Wednesday, October 6th, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the Snyder v. Phelps case, concerning the father of a dead Marine suing the Westboro Baptist Church for picketing his son’s funeral.
According to the Daily Caller:
“Albert Snyder, the father of a dead Marine, is asking the Supreme Court to uphold a nearly $11 million jury verdict (reduced to $5 million by the courts) for intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy through protests surrounding his son’s funeral. Westboro Baptist Church, led by Pastor Fred Phelps, contended that their constitutionally protected protests and speech at the funeral were not directly targeted at Snyder’s son, nor was their speech outrageous enough to cause emotional harm. This small church in Kansas has a reputation for conducting similar protests around the country. The slogans on these signs included ‘God hates fags’; ‘Thank God for Dead Soldiers’; ‘Semper Fi fags’; and ‘You’re going to hell.’ Phelps also posted related internet content to the Church’s website directly naming and targeting Snyder’s son.”
The question arises, does the right of Albert Snyder to bury his son in peace and dignity override the First Amendment right of the Westboro Baptist people to picket the funeral and shout vile slogans against gay people. Does the specific targeting of Snyder’s dead Marine son constitute direct harassment and thus crosses the line from political speech? Is the dead Snyder a private person, subject to more protections than a public individual, or does the very fact that his funeral was publicized in the obituary page of the newspaper remove those protections? These are some of the questions that justices have to ponder as they craft an opinion.
It is very easy and very human to say that the Westboro Baptist people should be restrained from spewing their hateful venom, using the funerals of dead heroes as a venue. But freedom of speech does not depend on how benign or how vile it is. Indeed the First Amendment was designed to specifically protect obnoxious speech.
The civil libertarian would find in favor of the Westboro people. The human being would want to turn fire hoses on them and drive them away.
But there is something that people can do if they are targeted by these hateful Westboro people. So long as they obey local laws about staying in public spaces a certain number of feet away, ignore them. Their power is the power to make people feel outraged, making them react, and then garnering the publicity they crave.
Ignore the Westboro haters and they have no power. They can scream to the wind as far as anyone is concerned.
And that applies to the media. Do not send reporters or TV cameras to any place where the Westboro Baptist Church. If there are no TV cameras where the Westboro Baptist people are carrying on, it will be as if they do not exist. They will thus wither and die.
Eventually, if the teachings of Christianity are correct, they will meet the God they say hates gay people and will find, much to their chagrin, that God of Christianity does not hate. But He will be very, very disappointed in those people who screamed hate in his name.
Source: TheDC Legal Overview: The Supreme Court reviews free speech rights in light of the anti-gay military protests of the Westboro Baptist Church, Rob Kimme, The Daily Caller, October 6th, 2010