matter to this bunch. They stage protests at military funerals around the country out of the belief God is punishing troops for America’s tolerance of homosexuality.

To those of us shocked by such callous behavior in the name of Christianity, this decision might seem like a slam dunk, but it’s not. Far from it.

It’s still raw and painful to Snyder more than four years later.

“To me, what they did was just as bad, if not worse, than if they had taken a gun and shot me. At least the wound would have healed.”

Phelps, who earned an appointment to West Point in 1946, but skipped the Army. His church is not only anti-gay, but anti-Catholic because priests are pedophiles and anti-Semitic because Jews killed Jesus. Eleven of his 13 children have law degrees, which certainly helped them calculate military funerals to desecrate death like it’s a sports contest.

In October 2007, a federal jury found Westboro members liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy and civil conspiracy against Snyder $10.9 million in damages, which the judge reduced to $5 million.

But in September 2009, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that verdict, citing free-speech protections for protesters.

The appellate court further fueled public outrage by ordering Snyder to foot $16,510 for Phelpses’ legal fees. Bill O’Reilly offered to pick up the tab. Donations — many from veterans groups — more than covered it.

Attorneys general in 48 states and the District of Columbia — all but Maine and Virginia — sided with Snyder. Their amicus brief noted “a war is a matter of public concern, but that does not give the Phelpses license to attack personally every soldier and every soldier’s family.”

Forty-two senators — a rare occasion where Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell could agree — filed a brief on Snyder’s behalf, arguing that the Fourth Circuit erred in overturning the verdict with the broader standard for defamation claims against public figures, when Snyder is a private citizen.

However, the ACLU, predictably supports Westboro’s right to be offensive, joined unbelievably by many news organizations. Whatever happened to the notion that you can’t shout “Fire!” in a theater because the First Amendment should not protect people intentionally inciting violence or panic?

The AGs got it right when they called it “psychological terrorism,” and we don’t think the First Amendment should be expected to protect that.

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  • Username75

    I ment Phelps…AND NOT Snyder
    typed before brain fully engaged.

  • Username75

    It is a falicy to say that One cannot Yell Fire in a crowded
    theater, as You do.
    Just as You have a right to tell a lie at the Bar of Justice, as that
    is also Your right.
    This is the right of Utterance, but this does in no way indemnify
    one from the consequences of such utterence.
    Snyders speech however Loathsome and Hatefull is His right.
    However the Snyders of the world are in know way free of
    the Consequence of their actions, and the damages that
    the utterence and or actions create.
    in this the fourth district Court erred in their Opinion
    They can be held for both physical, and or Emotional
    then they will appeal in My opinion on Religious freedom
    Grounds, but that will again not protect them from the Consequences
    of their ignorant Religious practice, nor would this be What Jesus would do
    nor support, even Natures G-D and Natures G-D would be appalled.

  • Username75

    you will note I did not use “Natures G-D alone”
    as this might offend any Trintitarians , and or Hare Krishna’s
    out there.

  • mikea0815

    Is the true issue here free speech or the freedom to harass, intimidate, and humiliate? It is, or should be, the right of Phelps and his family, as that is what comprises his “congregation” to picket at the funerals of fallen heroes. They MUST however, be held responsible for the results of their actions. Let’s face it, these people are evil and are preying on both the bereaved and the public in general at the same time. Their sole intent is to draw attention to themselves and themselves alone. There is no further issue at hand. If the media stopped covering their activities, stopped filming them, stopped interviewing them, and stopped publicizing them, they, like so many others would simply melt away. Take a look at the loon who wanted to burn the Q’uran in Florida. Without media attention, there would have been no controversy. Without the media, these people would just be another little band of malcontents who, without a stage to play upon would go away. As much as it pains me to do so, Sam Taylor is correct on this one,

  • Username75

    Without the Media, We have no check of the Government power.
    We would all Suckle upon the Propaganda of News Corp, and
    Fox news.
    The Star is free to publish anything iregardless of it being
    Slanderous, and or Libelous.
    What stops them, Consequences of that free Speech.
    In other Nations things put forth must have prior Approval of the Government.
    Not here, thankfully.
    Even if Mike Insults the Color of My Dog, I can bring forth My
    “Unrighteous wrath” (His Opinion) :^ )… With the Full weight of the Bar.

  • mikea0815

    Unfortunately Sam, the only media outlet today that IS a check on the government is Fox News, and no, the Star does NOT have the “right” to publish libel of slander. And unless you hadn’t noticed lately, the major free air networks and the cable outlet does check with the government before publishing. Just read the NY Times or watch MSNBC. I think you have been at sea too long my friend.

    Lastly, I had no knowledge that you had an ugly dog. I’m certain though that since it is a dog, it loves you unconditionally, as all dogs love their masters.

  • Username75

    Poor Fred and His congregants are Deceived.
    They will only stop being deceived when their own mind
    reveals they are in a deception.
    Then and only then will the Delusion be done away With.
    Everybody knows what Angers G-D is the Portuguese, and Methodists.
    America needs to repent and stop having Sex with Portuguese Methodists.
    and pray for Phelps and his People.

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