Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Courts Rule Free Speech Trumps Grief

March 31, 2010
Colorado, USA

Dissident Daughter In March 2006, Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder's funeral was sullied by radical protesters from the infamous, hate-mongering, christian-posers of the Westboro Baptist Church Cult, (Topeka, Kansas). Protesters carried signs that read "You're going to hell", "God Hates You" and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers."

The father of the Marine killed in Iraq, Albert Snyder filed suit against WBC June 2006. In November 2007 a United States District Court decided in favor of Albert Snyder. United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit heard the case in September 2009. Federal appeals court dismissed the suit on First Amendment grounds earlier this month and threw out a $5 million award against the protesters. The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ordered Snyder on Friday (March 26, 2010) to pay Fred Phelps, the leader of Kansas' Westboro Baptist Church in excess of $16,000.

Snyder told Fox News: "I don't think I'm going to be writing a check until I hear from the Supreme Court."

The high court agreed to consider whether the protesters' message is protected by the First Amendment or limited by the competing privacy and religious rights of the mourners.

From the web site MatthewSnyder.Org: The family of Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, US Marine Corps, has begun this civil lawsuit against Mr. Phelps and certain members of the so-called Westboro Baptist Church to bring an end to the reign of terror and abuse that they inflicted upon the grieving families of US service members killed in defense of our nation. Using innocent children to deliver their twisted message of hatred and fear, the defendants in this suit have sought to attack the memory of our departed heroes, to strip their loved ones of their dignity, and to use abuse and intimidation as a tool for preventing surviving family members from reaching closure over their loss.
Following are gloating remarks from the WBC:

Among the teachings of the church, which was founded in 1955 by pastor Fred Phelps, is the belief that God is punishing the United States for "the sin of homosexuality" through events such as soldiers' deaths.

Margie Phelps, the daughter of Fred Phelps and the attorney representing the church in its appeals, also said the money that the church receives from Snyder will be used to finance demonstrations. But she also said that the order was a consequence of his decision to sue the church over the demonstration.

"Mr. Snyder and his attorneys have engaged the legal system; there are some rules to that legal engagement," said Phelps, a member of Westboro who says she has participated in more than 150 protests of military funerals.

"They wanted to shut down the picketing so now they're going to finance it," she said.
A perfect and generous response from Bill O'Reilly, Fox News:

No. 1 cable news host Bill O'Reilly said Tuesday that he will personally write a check to cover $16,500 in legal costs for the father of a fallen U.S. Marine who sued the members of a church who picketed his son's funeral.

On Tuesday's The O'Reilly Factor, however, the host stepped forward.

"That is an outrage," he said. "I will pay Mr. Snyder's obligation. I am not going to let this injustice stand."

O'Reilly added, "It's obvious they [WBC] were disturbing the peace by disrupting the funeral. They should have been arrested, but our system is so screwed up, so screwed up, that loons are allowed to run wild. Snyder is fighting the good fight, and he is taking his case to the Supreme Court as he should. We are behind him 100 percent."
OK My Turn:

I am, much to my admittedly self-inflicted dismay sometimes, a die hard advocate for Free Speech. I strongly advocate self-censorship, meaning if you don't like what you are hearing or seeing or reading - turn it off, tune it out, put it down. In some cases, I advocate drowning it out.

Many years ago I read an ACLU article and kept this excerpt: How much we value the right of free speech is put to its severest test when the speaker is someone we disagree with most. Speech that deeply offends our morality or is hostile to our way of life warrants the same constitutional protection as other speech because the right of free speech is indivisible: When one of us is denied this right, all of us are denied.

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

And then, there's the disconcerting fine flux line between FREE speech and HATE speech...

HATE SPEECH: Hate speech is loosely defined as any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display which is forbidden because it may incite violence or prejudicial action against or by a protected individual or group, or because it disparages or intimidates a protected individual or group.

FYI: In 1942, the Supreme Court sustained the conviction of a Jehovah's witness who addressed a police officer as a "God dammed racketeer" and "a damned fascist" (Chaplinksy v. New Hampshire). The Court's opinion in the case stated that there was a category of face-to-face epithets, or "fighting words," that was wholly outside of the protection of the First Amendment: those words "which by their very utterance inflict injury" and which "are no essential part of any exposition of ideas."
From: Exploring Constitutional Conflicts

Which by their very utterance inflict injury... is all but cancelled out by the following statement: "which are no essential part of any exposition of ideas."

No matter how insanely hateful, the WBC has been expounding upon their lunatic exposition of ideas since the 1950s. They have been challenged time and again. Time and again the First Amendment has come to their rescue.

Why? The First Amendment protects even despicable speech, including that of a vile nature. In the United States it is not a crime to be hateful or repugnant or insane or stupid or wrong. The First Amendment protects our right to dissent even if that dissent is based on what appears to be idiotic doctrine. (WBC claims that it is America's tolerance of homosexuality that causes GOD to strike down our soldiers.)

I repeat: Which by their very utterance inflict injury... is all but cancelled out by the following statement: "which are no essential part of any exposition of ideas."

No matter how heinous... how objectionable, how morally bereft and offensive are the words spouted by the Phelps clan... they [the words] are not libelous, or slanderous or even threatening... they do not target an individual... so they cannot be deemed criminal in the legal sense of the word. They protest in public spaces, fully within their peaceable assemblage rights. As far as I know, they have not committed a crime nor have they caused anyone to commit a crime based upon their speech. This is a savvy group. They have been at their venomous task for a very long time. Margie Phelps is an attorney and by all accounts, an adept in her field.

What I have long felt reprehensible about the Phelps clan and the WBC is:
First and foremost, their complete and utter lack of regard and respect for the families of fallen soldiers.
Second, their claim of being a Christian-based religion. The WBC brand of Christianity is severely warped, for lack of a better word - a perverted abomination.
Third, their willingness to subjugate the law of the land to suit their unquestioningly demented beliefs.

My fear is the Supreme Court will uphold WBC freedom of expression claims... and thus destroy State Rights to impose and enforce laws (many already on the books) restricting funeral protests and a ban by Congress prohibiting protests at federal cemeteries.

I believe in Free Speech, even in the pathologically demoralizing form as it is practiced by the WBC. I also believe - and if you knew me well, you wouldn't believe your ears - that Free Speech in the form of protest should be banned from all funeral homes, all funerals, all cemeteries, all grave sights, all griever's residences and close proximity (that would be within range of sight and hearing) to all of the above. I believe sore, grieving hearts deserve absolute respect and a grace period of peace to bury their loved ones. I do not believe any political, religious or other radical interference should be allowed during that grieving process. Yikes, that was hard for me to say. But, just like it is unlawful to yell FIRE in a crowded theater - I think it should be unlawful to yell ANYTHING or show ANYTHING that could be deemed disrespectful at a funeral.

On the other hand, I can't imagine the arguments attorneys could make out of that one or how disastrous would be the long range ramifications of such an act. I can well imagine that next up would be suppressing protesters at gay weddings or abortion clinics... it could go on and on and on... and it goes without saying it wouldn't end well for the First Amendment.

I think we should label mourners a "protected group." I think if we could label funereal protests HATE speech or "fighting words" which they most certainly are... we might achieve some point where the basic right is not compromised - just more intricately defined.

Better yet, if we could figure out why we tolerate that sort of speech coming from an alleged church or religion... oh... never mind.

Bigger minds than mine have puzzled over this question for decades without solving it.

So, in the end - would I advocate limiting or restricting or toying with FREE speech, even to correct such an obvious wrong?


But... I will seize every opportunity to exercise MY right to free speech and drown them out.

Source: Fox, Marine's Father Will Not Pay Court-Ordered Funeral Protesters' Fees (my apologies for this source), Dead Marine's father ordered to pay protesters' legal costs
News, O'Reilly Pays Legal Bill for Fallen Marine's Father
Honor the Fallen, Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder
Read all about this case and make a donation for Snyder's legal fees at: MatthewSnyder.Org

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