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The Supreme Court Rules in Favor of the Westboro Baptist Church

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The Supreme Court Rules in Favor of the Westboro Baptist Church

Post by Donald Williams on Wed Mar 02, 2011 11:59 am

http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/03/02/scotus.westboro.church/index.html?hpt=C1

Washington (CNN) -- A Kansas church known for its angry,
anti-gay protests at funerals of U.S. troops won an appeal Wednesday at
the Supreme Court in a case testing the competing constitutional rights
of free speech and privacy. In an 8-1 ruling, the justices said
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. "Speech is powerful. It can stir people
to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and -- as it did
here -- inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to
that pain by punishing the speaker," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote
for the majority. At issue was a delicate test between the
privacy rights of grieving families and the free speech rights of
demonstrators, however disturbing and provocative their message.
Several states have attempted to impose specific limits on when and
where the church members can protest. The church, led by pastor
Fred Phelps, believes God is punishing the United States for "the sin
of homosexuality" through events including soldiers' deaths. Members
have traveled the country shouting at grieving families at funerals and
displaying such signs as "Thank God for dead soldiers," "God blew up
the troops" and "AIDS cures fags."
Westboro members appeared outside the 2006 funeral for Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder in Westminster, Maryland, outside Baltimore. Snyder's
family sued the church in 2007, alleging invasion of privacy,
intentional infliction of emotional distress and civil conspiracy. A
jury awarded the family $2.9 million in compensatory damages, plus $8
million in punitive damages, which were later reduced to $5 million. The
church appealed the case in 2008 to a federal appeals court, which
reversed the judgments a year later, siding with the church's
allegations that its First Amendment rights were violated. Albert Snyder, Matthew's father, said his son was not gay and the protesters should not have been at the funeral. "I was just shocked that any individual could do this to another human being," Snyder told CNN. "I mean, it was inhuman." Church
members said their broader message was aimed at the unspecified actions
of the military and those who serve in it. They believe U.S. soldiers
deserve to die because they fight for a country that tolerates
homosexuality. In his opinion, Roberts noted the Snyder family
was not a "captive audience" to the protests conducted several hundred
yards away. "Westboro stayed well away from the memorial
service," Roberts wrote. "Snyder could see no more than the tops of the
signs when driving to the funeral. And there is no indication that the
picketing itself in any way interfered with the funeral itself." The court therefore concluded Snyder could not collect damages from Westboro. But the chief justice showed little sympathy for the message Westboro promotes. "Westboro
believes that America is morally flawed; many Americans might feel the
same about Westboro. Westboro's funeral picketing is certainly hurtful
and its contribution to public discourse may be negligible," he said.
However, "As a nation we have chosen a different course -- to protect
even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle
public debate." The ruling was a narrow one, dealing with the
specific, unusual facts of this appeal. Such vocal protests at military
funerals are almost entirely confined to this one small group. Roberts
said on the free speech question, it was enough to rely on "limited
principles that sweep no more broadly than the appropriate context of
the instant case." Only Justice Samuel Alito dissented. He said
the church's "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," he said. "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." The Supreme Court has never addressed
the specific issue of laws designed to protect the "sanctity and
dignity of memorial and funeral services" as well as the privacy of
family and friends of the deceased. But the high court has recognized
the state's interest in protecting people from unwanted protests or
communications while in their homes. The justices were being
asked to address how far states and private entities such as cemeteries
and churches can go to justify picket-free zones and the use of
"floating buffers" to silence or restrict the speech or movements of
demonstrators exercising their constitutional rights in a funeral
setting. A majority of states across the nation have responded
to the protests with varying levels of control over the Westboro church
protesters. In Wednesday's case, 48 states and dozens of members of
Congress filed amicus briefs in support of the Snyders. Church
members told the court they have a duty to protest and picket at
certain events, including funerals, to promote their religious message:
"That God's promise of love and heaven for those who obey him in this
life is counterbalanced by God's wrath and hell for those who do not
obey him." The congregation is made up mostly of Phelps and his
family. The pastor has 13 children and at least 54 grandchildren and
seven great-grandchildren. He described himself as an "old-time"
gospel preacher in a CNN interview in 2006, saying, "You can't preach
the Bible without preaching the hatred of God." Church members have participated in several hundred protests across the country. In
2009, the high court blocked Missouri's effort to enforce a specific
law aimed at the Westboro church. Phelps, daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper
and other church members had protested near the August 2005 funeral of
a soldier in St. Joseph, Missouri.
State lawmakers later passed the Spc. Edward Lee Myers Law, criminalizing
picketing "in front of or about" a funeral location or procession.


Last edited by Donald Williams on Wed Mar 02, 2011 6:26 pm; edited 2 times in total

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Re: The Supreme Court Rules in Favor of the Westboro Baptist Church

Post by superkameguru on Wed Mar 02, 2011 1:03 pm

UR MUR GURD......... im really surprised he hasnt been killed yet
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Re: The Supreme Court Rules in Favor of the Westboro Baptist Church

Post by JakeTheSnake on Wed Mar 02, 2011 3:21 pm

As much as I'm against Westboro, ruling against them would put a great dent in free speech.

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Re: The Supreme Court Rules in Favor of the Westboro Baptist Church

Post by Cjanz on Wed Mar 02, 2011 3:48 pm

I love this ruling. I don't care if what someone is saying is the most reprehensible thing in the world. It has a right to be said.

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Re: The Supreme Court Rules in Favor of the Westboro Baptist Church

Post by ZIMMER1994 on Wed Mar 02, 2011 10:22 pm

I agree completely! Way to go Supreme Court! Also CJanz I love the Haters Gonna Hate thing. Always have, always will.
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Re: The Supreme Court Rules in Favor of the Westboro Baptist Church

Post by superkameguru on Thu Mar 03, 2011 6:58 pm

well yea im in complete agreement to with the ruling but that doesnt mean im any less surprised that phelps hasnt been killed because of what he said
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Re: The Supreme Court Rules in Favor of the Westboro Baptist Church

Post by MasonK565 on Thu Mar 03, 2011 9:48 pm

They obviously made the right decision in this case. I just don't like Phelps.

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