Members of the Westboro Baptist Church protest. Source: http://www.geekologie.com/2010/07/facepalm_westboro_baptist_chur.php

 

“Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “You’re Going to Hell” were the only things that Albert Snyder could see during the funeral of his only son, Matthew – who was killed in Iraq in 2006. These messages were displayed on signs outside the funeral by Reverend Fred W. Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church. They’ve continued to insult Snyder and his son Matthew ever since. Snyder sued the church for invasion of privacy and inflicting intentional emotional distress. A lower court awarded Snyder $5 million, but that decision was reversed on appeal. Snyder then appealed his case to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court recently heard arguments in this case, and a decision is expected soon.

It’s important to know the Westboro Baptist Church’s track record. Its first protests were against Matthew Shepard, a man beat to death because he was a homosexual, and Coretta Scott King, a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. In 2009, it protested the funeral of a SUNY Buffalo student. In response, fellow students formed a shield to block the protesters and keep them out of sight of family members.

The funeral of Elizabeth Edwards is also among the church’s recent targets. The Phelps family and some members of their congregation also protested at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. On Jan 11, 2011, the church declared its intent to protest at 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green’s funeral after she was killed in a shooting rampage that left six people dead and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) in critical condition. The Arizona legislature then passed a law to stop protests at funerals; a similar Ohio law was recently held to be constitutional.

The original court ruled the Phelps family’s actions an invasion of privacy, even though they weren’t in the cemetery. I find invasion of privacy to be somewhat difficult to prove, though funerals do need special standards. Inflicting emotional distress is easier to prove. The protests aggravated Snyder’s diabetes and made him depressed.

During the oral arguments in front of the Supreme Court, Margie Phelps, daughter of Fred Phelps and lawyer for the family, came under fire from nearly every justice. Justice Samuel Alito presented her with a hypothetical involving an old lady attending her grandson’s funeral and a disrespectful protester who insults her. Margie Phelps responded that she did not believe that the instance described was an invasion of privacy, but was instead an utterance of fighting words – an exception to the First Amendment that is against the law. In other words, Phelps said, “We didn’t invade his privacy, we’re just guilty of a crime.”

However, there is another charge that I would bring against Westboro Baptist Church and the Phelpses – harassment. Snyder had to watch them picket as he drove to his son’s funeral, as he watched it, as he left it and on the television once he got home. He’s also received more hate mail from the Phelps family. The church recently posted an “epic poem” online titled “The Burden of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder,” which, among other things, says to his parents, “You raised him for the devil.” This made Snyder so upset that he vomited. In a perhaps darkly ironic twist, Kansas police recently arrested a veteran for stalking members of the church.

The actions of the Phelps family are also treasonous, as they attempt to incite violence against American soldiers and support terrorism. For example, they promoted the use of improvised explosive devices (IED). Not to mention that they openly supported Saddam Hussein against the United States. Iowan prosecutors have already filed charges against the church for stomping on an American flag.

Some proponents of the First Amendment are afraid of a reversal by the Court, but a ruling in favor of Mr. Snyder in this case would not necessarily say that people cannot protest war or homosexuality. It would send the message that people cannot harass specific individuals to the point of emotional distress. Thus, a reversal would be the right decision – and, hopefully, the one that will be issued, because the Supreme Court “doesn’t usually hear arguments just to affirm.”

  • richardenols@live.com

    Adam, please get your facts straight: according the Amicus Brief filed by the ACLU, Albert Snyder did not see the signs you claim he did: “Mr. Snyder did NOT see the writing on Respondents’ signs either as he arrived or as he departed the service” (emphasis in original)

    You either believe in the First Amendment or you don’t. As much as you or I dislike the messages of Mr. Phelps, I support his right to express them, and hope that the Supremes agree.

  • Adam Ondo

    For starters, I don’t trust the ACLU, because it is the largest threat to American society that exists today. However, I’ll take your word for it, and I’m sorry but I read otherwise in a news article, which is why I said what I said. If I’m wrong, forgive me. He did see it on TV and in insulting posts / poems about his son and him.

    Secondly, if you read the article, it is not that I’m against the 1st amendment, I’m against breaking the law. There are exceptions to the First Amendment, so I can believe in it and still agree with the legal exceptions. I’m not for harassment or treason, which are crimes. Supporting Saddam (yes, they went to Iraq while we were fighting Saddam), stomping on flags, and promoting death of America soldiers is wrong and not freedom of speech. These people should be hanged in accordance with the Constitution. Inflicting intentional emotion distress is also legally wrong.

  • richardenols@live.com

    Yes, harassment is illegal, and recognized as such by at least one Phelps. I listened to Shirley Phelps-Roper and she’s fully cognizant of what her group does, and does not do. They have done their homework on this matter, and all its ramifications. Shirley’s sister, Margie, argued their case before the Supreme Court, and I came away impressed from both hearing Shirley, and reading the transcript of the court.

    Their exercise of free speech does not, in my mind, constitute the legal exceptions you mention. They are not yelling “Fire” in a crowded theater. Criticizing US military actions does not rise to treason, imho. Stomping on flags has already been protected as an expression of free speech, I believe, by the Supreme Court (I could be wrong).

    And if they are to be hanged for visiting Saddam Hussein, what about Donald Rumsfield? He shook hands with him! And we weren’t “fighting” Saddam, we were conducting a highly immoral and unjustified invasion of his country. And that was AFTER our sanctions killed 500,000 Iraqi children.

  • Adam Ondo

    It is true that multiple Phelpses are attorneys, and they are a disgrace to the profession. Fred Phelps was disbarred for a despicable legal attack on someone whom he didn’t like. These people do not honor others rights, yet that’s all they talk about. They invade others privacy, but want theirs to be kept safe.

    And the US and Donald Rumsfeld did not support Saddam while we were trying to kill him; that picture was taken when he was “on” our side. That would be like calling George Washington a traitor because he aided British troops before the Revolutionary War broke out. If Saddam wasn’t our enemy, then Rumsfeld was not committing treason. The Phelps were.

    Also, we did not kill 500,000 children. That’s a ridiculously high number. Even human rights organizations only claim 100,000-200,000 civilian casualties total, not just children. As for the invasion being unjustified and immoral, well I would like you to tell that to a Kurdish boy who had his family exterminated by Saddam or to one of the 1000s of women his sons raped. And if our invasion was illegitimate, what was his rule?

    And Iowa does have an anti-flag desecration statute in place, and Texas v. Johnson is not very clearly worded, thanks to Justice Brennan. Also, that case was 5-4, with Rehnquist dissenting, and many have proposed amendments making it illegal to burn flags, which is why Iowa and many other states have their own statutes regarding it, because the majority of citizens in those states are still patriotic.

  • MICHAEL POWERS

    “For starters, I don’t trust the ACLU, because it is the largest threat to American society that exists today.”

    Ondo, I just want to go on the record and say that you are one crazy *******.

  • Adam Ondo

    I believe that either Bill O’Reilly or Pat Robertson said something along those lines a while back, and it was received very well by fellow conservatives, for the simple fact that, though a minor exaggeration, the point was valid. So I like my statement just fine, thank you.

    As for you going on the record. Thank you. Now you’ve shown your debate skills to the world… and they make me look like the next Clarence Darrow (in case you don’t know, he was really good at arguing).

    • PJ Birkman

      Mr. Ondo,

      Pat Robertson says some crazy things. O’Reilly too sometimes. Your argument is the equivalent of someone being told they said something stupid and replying Barney Frank said something similar and it was received well by liberals.

      On a more substantive note, the claim that the ACLU is the largest threat to American society today is more than a minor exaggeration – it is absurd. I am no fan of the ACLU since it has perverted the noble mission of defending civil liberties to become a liberal activist group. However do you honestly believe that it is a bigger threat to America than; excessive government spending/deficits, terrorism, increasing Chinese power, illegal immigration, etc.? Or even a comparable threat? As an organization it’s not even a big a threat as the public employee unions.

      Being able to make provocative and outlandish claims makes you a “good” cable news pundit, not a good debater.

  • Adam Ondo

    I see your point with deficits and China being a threat, but terrorism and illegal immigration are not as much of a threat if the ACLU is not helping them. The ACLU stops any and all attempts of preventing terrorist attacks, intensively interrogating terrorists, and trying them. They block immigration laws and try to prevent foreign criminals, yes they are “illegal”, and their spawn from being deported. Also, when I said society, I was kind of thinking more along the lines of social values, not economy and the like, which is why the ACLU came to mind. They fight Christianity but support allowing Sharia law in our courts; that’s hypocritical and one-sided (and its the wrong side… very unpatriotic, too).

    However, I would like to thank you, because you actually presented a rational argument instead of calling me a ******. That is why I’m not patronizing you right now, but rather presenting an argument of my own.

    PS: I’m glad you think I would make a good news pundit; that makes my day. =)

  • PJ Birkman

    On social values the ACLU is orders of magnitude less damaging than the excesses of the welfare state or the failures of our educational system to name just a couple of bigger threats.

    I agree with you on immigration, although their “spawn” (really???) who are born in America cannot be deported. We do not get to disregard the Constitution when it is inconvenient. Let’s leave that to the liberals OK?

    On the terrorism issue, however the ACLU’s record is mixed. In some cases it has fulfilled its original mission, acting to keep the government from being able to violate the constitutional rights of its citizens with impunity if it claims it is acting in the name of national security. It has done this in conjunction with Bob Barr and libertarian organizations. I would think someone who claims to be a libertarian would be a little less uncritical in accepting the claim that we must allow the government to do anything as long as it claims is necessary to prevent terrorism. It HAS been excessive in its advocacy of terrorist defendants’ rights (of course as a prosecutor and a Republican I am not unbiased on this issue). In any case the idea that they are a greater threat than the zealots who are trying to attack us is absurd on its face. Again that sort of fuzzy thinking is best left to our leftist friends.

  • Adam Ondo

    Maybe you’re right, I still think they’re a threat. But just to clarify, I didn’t write any articles talking about libertarianism or claiming to be one; those were other writers. I’m a neoconservative in some aspects, but I’m more of a authoritarian than libertarian, in the sense that I don’t believe we should have states (federal uniformity makes more sense, if something’s okay in Florida, than it should be okay in Ohio) and I favor government power, though not exactly a large government (bureaucracies are terrible), just one that can do whatever it needs to do.

  • MICHAEL POWERS

    Meh, I can’t really show my debating skills when the Times doesn’t even acknowledge having received my letters to the editor. Apparently debate has to take place on here, where no one will see anything.

    How useless.

  • PJ Birkman

    My apologies – I did have you confused with another writer with the same Fox News style of writing and debate.

    To summarize my point: ACLU = threat – OK. ACLU = greatest threat to America – hyperbolic absurdity.

    And eliminating states to centralize power in an authoritarian central government – you are one crazy ******* (actually I just believe that is horribly misguided and hope you come to change your mind as you gain more knowledge and experience.)

    • Adam Ondo

      Why don’t you actually comment on the article instead of my beliefs on a uniform legal and political system and the ACLU. Because those actually aren’t mentioned in the article.



UR’s political culture and its effects

It's time to stop the polarization that this country has been experiencing and come together as a campus.

Unconditional love

There are a lot of things that Web MD can't teach you when your mother succumbs to dementia.

A rocky road for UR’s mascot

UR's mascot has changed it's face several times over the years—discover the road that led us to who we have today.