Are Anti-Gay Funeral Protests Constitutional?

A Maryland father laid his soldier son to rest in 2006 surrounded by protesters from Westboro Baptist church in Topeka, Kansas, who believe soldiers die in combat as punishment for the U.S.’s permissive attitude toward homosexuality. They carried signs that said, “Thank God for dead soldiers.” The Supreme Court is now reviewing whether protesting the funerals of soldiers is protected by the First Amendment. A Baltimore jury awarded the soldier’s father $10 million in damages, but the case was later thrown out by the U.S. Court of Appeals. The judges said the signs were not referring directly to the father and his son. Snyder v. Phelps will be argued next October.

Read more here.


Filed under hate groups, U. S. Supreme Court

28 responses to “Are Anti-Gay Funeral Protests Constitutional?

  1. These type of stories always bring me back to my favorite Roper/Phelps story. I took my 16 year old son and 13 year old daughter to see Obama at the Butler County Community College presentation. When we got there, we were unable to get in so, we left and drove into El Dorado to get some lunch to return them to Wichita. As we drove past the Roper/Phelps protest, Shirley ran up to our car with her eyes bulging and spittle flying and she was yelling at our car. She was screaming “Why are you allowing your daughter to do that!?”

    I asked my daughter what was wrong with Shirley, she said, “Oh, I don’t know, maybe she was mad that I flipped her off…”

    I told Emily that what she did was not okay, but none the less I was proud of her.

    To this day, I am proud of what my daughter did.

    The Phelps clan is crazy – there can be no doubt about that. Limiting their free speech is an exercise in good judgement, IMHO.

    Tolerating crazy hate is not a good idea – free speech-wise.

    Sorry folks – it does not work that way…


  2. This thread is the perfect place to express where I think fnord and I have very different ideas. When I comes to the poster who self identifes as “itolduso”, I don’t think this blog, or any other, is obligated to tolerate his/her expressions of unpleasant speech to be accomodating… Nor, do I think we are obligated to put up with him/her because he/she is working to be minimally offensive. I think it is okay to ban him/her because we don’t like the impact of his her/her speech.

    I just don’t agree with fnord’s contention that we have to be accomodating. Period. I am sorry.

    We have paid for enhancements at this site. That, alone, entitles us to have privileges that “itolduso” disagrees with.


    • lilacluvr

      To our detriment, liberals are too fast to be accommodating everyone. I think it is because we expect everyone to have the same basic common courtesy guidelines that we use. But, alas, there are people who just refuse to think they have to abide by anybody else’s rules. And these people are the first ones to jump up and yell about being the victim.

      And to these people I say – if you don’t like the play yard – then go find another play yard.

  3. Zippy

    From what I know of First Amendment doctrine, I think the essential distinction is whether they are in a public are where they have a right to be, and essentially whether they are disturbing the peace. And obnoxious message by itself doesn’t constitute disturbing the peace.

    I know the Kansas-Western Missouri ACLU grappled with this issue for some time.

    A blog is a different thing. As some people repeatedly fail to understand, the terms give the person running the blog the right to edit and outright censor to their heart’s content. It’s not a public place, or even a semi-public forum, even though it can be used that way.

    WordPress, in turn, can institute any weird rules they like, so long as they’re not in violation of the law. If government, however, said, e.g., that you–or WordPress must allow itoldyouso to post (or must ban that poster), well, that would be a bonafide First Amendment.

    The First Amendment is only a restriction on government action.

    That’s my understanding of the law anyway. Boos v. Berry struck down a law keeping protesters 500 feet from an embassy. At the ACLU, there was a fair amount of discussion less restrictiveof “buffer zones,” being that, IIRC, they were found constitutional in the case of abortion clinics.

    Of course, it’s been a few years, and my memory may be faulty. For my part, I think the San Francisco response–more speech, ridiculing hateful idiots–may ultimately be necessary–even if the law is upheld–and I also support the hell out of the Patriot Guard.

    By the way, I believe prairiepond once expressed support for the First Amendment rights of these goons, even as she–like me and anyone with a conscience–was hoping for a permissible to neutralize them. That’s what I call a honorable commitment to principle.

    And if they come here, they had better hope I’m busy with work.

    “Build Prisons on the Moon!”

    • PrairiePond

      That is a great way to explain this, Zippy.

      I know I’ve told you all that I work for extreme wingnuts at the paper. I cant tell you how extreme one of the editors is. Just a fux news drone. She has to ask them what her opinion is every day.

      Anyway.. she writes an “opinion” column every week. And just to prove that a) irony is not dead and b) irony is always lost on those most in need…

      She is calling this week for the abolishment of the ACLU. Her hope for her granddaughter is that the ACLU will no longer exist when she grows up.

      Just let that sink in for a moment.

      The co-editor of our local paper believes the ACLU is bad and should not exist.

      Ya know I have to say it.

      Jesus WEPT!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Welcome to my world. The Land of Wingnuttia.

      • indypendent

        But if the ACLU is no longer in existence, who will help Rush get his butt out of trouble the next time?

        Ah, Wingnuts had better be careful of what they wish for.

      • tosmarttobegop

        And that is what gets me the most when I run into such wing nuts. The very moment you start to say anything that is not from the script of Fox. They will as much plug their ears and go “Laaaaaaa”.

        Retelling the main point in their mind with no examples or explanations just the Fox or Rush talking points.
        “Obama is turning over the U.S. military over to the U.N.!”.
        But if you even ask what makes them think so?
        The deer in the headlights look comes over them, as they do not have a real thing to say that answers.
        Then finally they say they heard it on Beck or Rush or Fox.

    • PrairiePond

      Thanks for the shout out, Zippy. And back atchya for all you do. You walk the walk.

      I really mean it that you cant pick and choose who gets free speech. I have always carried with me the comment, I think by Ellie Wiesel but I’m not sure who said it, that if you are really committed to free speech, be a Jew and support the Nazi skinheads’ right to march in Skokie.

      I think this is the equivalent of letting the skinheads march. The Phelps kkklan is reprehensible, but they have their rights. And besides, letting them spew is the quickest way to get rid of them.

      Like Jack Black said “you cant pick and choose”.

  4. Zippy

    P.S. I realize you were just making an analogy, I just carried it through.

  5. Zippy

    P.S. Since I can’t sleep, I read some actual details. I see it’s a civil suit. Entirely different animal.

    There’s nothing that says that speech can’t have consequences, the issue of course being if they can be sued for being heartless, offensive idiots.

    I dunno. I do think the 4th Circuit–the most deathly conservative in the nation–overplayed their admiration for the “inventive” signs, though. “God hates fags” ain’t exactly clever.

  6. fnord

    Since I’ve lived most of my life in Kansas I’ve heard many who oppose the ACLU, and they aren’t about to let facts get in the way of their obsessions. Look at how much they do which could be termed ‘cutting off their nose to spite their face.’

    I love this sentence, PrairiePond, and hold it to be truth: “And besides, letting them spew is the quickest way to get rid of them.” Even when they continue spewing they discredit themselves better than anyone else could do it.

    I don’t know exactly how you make it through day after day — even your lifetime of having to deal with stupid prejudices wouldn’t be enough to keep me in line. You are stronger and better than I could be. Love ya grrrl!

    • Prairie Pond

      Back atchya, Fnord! I love you, too.

      I get used to the pain:) To quote Patrick Swayze in Road House “pain dont hurt” (sic).

      But bigots do….

      And so does my job. It pains me in the ass!

      • Prairie Pond

        Truth be told, I think I get more bigotry about my weight than for being lesbian. I guess my sexual orientation isnt obvious by looking at me, but my weight damn sure is!

  7. indypendent

    Why can’t Fox News Nuts, Limbaugh Dittoheads and the Palinettes get it through their thick skulls that in order for them to have guaranteed rights – that means each and every American has those same rights.

    I don’t know if it is arrogance, ignorance, stupidity or just downright hate that keeps these folks from seeing the light.

    I’ve always believed there is a special Saint to watch over babies and fools – and these folks are no babies!

    • Zippy

      I don’t know if it is arrogance, ignorance, stupidity or just downright hate that keeps these folks from seeing the light.

      All of the above, and fear.

  8. indypendent

    Unfortunately, the Phelps know how to skirt the law and they will find another way to be just as obnoxious. I have the feeling the Phelps Klan does not give a rat’s ass about what the Supreme Court decides and will continue to do whatever they want. Even if they reinstate the $10 million fine – Phelps doesn’t have it and won’t care.

    We have always had these types in our midst. But back when society did follow common courtesy and common decency guidelines, they were not front and center and ‘in your face’. But with today’s world of reality t.v. and instant fame by being outrageous (case in point – Rush and Glenn Beck), then what do we expect will happen?

    Crazy, mean, hateful and vindictive people are everywhere. The sad fact is, I’m sorry to say that these attributes has been like a cancer going through the churches, as well.

    It used to be where churches were a sanctuary away from the world but when these Evangelical Christians allowed politics and love of money to take over their reason for existence, then our society has definitely suffered.

    • Zippy

      You know the basic irony is that Phelps used to be–get this–a civil-rights lawyer. In the 60s.

      He was disbarred in 1969 for–among other things–pocketing money that was supposed to be used to bail an indebted client out of jail. Nice.

      And about fear: I think those who lynched and intimidated black people in the 60s were afraid of them, as insane as that sounds. In each instance, a mentality that has to have a certain “power level” over others, and is scared at the prospect of anything else.

      More fear: Scary terrorists with super-human powers must have their own system of (in)justice under, so ironically–military tribunals. Honoring people accused of heinous crimes with the title of “opposing army.” But not giving them the same due process rights.

      Worst of both worlds. A prescription for glorious martyrdom. All driven by unreasoning fear., to get back to my point.

      P.S. Not to get too far afield, but one wonders what will be done with Adam Gawdamn (sic)–a natural-born citizen of the US?

      • indypendent

        I was thinking the same thing – if he is a US citizen, then is he not entitled to his day in a courtroom?

        That fear you are referring to is the driving force behind alot of this Republican gnashing of teeth we are seeing today.

        The bulk of the current Republican base are those Southern Democrats that did not think lynching black people was a crime. Let’s remember, the KKK used the symbol of a cross when they torched one to spread their message of hate and fear.

        Is it any wonder the Republican base is made of Southerners AND the Religious Right?

      • Prairie Pond

        I think the fear comes when they think “Holy bigotry, Batman. What if they treat us the same way we’ve treated them? Get a rope…”

        They dont follow the Golden Rule. They fear others treating them in kind!

  9. indypendent

    Lyndon Johnson knew he was giving the Republicans a flood of new members when he signed the Civil Rights Act. He knew that certain Southern Democrats would turn to the GOP and that is exactly what happened.

    All that hatred and fear has done a number on the GOP but they are so arrogant, most of them do not even know it.

  10. indypendent

    I don’t think the Religious Bigoted Right even think. They have fear – that is true – but they are so arrogant that their pride will not allow them to reason out a way to alleviate the fear.

    I mean really, it’s not like these folks actually look to educate themselves on issues they are afraid of – now do they?

    Why else do so many of them home school their kids? They don’t want their precious babies to be soiled by the heathens.

    I also heard that Glenn Beck told his loyal subjects to quit going to their churches if the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ is spoken or written on any of their literature. Those two phrases are just made up by the Communists and God would never say those phrases.

    WTF – Wasn’t Jesus the one that lived and ministered to those who are were social outcasts and economic outcasts?

    But, I got to thinking – why wouldn’t Glenn Beck and his fellow Religious Tightie-Righties try to rewrite what God really says. They have already perverted the churches into golden shrines to money-money-money and me-me-me. To say God does not care about social or economic justice is just another step into their deranged sense of Christianity.

    There is no stronger hate than self-righteous, pious hate. These people eat their young.

  11. indypendent

    Prarie Pond – the only Golden Rule these fake religious nutjobs follow is to get that gold by any means necessary and then put up Golden Idols in their fake churches to fool the people.

  12. Is a cemetary considered public or private property? I would say private so can’t the cemetary officials ask them to leave?

    • 6176746f6c6c65

      Depends on the cemetery, bearman; many are private, but not all, others, e.g., military cemeteries among others, are most definitely public.

  13. G-stir

    I wonder what type of send off Fred Phelps will get when his black heart conks out?

  14. tosmarttobegop

    More then once my dad said, “I do not have to agree with what you are saying. But I will defend your right to say it with my life!”.

    It is the most troubling thing about freedom, those who do not seem to deserve it or realize its importance has it and abuses it.

    The Phelps wrap themselves in both their rights of free speech and Religion. For no other reason that it is a money making method.

    • fnord

      Money and some hate and some fear.

      Do you think there has to be fear where there is hate? I do. I think if we find out the facts and don’t have anything to fear the hate goes away. I think prejudices are the same — once we learn the facts it’s more difficult to remain prejudiced. Guess that goes without saying as prejudices are just hate and fear in action.