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Author Topic: Supreme Court rules in favor of westboro to picket soldier's funerals.  (Read 5922 times)

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Offline Funguy81Topic starter

http://www.aolnews.com/2011/03/02/westboro-baptist-church-ruling-dissenting-justice-samuel-alito/?icid=maing%7Caim%7Cdl1%7Csec1_lnk1%7C47809

Ok, I'm not the most politically active person in the world, but this ruling gave me a double take. How the hell do 8 out of 9 judges agree that westboro can picket and blast soldier's names at the time and location of their funerals? How is it that their right to free speech to trash talk soldier's deaths in a middle of a funeral is more important than the right of the families and friends to honor and remember their lost loved ones? So that means everyone one of those families that lost soldiers have a right to wait for that one of that church's members of congregations funeral and picket, trash talk, and pretty much disrespect and ruin that day of rememberance.

Offline Zakharra

 Freedom of speech protects speech we do not like or want to hear. To be relevant, it has to protect the bad as well as the good speech.

Offline Sabby

They have to stay a certain distance away, I think.

Offline Jude

I don't think anyone really agrees with what the WBC does, it's just that any law to keep them from doing what they do would probably ensnare other people who are doing perfectly legitimate things.  A law that is specific enough to affect only one group and their actions by name would probably not be constitutional and the kind of restriction Alito talks about is so subjective that it could be applied in billions of unintended ways.  Referring to his quote:
Quote
But in staking out his lone dissent, Alito suggested that when publicly offensive speech is also -- and perhaps primarily -- personally painful, the Constitution doesn't protect it.
If he got his way any public speech which is offensive and personally painful could be grounds to sue.  Imagine what effects that would have on freedom of speech and our legal system if that were to become law given that what is offensive and painful is totally subjective.  Or, let me put it in another way that's more palatable to the general public.

If Alito got his way, imagine how many journalists Charlie Sheen could sue.

EDIT:  In addition, I find Alito's arguments very unconvincing.  He constantly talks about the personal pain and brutal experiences that this guy's father suffered.  I'm not saying that he wasn't distressed by the WBC's actions, but I can't imagine that any court could scientifically demonstrate how someone else's words on one brief occasion could inflict real, measurable harm on another person.  That's the real problem with this case; if it was a drawn out thing they'd be liable for harassment, but it wasn't.  This was a one-off event.  It's extremely unlikely that having a singular bad day where some protesters said some really horrible things can cause actual measurable harm.

Offense is not harm.  Momentary emotional distress caused by another person's isolated words that have no actual impact on your life, no matter how vile, should not cause any lasting damage to a person.  Yet that's exactly the sort of thing that's assumed in this case, I think, and also something that a jury would probably disagree with me on even if a lot of psychological professionals were to disagree with them.
« Last Edit: March 03, 2011, 12:32:54 AM by Jude »

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Momentary emotional distress caused by another person's isolated words that have no actual impact on your life, no matter how vile, should not cause any lasting damage to a person.  Yet that's exactly the sort of thing that's assumed in this case, I think, and also something that a jury would probably disagree with me on even if a lot of psychological professionals were to disagree with them.

Actually, the psychologists have spoken.  We're telling our kids they don't have to put up with 'another person's isolated words', because we see that they do have an 'actual impact'.  Why not set a good example for them?

Offline Jude

Bullying is not "isolated."  It's habitual harassment by definition.  The study you chose is not at all applicable to this situation.  Bullying is basically a euphemism we use for harassment when it occurs between children -- and harassment is already illegal.

EDIT:  But to be fair, if the preponderance of the evidence showed that WBC is walking around seriously damaging people in measurable, significant ways, I'd be for their actions being outlawed too.

I don't believe that anyone should ever have the right to cause serious harm to another person.  However it doesn't seem likely to me that a protest which is required to be several hundred feet from the funeral consisting of outlandish and offensive non-sequitors can actually cause lasting harm to a grieving person.
« Last Edit: March 03, 2011, 01:47:58 AM by Jude »

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The WBC has habitually protested every soldier's funeral that they can get to.  Every soldier's family that has experienced it once has that encounter revisited with each of these protests.  Is it any less 'bullying' when the antagonist systematically distributes the actions over a specific group? 

Offline Brandon

I am not suprised in the slightest, the first ammendmant allows nuts like the WBC to legally spout their hate speech and IMO the supreme court was completely in the right to enforce the first ammendment. It is no different then the KKK rallys or the Anti-theist billboards that appear every christmas season. Under the law they can not and should not be punished by the government or government institutions.

That said, I wouldnt call the WBC funeral protests bullying either, while bullying is harrassment its done to an individual. THeir protests, no matter how vile, have just targeted a specific group of people. Dead soldiers. IMO those men and women were american hero's and still are, they deserve much better then their final rest to be filled with hate feuld bigotry. Their actions are one of the few times in my life where Ive seriously considered vigilantism and ultimately I think thats what it comes down to. The law protects them but not from people who no longer feel the law is right in this circumstance (although I am not nor would I ever call for vigilantism)


Offline Jude

The article you linked is about the prevalence of suicide amongst children who are bullied.  Not only are we not talking about children, but we're not talking about behavior that is even roughly analogous to the sort of bullying you're ascribing to the WBC.  The WBC shouts offensive slogans, they do not steal people's lunch money, threaten violence, or represent a persistent ongoing threat that is unavoidable for their victim who is in a powerless situation.  There is no intimidation or coercion in their act.  They have one encounter with their victims (which is pretty easy to ignore and avoid thanks to the laws requiring protesters to maintain their distance) and that's that.

They don't just target the funerals of dead soldiers, they were at Comicon and many other events that had nothing to do with deceased soldiers.  And even if they did, you can't just substitute the word individual for group and extrapolate the same results.

Show me one single person who has killed themself because of the WBC and that'll give me some pause.  Unfortunately even that's just a simplistic anecdote, so I have to admit that I'm not sure that sufficient data could even possibly be collected to analyze the impact of their reactions if they are having a decidedly detrimental influence on society.  If there are a couple of cases of them severely damaging a person however, I think that's good enough to establish something (though maybe not scientifically or particularly strongly).
« Last Edit: March 03, 2011, 02:56:13 AM by Jude »

Offline Sabby

Why isn't there a masked vigilante group about this? We've had a big gay bus and a biker group follow these pricks and do what they can, but I'm waiting for a few early 20's in motorcross gear and face obscuring helmets to do strafing runs with ATV's and paintball guns.

I am absolutely seriously when I say I would join that group, hell, even help organize it, but I don't live close enough. I mean, who is seriously going to arrest and unmask them?

Offline Brandon

I think you would look better in a long cape and tights for that role Sabby :P

The issue with vigilantism during their rallies is while it would certianly knock them down a peg and possibly make them reconsider future rallies they always seem to have at least 1 police officer present which would mean having to harm an innocent woman/man just trying to uphold the law that we all follow. On morale grounds alone that doesnt look very good but it becomes more complicated with the fact that if you wound a cop everyone in the precient will be gunning for you. On top of that its a numbers question, as I recall the WBC has about 50 people in its congregation, meaning you would want numbers at least twice that size. 100ish people isnt an easy thing to hide or disperse, especially on the backs of motorcycles which can be easily traced with the film crews that are always nearby

I dont know of many people that have the fortitude in their beliefs to risk their freedom for at least a decade all for their beliefs

Offline Lyell

The first amendment protects the right to freedom of speech. Or rather, it prevents the government, federal and state, from making any law that would impede such. And yet they still have done so, likely in part due to the WBC. Most notably, on May 29, 2006, President George W. Bush signed into law the Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act (Pub.L. 109-228), prohibiting protests within 300 feet (91 m) of the entrance of any cemetery under control of the National Cemetery Administration from 60 minutes before to 60 minutes after a funeral. Penalties for violating the act are up to $100,000 in fines and up to one year imprisonment. The bill garnered overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress with a 4083 vote in the House, with 21 not voting, and a unanimous vote in the Senate.

Why though?

It does not protect you from the consequences of what you say. The fighting words doctrine, in United States constitutional law, is a limitation to freedom of speech as protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. In its 9-0 decision, Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire (1942), the U.S. Supreme Court established the doctrine and held that "insulting or 'fighting words,' those that by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace" are among the "well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech [that] the prevention and punishment of...have never been thought to raise any constitutional problem."

I doubt it would take much study to connect WBC's injuring mantra and the many assault cases they've won.

Offline Noelle

This has been debated endlessly in P&R for every event WBC has taken up.

It comes down to this:

WBC is not stupid. You can disagree with them til your face turns blue (and believe me, I certainly disagree), but they skirt the lines of legality purposely. They do not say "kill the fags", they do not say "kill more soldiers" (though recently there was a comment released by Phelps that I do believe was inciting -- I can't recall it now, but I think it kind of insinuated the aforementioned) -- they typically target a general group of people, they concede to most regulations that limit their protesting, and they know their legal rights.

Making a case for offensive speech is weak, at best. The fact that a man saw something on TV later that offended him and tried to sue is actually quite atrocious to me. I would argue that people who are actually suggesting physical harm on them are in some ways more offensive and blatantly contradictory to the point of free speech at all. That's bullying, too, even if it's against something you don't like. It's playground stuff, childish revenge at best that doesn't prove any point except that anyone with a little muscle can censor anyone weaker than them. There are more intelligent ways to deal with attention-whores like the WBC. What happens when we all stop acting outraged over their bullshit and treat them like the small, insignificant group of inbred fringe lunatics they are?

Offline Lyell

Good luck getting the collective U.S. to cooperate on that level. These guys have spent years perfecting attention whoring. It's how they make their money. Convincing everyone that it's better to just smile, nod and ignore them is one of those 'easier said than done' bits.

Offline Zeitgeist

Yeah I'm not thrilled about this decision at all, even if I understand it and ultimately support the spirit of it. The remedy though is to take that very same freedom of speech upheld by the courts and turn it back on WBC, and drown them out with condemnation. Those Hells Angel motorcycle inspired organizations need to be supported and encouraged to continue their efforts and get between the families and WBC at every turn. Their churches need to be picketed (legally) and they need to be made aware their behavior and words are wholly reprehensible. I don't suggest anyone will change their minds, I only suggest their awful message be drown out by the din of more reasonable speech.

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The article I linked to was in response to your statement that "Momentary emotional distress caused by another person's isolated words that have no actual impact on your life, no matter how vile, should not cause any lasting damage to a person. "

If you think that bullying is restricted to threats of physical violence, I honestly hope that you'll look into that more.  Female-on-female bullying rarely involves threats of violence, and is no less vicious or damaging than being told that someone is going to jump you on the way home from school.  I say this from personal experience.

I still maintain that each protest that the Phelps family does impacts not only the individuals at the specific funeral, but also any of their previous victims that find out about the protest.  Soldiers' families can be a fairly tight-knit group - something else I know from personal experience.  It also impacts the families of living soldiers:  If my child dies over there, are we going to have to put up with this?

The fact that the Phelps family shows up at other events is irrelevant.  Just because a bully decides to pick on a nerd one day does not wipe away the fact that he systematically picks on drama club members when ever possible.

Phelps and his clan are bullies, despite the fact that they only interact with their victims once directly.  Would it make a difference if we had a 'Saving Private Ryan' scenario where a family has gone through five funerals, and the Phelps family was in attendance, protesting, at each one?  Is it going to take some distraught parent committing suicide over Phelps's actions? 

To paraphrase a judge I once heard:  The day I stop feeling outraged about the things I see is the day I should step down. 

Offline Remiel

Noelle is right.  Many (if not all) states have strict laws about where and when it is acceptable to protest at funerals, and to my knowledge the WBC have not violated any of these.  As reported by a radio interview this morning, and confirmed by this article, Mr. Snyder only saw the WBC protesters in passing the day of the funeral and didn't register the particularly egregious and offensive slogans until he saw the media coverage later on. 

The WBC protests on public property, well within state law.  They stayed the requisite 1000 feet away from the funeral at all times.  They did not advocate violence to any group or individual.

The First Amendment protects all freedom of speech, not just speech that we like or agree with.  I support the Supreme Court's ruling. 

Offline Lyell

And I hold that certain speech in spite of the amendment is not protected. Shouting fire, inciting a riot or the aforementioned 'Fighting Words' statutes all fall under unprotected speech. You can't even flip someone the bird for cutting you off without misdemeanor charges.

Offline Vekseid

And I hold that certain speech in spite of the amendment is not protected. Shouting fire, inciting a riot or the aforementioned 'Fighting Words' statutes all fall under unprotected speech. You can't even flip someone the bird for cutting you off without misdemeanor charges.

Which is why the WBC makes sure that its words are not directed at a person, and don't encourage violence against any group, but simply say that 'God' will, which is how they get around these laws as designed, because prohibiting it means you risk preventing 'x will happen because of y' speech, which is the foundation of a rather lot of discourse in general.

Regardless, we do have 'free speech zones', which is basically what groups like the Riders provide. For the WBC, they don't really care as long as they get attention and, the less attention we give them in general, the better.

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I really wish that God could sue them for libel and slander.

Offline Funguy81Topic starter

I personally don't care what they say, or how they say it. That's the freedom of speech. I just find it utterly disrespectful that they do this in a forum right outside of a soldier's funeral where the family and loved ones gathered to in remembrance. If they want to say it in front of a courthouse, school, university, or etc... great...have at it, but people should not have to hear that while gathered for a funeral. This ruling is not about censoring freedom of speech, but choosing a group's right to say whatever they want to say over the right for a family to have a day of respect for someone they lost.

Offline Callie Del Noire

I think they are enjoying twisting a blade in one of the worst days of a person's life. Imagine putting your child in a ground. You're in a fragile state of mind, and having somebody take obvious joy at your loss and adding to your emotionally frail state of mind. Telling you  that he/she is dead because of something you've no control over and they are in hell.

I am frankly surprised that someone hasn't taken a shot at one of these idiots yet.

Offline RubySlippers

The US has very strong free speech rights and they also have religious grounds even if no one here likes their views. I will note however as horrid as they sound to us they have a right in our nation to their message within fair limits and they obeyed all local laws. Hurting someones feelings and sense of decency is not something they can limit.

Offline Lyell

Hurting someones feelings and sense of decency is not something they can limit.

Not that it'll stop them from trying. See 'Cyber Bullying Laws.'

Offline Noelle

How is picketing a funeral any different than picketing any other day of the week? A wedding? A birthday? Someone just having a crappy day who doesn't want to be bothered? State of mind is a weak argument -- on those grounds, I could tell someone my dog just got hit by a car and I don't want to see anyone trying to picket my gay rights event because it would just further upset me...or maybe I just had a baby, and I just don't feel like dealing with anyone's shit trying to bring me down, because who wants to raise their kid in a world that's mean and spiteful?

They're not even picketing AT the funeral or even on the funeral grounds. Nobody is putting a top hat on and tap-dancing on anybody's grave. In fact, WBC usually shows up for a very negligible amount of time and then leaves. They don't know you, they probably don't even care who you are or what your name is, they just show up and then leave when their time is up and make absolutely no lasting impact except a wave of unnecessary outrage.

Venue choice can affect freedom of speech and assembly. What good is protesting if the only place you're allowed is 10 miles out of town? Why does anyone care what you're saying if they can't see or hear you? Venue choice can also affect the strength of the message you're giving. For WBC's purposes, no matter how much you disagree with them, the venue choice strengthens their voice and makes people take notice. For all intents and purposes, they are highly successful at being activists for their cause.

This is hardly inciting a riot -- the only violence being brought up is by everyone else BUT the WBC. Their words aren't directly stirring a panic the way yelling "fire" would, they are NOT inciting direct violence by saying things like "go out and beat up a homo today" -- in fact, they are peaceful, as much as that word goes against their message. They smile, they take the abuse others give them, and they practice their legal rights while obeying the law, which, now that I've examined both sides, is actually a lot more than I can say of those opposing them. Being on the perceived right side of an issue is not a carte blanche to do whatever you want without regards to the opposition. You can still be right in your stance on an issue and make the wrong choices.

They hardly deserve sympathy -- their opinion certainly doesn't merit much respect and nobody has to listen to them fairly if they don't want to, but disagreeing with someone's view, however appalling you find it, is never grounds for taking away their right to express it. Ever. I stand by their rights and I would defend to death their right to say it, as the saying goes. In fact, I think it would be hilarious if they picketed my funeral. I wouldn't want my family to give them the time of day or the satisfaction of being upset. I would want them to laugh at how much time they're wasting and encourage others to do the same.