Glenn Beck: We must defend Fred Phelps’s right to picket soldiers’ funerals

posted at 7:03 pm on October 6, 2010 by Allahpundit

Must we? Even the Supreme Court sounds like it’s not sure. Via McClatchy, a report on this morning’s oral arguments in the hotly anticipated Snyder v. Westboro Baptist Church case. Does a scumbag have a right to be a scumbag on the street outside a fallen hero’s funeral?

Supreme Court justices seemed both troubled and divided Wednesday as they questioned whether a small Kansas church could be punished for an outrageous protest outside a military funeral…

“If he simply buries his son, is he a public figure open to this protest or not?” Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr. asked, receiving an equivocal answer.

The question is crucial, because speech about public persons and public affairs typically wins the most protection from courts.

“What case stands for the proposition that public speech or speech on a public matter directed toward a private person should be treated differently depending upon the recipient of the speech?” Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked, without getting a clear answer.

In a 1988 case pitting the Rev. Jerry Falwell versus Hustler magazine, the Supreme Court unanimously decided a public figure like Falwell could not win damages for emotional distress caused, in that case, by a harsh magazine satire. Sean Summers, the lawyer representing Snyder, repeatedly cited the Falwell case, arguing it was different because his client is a private individual.

The legal question, apparently, is whether the Court should extend the two-tiered approach in defamation cases to cases involving intentional infliction of emotional distress. In defamation law, whether you’re a public or private figure determines the legal standard to which someone who libels you is held; soon we’ll find out if that’s also true of “outrageous” speech aimed at hurting people, with public figures fair game but private figures presumably off limits. More on the privacy angle from Doug Gansler, attorney general of Maryland, who’s on Snyder’s side in this one:

Most Americans, myself included, believe in the First Amendment’s vital role in our democracy and are willing to tolerate noxious expressions of free speech in its defense. But even if this right allows one to spread hate through speech, it does not alter the wrongfulness of targeting a particular individual with that speech, whether by intentionally inflicting emotional distress on a grieving parent or by criminally invading a person’s privacy during his most intimate moments…

The Constitution creates an impressive framework of rights that should be robustly defended. But these rights were created by the people, for the people, and when they are invoked to evade responsibility for wrongs committed against the people, their value is diminished. In deciding Snyder, the Supreme Court should be careful not to let the boundaries of our rights be set purely by those who wish to abuse them. To do otherwise would bring dishonor to those, like Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who fought to protect them.

That’s a nice try but I’m with Beck. In fact, it’s a testament to Fred Phelps’s diabolical imagination that this case is as close as it is, that he’s managed to come up with a form of picketing so loathsome that even lawyers and judges are straining for ways to make it actionable. Case in point, behold this obtuse formulation of the issue at hand from counsel at the American Jewish Committee: “Free speech encompasses hate speech but this church is off the wall. They’re not just saying things, they’re shoving it down people’s throats.” I look forward to our judiciary trying to articulate the “shoved down people’s throats” standard of free speech. I’m also curious to hear more about the idea proposed by Beck’s colleague in the clip by which speech would be actionable if uttering it put the speaker at risk for violent retaliation (call it the “for their own safety” standard). We already have a version of that doctrine in free speech law, but to extend it now — when burning a Koran can attract the attention of the president of the United States and cause people like Stephen Breyer to launch into “fire in a crowded theater” analogies — strikes me as a singularly bad idea. If Phelps owes damages here, would Terry Jones owe damages to a Muslim spectator had he gone through with his stunt? Serious question. Why not? Click the image to watch.


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rukiddingme on October 7, 2010 at 2:00 PM

I’d rather give a finger to the courts who allow this to continue to be legal than the WBC.

NoDonkey on October 7, 2010 at 2:06 PM

If I do have to bury them, and if the WBC fools are in the background, then the WBC fools will have to violate the 1,000 feet distance requirement so they can see my middle finger salute.

rukiddingme on October 7, 2010 at 2:00 PM

Okay, here is the deal on that. It only works on Military/National Cemetery’s. Some States and Counties do not have that policy and will not enforce it especially on private plots. Also, this doesn’t work on private businesses either. I know you think it does, but it does not unless it is federal.

I am glad your family is safe. Think about the others who are dealing with these morons. Since it is becoming cold, they won’t protest as much outside the OK areas. But if they win… they will be all over next spring which they won’t just be at funerals, and you can count on it.

upinak on October 7, 2010 at 2:07 PM

It is a disappointment to this conservative that some here are arguing that the right to free speech has no limits, whatsoever, and that Phelps has the “right” to say whatever her wants to whereever he wants to.
JannyMae on October 7, 2010 at 1:52 PM

You must have missed the part where I talked about common decency above.

Free speech does have limits. This case is an excellent example of testing said limits.

The Westboro ilk did not have the right to say whatever they wanted wherever they wanted.

They were required, and abided by said requirement, to maintain a distance of 1,000 feet.

rukiddingme on October 7, 2010 at 2:08 PM

There was a time in this country when these a-holes would have been laughed out of court.

NoDonkey on October 7, 2010 at 1:52 PM

In my dream world there was a day when these cowardly d!ckweed scumbuckets would never have even made it to the courthouse.

Gang-of-One on October 7, 2010 at 2:58 PM

You must have missed the part where I talked about common decency above.

Oh but common sense and common decency have NOTHING whatsoever to do with the “law”.

You see, the “law” is a magical force, conjured up by our wizard masses and unable to be comprehended by mere mortals.

So if our wizard masters say “2+2=5″ or “red is green” or “night is day”, well that’s just what it is, no need to even think another moment about it.

We don’t have the Christian religion in this country, what we have is multiple pagan religions and the most odious is the worship of lawyers and judges.

NoDonkey on October 7, 2010 at 3:07 PM

Is anyone else having trouble posting normally accepted posts?

Gang-of-One on October 7, 2010 at 3:11 PM

This is only a slippery slope to people who do not have a brain…they crossed the line, they should not be allowed to continue.
BTW…how is Becks blindness coming along and his “MS”…when are the rest of you going to realize, Beck is just another long line of clever commentators who tap into emotions…just a conservative preacher, raising his voice at times, lowering his voice, admonishing, and praising, and never forgetting to pass the plate…in the name of conservationism, naturally.

right2bright on October 7, 2010 at 3:32 PM

Harassment is covered under the 1st Amendment?…this isn’t brain surgery.

Dr Evil on October 7, 2010 at 4:03 PM

Does the Phelps cult have the First Amendment right to do what they’re doing? Sure they do. But someone should remind the Good Reverend Phelps that Jesus told a crowd like his that the one without sin should cast the first stone. Religious nuts like him are like elitist Democrats= “Do as I command, not as I do”. I’m a Libertarian philosophically for a reason. Live and Let Live is the only way to go. It’s as American as apple pie….

adamsmith on October 7, 2010 at 4:26 PM

Does the Phelps cult have the First Amendment right to do what they’re doing? Sure they do.
adamsmith on October 7, 2010 at 4:26 PM

That’s the argument…some say he doesn’t…

right2bright on October 7, 2010 at 5:20 PM

Does the Phelps cult have the First Amendment right to do what they’re doing? Sure they do.

No – they don’t.

McCain – Feingold regulated political speech. Our “Supreme” Court blessed that and I mean “blessed” because it has reached cult status in this country. All genuflect to our robed masters.

This isn’t political speech. It’s a bunch of inbred cretins screaming vile words at people in mourning.

This is protected speech by our courts? Then all we have is nice, neat and pretty, anarchy.

Where good people get mauled by animals and it’s OK, because our judicial gods in heaven smile upon it.

NoDonkey on October 7, 2010 at 5:34 PM

The Supreme Court will most likely rule in favor of these scum bags and once again the people of the Country get screwed by the Men & Women in black Robes. I don’t think that the founding fathers had this in mind with Freedom of Speech. Seems that the viler the act, such as putting Christ in a jar or urine or throwing poop over the image of the Blessed Mother is protected by the Courts. If the Phelps Cult wanted to protest against Homosexualty- go to San Francisco or West Hollywood, not at the funeral of a fallen warrior. I am surprised that Rolling Thunder has not showed up and placed a protected circle around the family and then took care of business after wards. These people are no more Christian than the Taliban

flintstone on October 7, 2010 at 5:50 PM

Good point, Flintstone. San Francisco or Key West would show some chutzpah. Meanwhile they protest against people who are at their weakest moment. There’s a special place in Hell for this group of Inbreds….

adamsmith on October 7, 2010 at 7:09 PM

You must have missed the part where I talked about common decency above.

Free speech does have limits. This case is an excellent example of testing said limits.

The Westboro ilk did not have the right to say whatever they wanted wherever they wanted.

They were required, and abided by said requirement, to maintain a distance of 1,000 feet.

rukiddingme on October 7, 2010 at 2:08 PM

And you must’ve missed my post above, where I made the case that what Phelps was engaging in was not a legitimate form of “protest,” and therefore is not “protected speech.” Disrupting a PRIVATE event doesn’t qualify, in my opinion, for first amendment protection. There are plenty of folks her that seem to be suggesting that ANY form of restriction on free speech is a dangerous thing. That’s the point I was making, and since you don’t agree with it, then I don’t have a beef with you.

However, from what I understand, from reading others’ comments, the “protestors” were equipped with bullhorns, and they were outside the entrance to the cemetery, so the idea that the funeral attendees were somehow isolated from them by this 1000 foot “buffer zone” is ridiculous.

JannyMae on October 7, 2010 at 7:57 PM

Harassment is covered under the 1st Amendment?…this isn’t brain surgery.

Dr Evil on October 7, 2010 at 4:03 PM

I couldn’t agree more. What Phelps engages in amounts to harassment, not a legitimate “political protest.” Disrupting private events is not protected speech.

JannyMae on October 7, 2010 at 8:00 PM

Gang-of-One on October 7, 2010 at 2:58 PM

I don’t think it’s all that unlikely that someone will choose to express him/herself that way someday.

Harassment is covered under the 1st Amendment?…this isn’t brain surgery.

Dr Evil on October 7, 2010 at 4:03 PM

Yes, who knew? I sure didn’t.

Eren on October 7, 2010 at 8:46 PM

I’d rather give a finger to the courts who allow this to continue to be legal than the WBC.
NoDonkey on October 7, 2010 at 2:06 PM

Not I. My respect for the courts is greater than my respect for WBC.

rukiddingme on October 7, 2010 at 11:28 PM

Okay, here is the deal on that. It only works on Military/National Cemetery’s.

The Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act prohibits protests within 300 feet of of the entrance of any cemetery under control of the National Cemetery Administration (a division of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs) from 60 minutes before to 60 minutes after a funeral.

Some States and Counties do not have that policy and will not enforce it especially on private plots. Also, this doesn’t work on private businesses either. I know you think it does, but it does not unless it is federal.

Some States do not have any restrictions upon these particular types of protests. However, this specific protest was restricted by local authorities.

I am glad your family is safe. Think about the others who are dealing with these morons. Since it is becoming cold, they won’t protest as much outside the OK areas. But if they win… they will be all over next spring which they won’t just be at funerals, and you can count on it.
upinak on October 7, 2010 at 2:07 PM

Thank you. I am grateful for my family’s safety also.

As you have stated, this family is filled with lawyers. It seems reasonable to conclude these acts were designed precisely to achieve a ruling by SCOTUS.

SCOTUS is about to decide whether others may have to continue to deal with this behavior.

rukiddingme on October 7, 2010 at 11:38 PM

And you must’ve missed my post above, where I made the case that what Phelps was engaging in was not a legitimate form of “protest,” and therefore is not “protected speech.”

WBC does seem to be engaged in presenting the façade of political speech, to further their agenda of hatred that is justified, in their minds, by their religion.

Disrupting a PRIVATE event doesn’t qualify, in my opinion, for first amendment protection. There are plenty of folks her that seem to be suggesting that ANY form of restriction on free speech is a dangerous thing. That’s the point I was making, and since you don’t agree with it, then I don’t have a beef with you.

Understood.

However, from what I understand, from reading others’ comments, the “protestors” were equipped with bullhorns, and they were outside the entrance to the cemetery, so the idea that the funeral attendees were somehow isolated from them by this 1000 foot “buffer zone” is ridiculous.

JannyMae on October 7, 2010 at 7:57 PM

WBC may, in fact, be engaged in the behavior you describe at other funerals. It does not appear as though they were engaged in said behavior for this specific funeral.

Had WBC disrupted this specific funeral, Mr. Snyder would have been aware of the protest prior to watching the evening news. This fact suggests that the protestors did, for this specific case, adhere to the 1,000 feet “buffer zone”.

rukiddingme on October 7, 2010 at 11:55 PM

Not I. My respect for the courts is greater than my respect for WBC.

rukiddingme on October 7, 2010 at 11:28 PM

Not mine.

I hold the courts in lower regard than the WBC, because they deliberately and with knowledge, ignore their duty.

The courts are supposed to hold all citizens in equal regard, but they do not. They are biased in favor of evil people who prey on decent people and that is why our country is being gutted, both economically and morally.

We no longer have a justice system in this country, we have a rigged spoils system and a small group of people benefit.

NoDonkey on October 8, 2010 at 4:04 AM

In reply to ‘NoDonkey”. Amen, Amen.
The Courts care more about the suspects than they do the victims of crimes. Look at the antics of the 9th Circuit Court. I agree with your post 100%.

flintstone on October 8, 2010 at 10:28 AM

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