SCOTUS: No jackass exception to the First Amendment

posted at 10:55 am on March 2, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

Considering just how emotionally and politically fraught the case of Snyder v Phelps is, the Supreme Court showed a surprising level of unanimity in striking down a lawsuit against the despicable Fred Phelps cult.  With only Samuel Alito dissenting, the Court dismissed a civil lawsuit for the intentional infliction of emotional distress to the family of a soldier whose funeral got picketed by the Westboro Baptist Church.  The justices ruled that the lawsuit would set a precedent that would eventually erode the right to free political speech:

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the First Amendment protects fundamentalist church members who mount attention-getting, anti-gay protests outside military funerals.

The court voted 8-1 in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. The decision upheld an appeals court ruling that threw out a $5 million judgment to the father of a dead Marine who sued church members after they picketed his son’s funeral.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for the court. Justice Samuel Alito dissented.

The opinion can be found here.  The majority frames the question in this passage:

Whether the First Amendment prohibits holding Westboro liable for its speech in this case turns largely  on whether that speech is of public or private concern, as determined by all the circumstances of the case.  “[S]peech on ‘matters of public concern’ . . . is ‘at the  heart of the First Amendment’s protection.’ ”  Dun & Bradstreet, Inc. v. Greenmoss Builders,  Inc., 472 U. S. 749, 758–759 (1985) (opinion of Powell, J.)  (quoting First Nat. Bank  of  Boston v.  Bellotti, 435 U. S. 765, 776 (1978)).  The First Amendment reflects “a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.”  New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U. S. 254, 270 (1964).   That is because “speech concerning public affairs is more than self-expression; it is the essence of self-government.”   Garrison v.  Louisiana, 379 U. S. 64, 74–75 (1964).  Accordingly, “speech on public issues occupies the highest rung  of the hierarchy of First Amendment values, and is entitled to special protection.” Connick v.  Myers, 461 U. S. 138, 145 (1983) (internal quotation marks omitted).

“ ‘[N]ot all speech is  of equal First Amendment importance,’ ” however, and where matters of purely private significance are at issue, First Amendment protections are often less rigorous.  Hustler, supra, at 56 (quoting Dun & Bradstreet, supra, at 758); see Connick, supra, at 145–147. That is because restricting speech on purely private matters does not implicate the same constitutional concerns as limiting speech on matters of public interest: “[T]here is no threat to the free and robust debate of public issues; there is no potential interference with a meaningful dialogue of ideas”; and the “threat of liability” does not pose the risk of “a reaction of self-censorship” on matters of public import.  Dun & Bradstreet, supra, at 760 (internal quotation marks omitted). …

The “content” of Westboro’s signs plainly relates to broad issues of interest to society at large, rather than matters of  “purely private concern.”   Dun &  Bradstreet, supra, at  759.  The placards read “God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11,” “America is Doomed,” “Don’t Pray for the USA,” “Thank God for IEDs,” “Fag Troops,”  “Semper Fi Fags,” “God Hates Fags,” “Maryland Taliban,” “Fags Doom Nations,” “Not Blessed Just Cursed,” “Thank God for  Dead Soldiers,” “Pope in Hell,” “Priests Rape Boys,” “You’re Going to Hell,” and “God Hates You.”  App. 3781–3787.  While these messages may  fall short  of refined social or political commentary, the issues they highlight—the political and moral conduct of the United States and its citizens, the fate of our Nation, homosexuality in the  military, and scandals involving the Catholic clergy—are matters of public import.  The signs certainly convey Westboro’s position on those issues,  in a manner designed, unlike the private speech in Dun & Bradstreet, to reach as broad a public audience as possible.  And even if a few of  the signs—such as “You’re Going  to Hell” and “God  Hates You”—were viewed as containing messages related to Matthew Snyder or the Snyders specifically, that would not change the fact that the overall thrust and dominant theme of Westboro’s demonstration spoke tobroader public issues.

Apart from the content of Westboro’s signs, Snyder contends that the “context” of  the speech—its connection with his son’s funeral—makes the speech a matter of private  rather than public concern.   The fact that Westboro spoke in connection with a funeral, however, cannot by itself transform the nature of Westboro’s speech. Westboro’s signs, displayed on public land next to a public street, reflect the fact  that the church finds much to condemn in modern society.  Its speech is “fairly characterized as constituting speech on a matter of public concern,” Connick, 461 U. S., at 146, and the funeral  setting does not alter that conclusion.

This seems to be an eye-of-the-beholder issue.  Regardless of the nature of the intrusion into the private funerals of those who died in military service to this country, it’s clear that the Phelps cult believes that its protest is on public policy.  The protests rage against the tolerance shown to gays in American society and in American public policy, and warn that God continues to punish us for it.  They protest at funerals because their diseased political stance is that God kills our soldiers because of our tolerance for sin.

Alito is passionate in his dissent:

Our  profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the  vicious verbal assault that  occurred in this case.

Petitioner Albert Snyder is not  a public figure.   He is simply a parent whose son, Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, was killed in Iraq.  Mr. Snyder wanted what is surely the right of any parent who experiences such anincalculable loss: to bury his son in peace.   But respondents, members of the Westboro Baptist Church, deprived him of that elementary right.   They first issued a press release and thus turned Matthew’s funeral into a tumultuous media event.   They then appeared at the church, approached as closely  as they could without trespassing, and launched a malevolent verbal attack on Matthew and his family at a time of acute emotional vulnerability.  As a result, Albert Snyder suffered severe and lasting emotional injury.1 The Court now holds that the First Amendment protected  respondents’ right to brutalize Mr. Snyder.  I cannot agree. …

First—and  most important—the  Court finds that “the overall thrust and dominant theme of [their] demonstration spoke  to” broad  public issues.  Ante,  at  8.    As  I  have  attempted  to show, this portrayal is quite inaccurate; respondents’ attack on Matthew was of central importance.  But in any event, I fail to see why actionable speech should be immunized simply because it is interspersed with speech that is protected.  The First Amendment allows recovery for defamatory statements that are interspersed with nondefamatory statements on matters of public concern, and there is no good reason why respondents’ attack on Matthew Snyder and his family should be treated differently.

Second, the Court suggests that respondents’  personal attack on Matthew Snyder is entitled to First Amendment protection because it was not motivated by a private grudge, see  ante, at 9, but I see  no basis for the strange distinction that the Court appears to draw.  Respondents’ motivation—“to increase publicity for its views,” ibid.—did not transform their statements attacking the character of a private figure into statements that made a contribution to debate on matters of public concern.   Nor did their publicity-seeking motivation soften the sting of their attack.  And as far as  culpability  is concerned, one might well think  that wounding statements uttered in the heat of a private feud are  less, not more, blameworthy than similar statements made as part  of a cold and calculated strategy to slash a stranger as a means of attracting public attention.

Third, the Court finds it significant that respondents’ protest occurred on a public street, but this fact alone should not  be enough  to preclude IIED liability.   To be sure, statements made on a public street  may be less likely to satisfy the elements of the IIED tort than statements made on private property, but there  is no reason why a public street in close  proximity to  the scene of a funeral should be regarded as a free-fire zone in which otherwise actionable verbal attacks are shielded from liability.  If the First  Amendment permits  the States to protect  their residents from the  harm inflicted by such attacks—and the Court does not hold otherwise—then the location of  the tort should not be dispositive.   A physical assault may occur  without trespassing; it is no defense that the perpetrator had “the right to be where [he was].” See ante, at 11.  And the same should be true with respect to unprotected speech.   Neither  classic “fighting words” nor defamatory statements are immunized when they occur in a public place, and there is no good reason to treat a verbal assault based on the conduct or character of a private figure like Matthew Snyder any differently.

Be sure to read it all; Alito makes as good a case as I’ve seen for allowing the $5 million judgment to stand.


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Comment pages: 1 2

I saw this coming. No surprise, as disgusting as it is.

ladyingray on March 2, 2011 at 11:00 AM

BREAKING: Two American soldiers shot, killed at Germany’s Frankfurt airport.

amerpundit on March 2, 2011 at 11:01 AM

Correction: Westboro Baptist Church Satanic Leftists (there that’s better)

Leftists do some truly despicable things in this world, but Fred Phelps offers new lows, even for Democrats.

Former three-time (3X!) Democrat gubernatorial candidate Fred Phelps Jr. and his satanic Westboro Hate Cult are Leftists, masquerading as Christians. Phelps supported the 1988 presidential bid of Al Gore, whose campaign used Phelps’ family office space.
Discover the Westboro Leftists.

The Phelps Leftists are best understood as hate-hoax street performance artists. They are the lowest form of Leftist gutter “moby“.

Own Fred Phelps, progressives. He’s all yours.

Terp Mole on March 2, 2011 at 11:01 AM

So all the liberals on the court agreed with the conservatives that the FA is paramount, with the only dissent coming from a conservative member who argued that this WBC hate speech went beyond protected speech?

That complicates things a bit for the SCOTUS conservative bashers, doesn’t it?

Good Lt on March 2, 2011 at 11:02 AM

7.62

a capella on March 2, 2011 at 11:03 AM

amerpundit on March 2, 2011 at 11:01 AM

Yep, got FNC on at home. Called in sick today.
Prayers attending for their families and fellow soldiers.

OmahaConservative on March 2, 2011 at 11:03 AM

CORRECTION: Westboro Baptist Church Satanic Leftists.

/there, that’s better

Terp Mole on March 2, 2011 at 11:03 AM

BREAKING: Two American soldiers shot, killed at Germany’s Frankfurt airport.

amerpundit on March 2, 2011 at 11:01 AM

Ugh. Just heard this on the radio…

ladyingray on March 2, 2011 at 11:04 AM

I hate these people with the heat of a thousand suns but they still have the right to protest. It pains me to say that.

Shiny_Tiara on March 2, 2011 at 11:04 AM

We have laws against hate speech, we fine some dude for reciting the Gettysburg Address, at the Lincoln Memorial, because he didn’t have a permit to do so. But these collectively, braindead morons get to do whatever the he!! they want?

I’m all for free speech, but at a funeral? We can have free speech, but in my opinion, there must be boundaries. If you aren’t part of the grievers, then get the he!! out of there, and protest somewhere else.

capejasmine on March 2, 2011 at 11:04 AM

BREAKING: Two American soldiers shot, killed at Germany’s Frankfurt airport.

amerpundit on March 2, 2011 at 11:01 AM

Probably islamists attackers.

the_nile on March 2, 2011 at 11:05 AM

Only one judge really matters in this case.

darwin-t on March 2, 2011 at 11:06 AM

As a result, Albert Snyder suffered severe and lasting emotional injury

I’m afraid Alito loses me right there. I don’t recognize “emotional injury” as a valid claim requiring restitution.

Count to 10 on March 2, 2011 at 11:06 AM

God hates no one. He hates certain actions, but not the person. Phelps is a liar and in his own private Hell.

rbj on March 2, 2011 at 11:07 AM

We must exercise our free speech rights and denounce these monsters. They drag the name of Christ through the mud. They must be demon possessed!!!

I can‘t judge a man’s heart I can only judge a man’s actions. These people don’t act like any Christians I know.

NickDeringer on March 2, 2011 at 11:07 AM

I’m all for free speech, but at a funeral? We can have free speech, but in my opinion, there must be boundaries. If you aren’t part of the grievers, then get the he!! out of there, and protest somewhere else.

capejasmine on March 2, 2011 at 11:04 AM

I dont understand how you got the right to disturb people on a funeral.

Can I protest against a neighbor for hours in the middle of the night?

the_nile on March 2, 2011 at 11:08 AM

rbj: Phelps is a liar and in his own private Hell.

The Phelps Leftists are best understood as hate-hoax street performance artists. They are the lowest form of Leftist gutter moby“.

Own Fred Phelps, progressives. He’s all yours.

Terp Mole on March 2, 2011 at 11:09 AM

Can I protest against a neighbor for hours in the middle of the night?

the_nile on March 2, 2011 at 11:08 AM

Not if there is a noise ordinance.

Count to 10 on March 2, 2011 at 11:09 AM

I agree 100% with Alito here.

Curmudgeon on March 2, 2011 at 11:09 AM

but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. James 3:8

The SCOTUS is affirming this truth. The SCOTUS cannot make a rule to tame a person’s speech. Consequences from other ways will be visited upon those who speak jackassery.

ted c on March 2, 2011 at 11:10 AM

As long as they are protesting on public property or on private property with the owner’s permission, this is what the 1st Amendment is about.

On the other hand, there is the issue of “incitement to riot”. And if there’s slander or libel involved, anyone has a right to claim such as truth and face the consequences in a lawsuit.

That being said, this Torah observant Jew, residing in Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Nation of Israel, wishes that Phelps and his gang drop dead – the sooner the better.

Shy Guy on March 2, 2011 at 11:10 AM

NickDeringer: These people don’t act like any Christians I know.

That’s because they’re not Christians.

Satanic Leftists do some truly despicable things in this world, but Fred Phelps offers new lows, even for Democrats.

Former three-time (3X!) Democrat gubernatorial candidate Fred Phelps Jr. (and his satanic Westboro Hate Cult) are Leftists, masquerading as Christians. Phelps supported the 1988 presidential bid of Al Gore, whose campaign used Phelps’ family office space.

Terp Mole on March 2, 2011 at 11:11 AM

Repeat from headline comments: They will stop when it costs them more than they gain. Since they have no true moral or religious ground on which to stand, that cost is real and measurable. It should be found and exploited.

SKYFOX on March 2, 2011 at 11:11 AM

Prayers attending ascending for their families and fellow soldiers.

OmahaConservative on March 2, 2011 at 11:03 AM

FIFM

OmahaConservative on March 2, 2011 at 11:12 AM

Probably islamists attackers.

the_nile on March 2, 2011 at 11:05 AM

I was thinking Quakers or Amish-maybe Christian Scientists.
///

annoyinglittletwerp on March 2, 2011 at 11:12 AM

amerpundit on March 2, 2011 at 11:01 AM

:(

capejasmine on March 2, 2011 at 11:12 AM

How much you want to bet that when Fred Phelps assumes room temperature, he has a quick, secret, private burial – far away from any possible demonstrations!

kurtzz3 on March 2, 2011 at 11:13 AM

Sending check to Patriot Guard.

soozer47 on March 2, 2011 at 11:13 AM

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. – Voltaire?

imshocked on March 2, 2011 at 11:13 AM

I dont understand how you got the right to disturb people on a funeral.

This was 1,000 feet away from the funeral.

Can I protest against a neighbor for hours in the middle of the night?

the_nile on March 2, 2011 at 11:08 AM

Probably not. Even protected speech is subject to reasonable time, place and manner restrictions.

crr6 on March 2, 2011 at 11:14 AM

The court avoided a slippery slope on this: Here is the right way to handle these nut jobs.

michaelo on March 2, 2011 at 11:15 AM

I despise Christian activist Fred Phelps and everything for which he stands. That said, this is the correct decision by the USSC.

Vic on March 2, 2011 at 11:16 AM

Since the USSC has ruled that action can equal speech…i.e., burning a flag or staging a sit-in….perhaps if one or a group were to take action against the Westboro Whackos they’d be protected under the same First Amendment? Could go for a two-fer…freedom of religion (God told us to do it) and speech (after all it was public, it was about a national issue)? Not advocating such…of course. But if the parameters are to be drawn as they have been…then why cannot one operate within those same parameters?

As with so-called progressive “christians” (subject of last night’s QOTD) these Westboro folks are no more Baptist nor Christian than cow dung, though there is a resemblance….to dung, not Christianity. They’ve usurped the mantel of religion for their own personal mischief. It is sickening.

coldwarrior on March 2, 2011 at 11:16 AM

But Jesus taught that men will give account for their words in the Day of Judgment (Mt. 12:36-37)

36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

ted c on March 2, 2011 at 11:16 AM

It is not up to us to acquit or condemn these people. Their words will do it for them.

ted c on March 2, 2011 at 11:17 AM

Phelps is another victim of willy-nilly bible interpretation.

I doubt he was seeking God and studying to show himself approved unto God when he discovered that God’s message for this age is that he “hates f*gs.”

He, once again, made the monster mistake of starting with the conclusion he wanted and went off to find justification for it and then forcing everything he found to fit what he already believed (or wanted to believe).

mankai on March 2, 2011 at 11:17 AM

US policy in the Middle east created Fred Phelps.
-Ron Paul

/

mankai on March 2, 2011 at 11:19 AM

Eh, the world is full of jackwagons and unfortunately they have to be endured from time to time. We start restricting speech based on some vague notion of not being “proper” then the can o’ worms is going to get opened.

Bishop on March 2, 2011 at 11:19 AM

Do Phelps and the Westboro Church have protesters at their church on a regular basis?

d1carter on March 2, 2011 at 11:19 AM

I’m withholding judgment until crr6 gets here to weigh in…

stvnscott on March 2, 2011 at 11:19 AM

Vic: Christian activist Fred Phelps

Phelps is no Christian. He is a Satanic Leftist hate cult leader performing anti-Christian pantomimes for the gutter Leftist audience.

Terp Mole on March 2, 2011 at 11:20 AM

One of the bright spots in America in this era of ever-growing government power and ever-diminishing respect for the Bill of Rights is the continued and growing protection of freedom of speech. Well done to the Court.

Inkblots on March 2, 2011 at 11:20 AM

Westboro is a member of of The Primitive Baptists.

OmahaConservative on March 2, 2011 at 11:22 AM

Be sure to read it all; Alito makes as good a case as I’ve seen for allowing the $5 million judgment to stand.

I agree.

I generally side with the majority that even though the speech is hideous, it is protected. However, Alito has me rethinking my position. His argument is a good one.

Abby Adams on March 2, 2011 at 11:22 AM

Ugh. Very disappointed in Thomas and Roberts for not concurring with Alito’s logical argument. To me this is a very simple issue that really has nothing to do with free speech, but everything to do with the “right” of organized mobs to harass and bully private citizens. Preventing thugs from being abusive at funerals (or weddings!) does not in any way chill the First Amendment. These thugs have every other avenue (no pun intended) available to them to express their ‘thoughts’ – they can preach in their “church”, they can send out flyers, use the internet, make videos yadda yadda yadda – the opportunities to “speak” are endless.

Buy Danish on March 2, 2011 at 11:22 AM

Correct decision. Remember, justice is the purpose of law, not fairness. This is how it has to be.

That said, my heart breaks for the Snyder family.

pugwriter on March 2, 2011 at 11:23 AM

I detest Phelps’ actions. If he’s a “Baptist”, I’m a Leftist. That said, I think the Court got it right.

tgharris on March 2, 2011 at 11:23 AM

Well then it is game on. One thing this ruling shows is that the Supreme Court does still take the Constitution seriously. I don’t agree with the ruling on a personal level but it is what it is.

So Mr Phelps has a right to free speech as do those who oppose him do. It is time for those who hold these punks in disgust to start exercising some of their First Amendment rights also.

Just A Grunt on March 2, 2011 at 11:24 AM

Why do I have this funny feeling that Phelps is probably a closet homosexual?

mankai on March 2, 2011 at 11:25 AM

This decision does not square at all with the doctrine of so-called “hate speech.” Unless, that is, the courts wish to affirm that the rights of racial and sexual minorities trump those of “mainstream” citizens.

Excepting his comment about Snyder’s “pain and suffering” — which, IMO, while no doubt real, doesn’t reach a level where judicial relief is indicated — Alito has it right.

But the Court, like the current regime in D.C. and deluded liberals everywhere, chooses to ignore the responsibilities that go along with rights.

A stupid decision by the Supremes, to put it mildly.

MrScribbler on March 2, 2011 at 11:26 AM

Assailants purportedly sent by al-Qaida and the Taliban killed the only Christian member of Pakistan’s federal Cabinet Wednesday, spraying his car with bullets outside his mother’s driveway. It was the second assassination in two months of a high-profile opponent of blasphemy laws that impose the death penalty for insulting Islam.

Bhatti said he was threatened by the Taliban and al-Qaida, but that this would not deter him from speaking for “oppressed and marginalized persecuted Christians and other minorities” in Pakistan. “I will die to defend their rights,”

http://www.theblaze.com/stories/assassinated-christian-pakistani-govt-official-taped-prophetic-death-message/

I detest the actions of Westboro Baptist Church. The above story is somewhat related as there is a Christian man that died as an opponent to blasphemy laws. He wanted Christians to have the ability to speak as they wished and it appears the SCOTUS has taken a similar stance as Mr. Bhatti. I could be wrong and these stories are less connected than I am assuming they are, but change the context of the two cases and see how your perception of the SCOTUS outcome might be altered.

my 2c.

ted c on March 2, 2011 at 11:31 AM

Phelps interpreted it as an act of divine retribution. Soon thereafter he created the website http://www.GodHatesSweden.com, which disparaged Sweden’s monarch Carl XVI Gustaf as the “King of Sodomite Whores,” and stated: “WARNING!!! To God’s Elect: Leave Sweden NOW!!!”

5th. That God elected and chose, in His Eternal counsel, some persons to life and salvation, before the foundation of the world, whom accordingly He doth and will effectually call, and whom He doth so call, He will certainly keep by His power, through faith to salvation. Acts xiii.48; Ephesians i.2-4; II Thessalonians ii.13; I Peter i.2, etc. – from Midland Confession (Primitive Baptists)

Gotta love the “predestination” crowd, they are usually the ones with the least amount of faith in their own doctrine. I hate to say it because I know the answers I’ll get… but If God has already chosen who will believe, what good does Fred Phelps think he’s doing?

The caveat is that I don’t know to what degree he holds God’s “sovereignty” whether it is only in salvation or in every movement of every finger (etc.). As Phelps’ theology seems only to consist of “God hates f*gs” it’s hard to tell.

mankai on March 2, 2011 at 11:32 AM

I agree 100% with Alito here.

Curmudgeon on March 2, 2011 at 11:09 AM

I think Alito is terrific-and cute-but i agree with Roberts and the majority.
If a conservative SCOTUS can restrict the 1st amendment right of scumbags like Westboro-a leftist Court could use the same reason to restrict the 1st amendment rights of people like us.
We don’t want that precedence being set.

annoyinglittletwerp on March 2, 2011 at 11:33 AM

Let loose the mohammud cartoons and see where SCOTUS stands.

marinetbryant on March 2, 2011 at 11:33 AM

And they’re not Christians… but they are Democrats.

The Tachmonites believe Phelps is “the last prophet,” with the power to determine who will be damned and who will be saved. They themselves, as followers of Phelps, also have the power to condemn souls to hell. Most people are destined for hell, but “Good Samaritans” who help the Tachmonites (for example, police officers who prevent counter-protesters from assaulting them) may be offered an indeterminate “reward” for their good conduct. Apparently “sola fide” is not part of the Tachmonites’ creed.

andycanuck on March 2, 2011 at 11:33 AM

This is one ruling that the Supreme Court got wrong on all counts!

This is not a case involving freedom of speech. It is a case of a vile cult with an equally vile leader who have warped passages from the Bible to a degree I have never seen done in my life and have used that twisting of Scripture to intentionally maligned the names of those who have given their lives in service to their country, and to intentionally inflict more pain and suffering on people who are already grieving over the loss of a loved one!

Frankly, if Fred Phelps and his merry band of misanthropes want to protest against gays, why have we yet to see them march down the streets of San Francisco, or New York, or Chicago, or any other major city that happens to have a large gay population and bring the Word of God to any of these places?

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that if they did, they would be lucky to escape the area with their lives.

Instead, they protest funerals, which I think is a cowardly, despicable act of absolute vileness.

pilamaye on March 2, 2011 at 11:35 AM

The vote in conference was probably unanimous, but Alito won the lottery and got to write the sole dissent.

Labamigo on March 2, 2011 at 11:38 AM

I’m glad to see the First Amendment alive and well no matter how offensive some of it’s abuses may be.

jeanie on March 2, 2011 at 11:38 AM

Let loose the mohammud cartoons and see where SCOTUS stands.

marinetbryant on March 2, 2011 at 11:33 AM

Now they have a precedent. I would say they’d have to say let the cartoons be.

ted c on March 2, 2011 at 11:40 AM

EM: “Alito makes as good a case as I’ve seen for allowing the… judgment to stand.”

The first amendment is sublime and deserving of bright-line protection from the SCOTUS. I am astonished at both Alito and Morrissey, two people I thought could have been counted on not to chip away at our most profound safeguard over mere distaste for an aberrant messenger.

Chaz on March 2, 2011 at 11:41 AM

Instead, they protest funerals, which I think is a cowardly, despicable act of absolute vileness.

pilamaye on March 2, 2011 at 11:35 AM

Last I checked, the first amendment doesn’t say anything about “excepting free speech deemd by a court or blog commenter to be dispicable acts of absolute violence…”

gryphon202 on March 2, 2011 at 11:41 AM

If a conservative SCOTUS can restrict the 1st amendment right of scumbags like Westboro-a leftist Court could use the same reason to restrict the 1st amendment rights of people like us.
We don’t want that precedence being set.

annoyinglittletwerp on March 2, 2011 at 11:33 AM

It has already been set.

Use the so-called “n-word” — or any other recognized pejorative — against a person who is in one of the protected racial, sexual or social groups — and you’ll be punished for “hate speech.” Make a verbal threat (with very wide latitude given to what words constitute a “threat” or “bullying”) and you’re a criminal.

This decision from the Supremes should therefore give us all the right to yell unacceptable words (or display them on signs) at anyone, anywhere, at any time. But it doesn’t.

MrScribbler on March 2, 2011 at 11:42 AM

I am astonished at both Alito and Morrissey, two people I thought could have been counted on not to chip away at our most profound safeguard over mere distaste for an aberrant messenger.

Chaz on March 2, 2011 at 11:41 AM

Put old Gryph in there too, then. I have defended both the majority decision as well as Alito’s dissent.

gryphon202 on March 2, 2011 at 11:43 AM

OmahaConservative asserts: Westboro is a member of of The Primitive Baptists.

Your source does not support that “member” assertion.

Phelps merely claims he is primitive Baptist.

Rev. Jim Jones claimed the Kool-Aid was God’s will.

Terp Mole on March 2, 2011 at 11:43 AM

Just a reminder: Membership in Patriot Guard Riders is free. They have a membership patch you can buy for ten bucks. Worth considering.

SKYFOX on March 2, 2011 at 11:45 AM

So just like the phrase, “Stop or I’ll shoot” has faded into the dust of time, so too will the phrase, “Them’s fighting words.”

I don’t care what rights you think you have, you intentionally disrupt the funeral of a loved one of mine you might as well ask the funeral home for a 2-for-1 special.

DrAllecon on March 2, 2011 at 11:48 AM

I don’t care what rights you think you have, you intentionally disrupt the funeral of a loved one of mine you might as well ask the funeral home for a 2-for-1 special.

DrAllecon on March 2, 2011 at 11:48 AM

Sorry to be so pointed, but it’s that kind of thinking that Fred Phelps thrives on. His church would not exist if not for the revenue from all the lawsuits he files.

/truthhurts

gryphon202 on March 2, 2011 at 11:50 AM

And just think, having only Alito in dissent means that if the Westboro gang had been demonstrating *in favor of* homosexuality, the First Amendment would’ve lost out 5-4 because Alito cares first about people’s emotional wellbeing and the four liberals care only about whether or not suspect speech favors their favored groups.

Chaz on March 2, 2011 at 11:51 AM

I don’t see any grounds for a lawsuit. From the article

Roberts said free speech rights in the First Amendment shield the funeral protesters, noting that they obeyed police directions and were 1,000 feet from the church.

Several weeks later, Albert Snyder was surfing the Internet for tributes to his son from other soldiers and strangers when he came upon a poem on the church’s website that attacked Matthew’s parents for the way they brought up their son.

Soon after, Snyder filed a lawsuit accusing the Phelpses of intentionally inflicting emotional distress. He won $11 million at trial, later reduced by a judge to $5 million.

Maybe I’m missing something, but from that this never should have gone to court in the first place.

pedestrian on March 2, 2011 at 11:52 AM

And just think, having only Alito in dissent means that if the Westboro gang had been demonstrating *in favor of* homosexuality, the First Amendment would’ve lost out 5-4 because Alito cares first about people’s emotional wellbeing and the four liberals care only about whether or not suspect speech favors their favored groups.

Chaz on March 2, 2011 at 11:51 AM

I’m just waiting for the Patriot Guard Riders to see a sudden spike in membership from complainers like yourself…

gryphon202 on March 2, 2011 at 11:52 AM

So, what of the right to assemble and grieve peacefully? That is a form of speech less equal than others, it seems.

“The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.” ~OWH

Christien on March 2, 2011 at 11:52 AM

Maybe I’m missing something, but from that this never should have gone to court in the first place.

pedestrian on March 2, 2011 at 11:52 AM

It’s called “intentional infliction of emotional distress,” and it is a well-established tort.

gryphon202 on March 2, 2011 at 11:53 AM

So, what of the right to assemble and grieve peacefully? That is a form of speech less equal than others, it seems.

“The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.” ~OWH

Christien on March 2, 2011 at 11:52 AM

Get out and join the patriot guard. You seem to be a person of passion, and they could use good men and women to put those beliefs into action. :P

gryphon202 on March 2, 2011 at 11:54 AM

Gryphon202: “Put old Gryph in there too, then.”

Sorry, Gryph. My radar cuts out not far below Morrissey’s altitude.

Chaz on March 2, 2011 at 11:56 AM

It’s called “intentional infliction of emotional distress,” and it is a well-established tort.

gryphon202 on March 2, 2011 at 11:53 AM

Thanks for the link. I completely agree with what it says here:

Courts in most jurisdictions take a decidedly unfavorable stance towards IIED claims. It is felt that they are generally frivolous claims for non-quantifiable harm, and often are appended to other more substantive claims merely as an afterthought. Meeting the element of conduct that is so outrageous as to be beyond the bounds of civilized society is extremely difficult, and consequently most claims fail.

The New York Court of Appeals, for example, has stated that “Indeed, of the intentional infliction of emotional distress claims considered by this Court, every one has failed because the alleged conduct was not sufficiently outrageous.” Howell v. New York Post.[10]

pedestrian on March 2, 2011 at 11:56 AM

pedestrian on March 2, 2011 at 11:56 AM

The supreme court, in any event, has made it far more difficult than it was before to even claim standing in an IIED case. This will have far-reaching effects beyond the WBC and Fred Phelps.

gryphon202 on March 2, 2011 at 11:58 AM

I’m afraid Alito loses me right there. I don’t recognize “emotional injury” as a valid claim requiring restitution.

Count to 10 on March 2, 2011 at 11:06 AM

Good point. Alito gets it wrong here. Fortunately, the other justices got it right.

dedalus on March 2, 2011 at 12:00 PM

Gryph, I take it your whine is some sort of veiled comment to the effect that I don’t support our troops. GFY.

Chaz on March 2, 2011 at 12:00 PM

DrAllecon on March 2, 2011 at 11:48 AM

And you, personally, have every right to make someone ask the funeral home for that – once they show up. But what makes you think government should get involved in actively restricting anyone’s right to assemble and protest?

Ryan Anthony on March 2, 2011 at 12:02 PM

Can I protest against a neighbor for hours in the middle of the night?

the_nile on March 2, 2011 at 11:08 AM

Not if there is a noise ordinance.

Count to 10 on March 2, 2011 at 11:09 AM

This.

You can have your despicable little protest, just keep the noise and nuisance down anywhere near the services.

ZenDraken on March 2, 2011 at 12:03 PM

Gryph, I take it your whine is some sort of veiled comment to the effect that I don’t support our troops. GFY.

Chaz on March 2, 2011 at 12:00 PM

I didn’t say anything about the troops, and I rarely if ever speak in veiled aphorisms. I think I’m pretty plain-spoken in my belief that the Supreme Court did get the majority opinion right, although I sympathize with Alito’s reasoning in the dissent.

What this has to do with your opinion of the troops is beyond me. I just think there are more constructive things to do than sit around carping and moaning on a blog about how “unfair” this SC opinion is — like joining the Patriot Guard.

gryphon202 on March 2, 2011 at 12:04 PM

Alito is the sole independent thinker.

wraithby on March 2, 2011 at 12:05 PM

Alito is the sole independent thinker.

wraithby on March 2, 2011 at 12:05 PM

Yeah I know. This whole “freedom” business sucks rawhide, doesn’t it?

gryphon202 on March 2, 2011 at 12:07 PM

gryphon202 on March 2, 2011 at 11:54 AM

In your experience, did joining give you teh Absolute Moral Authoritah? Always funny when people try to tell military family members what they need to do to support other military family members.

Christien on March 2, 2011 at 12:07 PM

This isn’t going to be the end of this issue. Phelps and company had better start taking out life and health insurance. No, it’s not a threat. Merely an observation that folks were content to let this play out in court, believing that Phelps had ‘crossed the line’. Since the court refuses to rein in their despicable activities, the public at large will provide their own ‘corrective’ action. And people will scratch their asses trying to understand ‘what happened’?

GarandFan on March 2, 2011 at 12:08 PM

Chaz on March 2, 2011 at 12:00 PM

Nah, he’s just getting off complaining on a blog about people complaining on a blog about a bunch of Westboro complainers.

Christien on March 2, 2011 at 12:09 PM

In your experience, did joining give you teh Absolute Moral Authoritah? Always funny when people try to tell military family members what they need to do to support other military family members.

Christien on March 2, 2011 at 12:07 PM

I neither have nor claim absolute moral authority. But neither do I see how carping and moaning in a blog’s comment section helps military family members. There are other ways to help besides joining the Patriot Guard riders, but that seems like a good and reasonable thing to do if you are so incensed by this travesty of injustice.

gryphon202 on March 2, 2011 at 12:09 PM

Nah, he’s just getting off complaining on a blog about people complaining on a blog about a bunch of Westboro complainers.

Christien on March 2, 2011 at 12:09 PM

And that’s the closest I think I’ll see you come to admitting that you are indeed a whiner.

gryphon202 on March 2, 2011 at 12:10 PM

Gryph: “I just think there are more constructive things to do than sit around carping and moaning on a blog about how “unfair” this SC opinion is.”

Says one who is sitting around carping and moaning on a blog. And not only did I not use the word “unfair” as you imply, I said the opposite. Since you don’t seem to be a very careful thinker, you’re back off my radar. Adios.

Chaz on March 2, 2011 at 12:11 PM

Nah, he’s just getting off complaining on a blog about people complaining on a blog about a bunch of Westboro complainers.

Christien on March 2, 2011 at 12:09 PM

Hrm…I didn’t know that

Go join the Patriot Guard Riders = complaining

I must read a different dictionary than you guys do.

gryphon202 on March 2, 2011 at 12:12 PM

gryphon202 on March 2, 2011 at 12:10 PM

Look who’s talking.

Christien on March 2, 2011 at 12:12 PM

Says one who is sitting around carping and moaning on a blog.

Chaz on March 2, 2011 at 12:11 PM

Go join the patriot guard = carping and moaning?

Ugh…Apparently I really need to work on my precision in language.

gryphon202 on March 2, 2011 at 12:13 PM

Everyone had to see this coming. I love the visual of neighbors, family and the Patriot Guard shielding the families from the Phelps loons. It is almost the perfect picture of the United States. Justice Alito’s dissent is beautiful and probably speaks for most us on an emotional level and that’s another piece of the picture.

Cindy Munford on March 2, 2011 at 12:19 PM

Everyone needs to stop mentioning their name and stop giving them publicity.

Mike Morrissey on March 2, 2011 at 12:20 PM

I knew this decision was coming and agree with it. Never underestimate the Hatefilled Left’s ability to have run with the opposite decision to curtail or end the free speech rights of the Right. You cannot give them one iota of an opening sorry…

CCRWM on March 2, 2011 at 12:20 PM

I hate these people with the heat of a thousand suns but they still have the right to protest. It pains me to say that.

Shiny_Tiara on March 2, 2011 at 11:04 AM

My sentiments exactly.

SoldiersMom on March 2, 2011 at 12:23 PM

Mike Morrissey on March 2, 2011 at 12:20 PM

I try to always refer to them by their inbred family surname, I can’t call that bunch a church of any kind.

Cindy Munford on March 2, 2011 at 12:25 PM

First Amendment for Westboro, but not for Fox News or talk radio.

petefrt on March 2, 2011 at 12:29 PM

No finding on citizen resistance, blocking or protection of people like the Snyder’s who have the right to be let alone.

We the People are the final arbiters.

Speakup on March 2, 2011 at 12:30 PM

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. – Voltaire?

imshocked on March 2, 2011 at 11:13 AM

Though these words are regularly attributed to Voltaire, they were first used by Evelyn Beatrice Hall, writing under the pseudonym of Stephen G. Tallentyre in The Friends of Voltaire (1906), as a summation of Voltaire’s beliefs on freedom of thought and expression.

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Evelyn_Beatrice_Hall

RedPepper on March 2, 2011 at 12:31 PM

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