Where do you stand, PD community?

A Kansas church that attracted nationwide attention for its angry, anti-gay protests at the funerals of U.S. military members has won its appeal at the Supreme Court, an issue testing the competing constitutional rights of free speech and privacy.

The justices, by an 8-1 vote, said Wednesday that members of Westboro Baptist Church had a right to promote what they call a broad-based message on public matters such as wars. The father of a fallen Marine had sued the small church, saying those protests amounted to targeted harassment and an intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Read the rest.


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  • Chris

    Could this not all be solved by a compulsary drafting of the members of Westboro Baptist Church and send them to Afganistan?

  • Gary Russell
    • http://deleted Joe

      Gary thanks, I was looking for an excuse to get a Harley now I have one.

  • WilliamK

    we ban yelling “Movie in a crowed firehouse” because of the direct physical harm that can result from people trying to flee. (as well as the breach of contract between the ticket holder and the movie house.)

    Standing on a public sidewalk, behind a row of hedges, holding signs and yelling poses no direct harm.

    It comes down to harm. What physical harm could happen if they yell while on public property when you are in a car? Are you and the rest of the funeral going to panic and try to flee and risk getting trampled to death?

    Ban the right to say what you want in the public square because it is offensive to people and it won’t be long before that is used to ban your saying what you believe.

    They can’t come on private property with out permission. So don’t invite them on to the private property.

    There is no “right to dignity” in the Constitution. There is a right to free speech.

    • Gary Russell


      You ask, “What physical harm could happen if they yell while on public property when you are in a car? Are you and the rest of the funeral going to panic and try to flee and risk getting trampled to death?”

      I definitely see the potential for extreme physical violence in these situations. Not from fleeing, but from attacking.

  • BrettBaker

    I am with Alito. I get the free speech stuff, obviously, but that doesn’t mean we can’t draw lines. You can’t scream fire in a theatre and you shouldn’t be able to scream God hates fags at a funeral.

    • http://scottslant.blogspot.com/ Scott A. Robinson

      Then where does it stop? What is the line for what one can say and what one cannot say?

      • David Kaiser, Editor

        I think that is for a court to decide Scott.

        They are called “judges” for a reason!

    • Gary Russell

      I agree, Brett.

      I think that the “shouting fire in a theater” comparison applies very aptly.

      The father of this fallen hero said it well.
      His quote about the moronic scum who “protest”:
      “I was just shocked that any individual could do this to another human being…it was inhuman.”

      And I loved his quote about the ruling:
      “My first thought was that eight justices don’t have the common sense that God gave a goat. We found out today that we can no longer bury our dead in this county with dignity.”

      If we can ban and prosecute a few specific behaviors (“fire” in a theater, etc.), why on Earth can’t we ban “hate speech” at a funeral?

      I am shocked that someone hasn’t shot some of these morons. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that it would be a good thing.)
      But, if it were MY son, I can’t imagine that I would have any self-control.

    • AWB

      I disagree with the “yelling fire in the theatre” comparison, Brett and Gary. The point Justice Holmes made was that free speech cannot extend to the point of putting people in physical danger as screaming fire is quite likely to lead to a stampede in which people will be hurt/killed. But physical danger and hurting someone through words are very different things and if we start policing what kind of hurtful words are and are not allowed, we go down an incredibly dangerous path, involving laws on things like “hate speech,” fairness doctrines, and the like. That is why the first amendment protects free speech and this is why I agree with the ruling (as DK pointed out–the judges made the call) and was so pleased that it transcended the liberal/conservative divide on the court.

      • Brian H

        Good post, AWB. Well said.

  • WilliamK

    I think it was a good call. On public property you can protest all you want. If you want privacy and the ability to keep protests away, we have something called “private property” and the owner can choose who is allowed on it.
    There, problem solved.

  • AWB

    err, “this sort of protest” not just “this sort of” :-) Oops…

  • AWB

    I also must say that it was great that the court made this decision 8-1. Nice to know they can [mostly] all read the constitution in the same way on some issues!

  • AWB

    As a Christian, I think the Westboro/Phelps message is dead wrong and abominable and I wish they would go away. However, constitutionally, I think the court made absolutely the right decision. These people have a right to free speech, however dreadful their exercise of it may be.

    I think that Roberts is right to hint that laws established to limit how this may be exercised–as has been done in many states to prevent this sort of–as long as such laws are content neutral. It also seems to me that the Snyders are overstating the emotional damage, given that they were protected from seeing this live–it was just through watching the news.

    That leads me to the observation that if the media would quit covering these kooks all the time (after all, they’re kind of old news at this point!) maybe they would go away (kind of like the 9/11 Terry Jones fiasco). If the media hadn’t covered Westboro/Phelps on the news, the Snyders might not have given two thoughts to the protest. A little more wisdom and discretion would be nice, but then, I realize that to expect that from the MSM is extreme folly.

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    This also means you have the right to counter protest them, no matter how much the child abusing Fred Phelps complains. You can even protest outside his home in Westboro and he can not stop you,he can’t even complain about it.

    • Brian H

      Great point, ATL Roofing!!!!

      If people would show up 20-1 against these KOOKS and hold up bigger and better signs of celebration for the life and sacrifice of the fallen soldier nobody would even know, or care, that the wing-nuts are their.

      Lets not try to remove people’s rights, lets exercise our own against them.

  • Brian H

    I am not a constitutional attorney and I no nothing of the details of this case other than the discussions I have seen about it on the news. However, an 8-1 decision is quite amazing when one considers the make up of this court.

    We are a nation of laws and not men. I guess the court has shown that this concept still has a foundation in our system. One would only hope they use their logic and constitutional reasoning in the other cases that will soon be before this court.

    • Brian H

      I “know nothing”…not “no nothing”…..

      • dw

        spoken in your best Sergeant Schultz accent, no doubt ;-)

        • Brian H

          Very true.

  • http://www.politicalderby.com/ Jason Wright, Editor

    What do you make of Alito’s dissent?

    • http://scottslant.blogspot.com/ Scott A. Robinson

      I thought it would be prudent to read Alito’s dissent before commenting. I have cut and paste to summarize here, doing my best to represent the justice’s opinion:

      The First Amendment ensures that they have almost limitless opportunities to express their views. . . . It does not follow, however, that they may intentionally inflict severe emotional injury on private persons at a time of intense emotional sensitivity by launching vicious verbal attacks that make no contribution to public debate. To protect against such injury, “most if not all jurisdictions” permit recovery in tort for the intentional infliction of emotional distress….
      To recover, a plaintiff must show that the conduct at issue caused harm that was truly severe. (“[R]ecovery will be meted out sparingly, its balm reserved for those wounds that are truly severe and incapable of healing themselves” (the distress must be“ ‘so severe that no reasonable man could be expected to endure it’”. A plaintiff must also establish that the defendant’s conduct was “‘so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community….’”
      Although the elements of the IIED tort are difficult to meet, respondents long ago abandoned any effort to show that those tough standards were not satisfied here. On appeal, they chose not to contest the sufficiency of the evidence…. Instead, they maintained that the First Amendment gave them a license to engage in such conduct. They are wrong….
      Respondents’ outrageous conduct caused petitioner great injury, and the Court now compounds that injury by depriving petitioner of a judgment that acknowledges the wrong he suffered. In order to have a society in which public issues can be openly and vigorously debated, it is not necessary to allow the brutalization of innocent victims like petitioner. I therefore respectfully dissent….

      Basically I think Alito is on a very, very slippery slope here. It is a significant judgment call to define the “intentional inflict[ion] [of] severe emotional injury on private persons”.

      For me, I will always error on the side of more freedom, rather than judgment calls in defining speech. Putting that kind of power in the wrong hands carries far too many risks.

      • whodat

        I am glad that Alito wrote this dissent as I believe he makes a very good point. However, as good as it is, it cannot trump the First Amendment. Much of political speech and writings are certainly intended to inflict pain and anguish in the other side, so we do not want to turn over that right. We enjoy it too much right here at PD – especially when some of you pick on poor Kaiser…

        • http://scottslant.blogspot.com/ Scott A. Robinson

          Agreed. Alito’s opinion is inherently good. However, if you allow the power to restrict speech based upon one’s opinion of the damage created by the speech, that power is nearly unstoppable.

        • David Kaiser, Editor

          Meh. I’m a big boy whodat, I can take it :)

        • Stephen Meehan

          I agree that Alito’s opinion is good, but that it can’t trump the First Ammendment. I even have a sneaking suspicion that Alito isn’t necessarily convinced of his opinion, but felt that it had to be put out there so people would know that it was at least taken into consideration – especially with a high profile case.

          • Troy La Mana

            You are probably right on that point. Once you start restricting speech like this you could be the next victim based on which side of the fence you happen to be on. This argument could have been used on the Tea Party protests by this administration.

          • Alaina


  • http://scottslant.blogspot.com/ Scott A. Robinson

    I absolutely despise everything these nutjobs say and do. There is absolutely nothing Christian about them. However, I stand on their side in agreeing that they have the right to speak, despite their vile words and images.

    • David Kaiser, Editor


  • Troy La Mana

    This really was a no brainer. They have a 1st amendment right to free speech. I prefer they keep spouting their veil so that the rest of the country knows what they stand for. It was the same with the KKK or American Nazis. It’s better to keep a spotlight on them then to have them scurry in the dark like rats undetected.