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High court rules Westboro protests are protected speech

By David Edwards
Wednesday, March 2, 2011 11:19 EDT
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The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday, in a 8-1 decision, that a church’s widely despised anti-gay protests were protected speech.

The First Amendment protects the Westboro Baptist Church’s right to picket military funerals, the court said.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion for the court.

“What Westboro said, in the whole context of how and where it chose to say it, is entitled to ‘special protection’ under the First Amendment, and that protection cannot be overcome by a jury finding that the picketing was outrageous.” he wrote.

Only Justice Samuel Alito dissented.

The ruling upheld an appeals court decision to throw out a $5 million judgement to the father of a dead Marine whose funeral was picketed.

The funeral of Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder was picketed by Rev. Fred Phelps and other members of the church in 2006. Matthew’s father, Albert, took the church to court.

“I want them to stop doing this to our military men and women,” Albert Snyder told Fox News in October. “I want the judges to hear that this case is not about free speech, it’s about targeted harassment.”

Albert Snyder was awarded $11 million in the suit. It was later reduced to $5 million. A federal appeals court in Virginia threw out that ruling.

“While distancing themselves from the church’s message, media organizations, including The Associated Press, urged the court to side with the Phelps family because of concerns that a victory for Snyder could erode speech rights,” The Associated Press noted Wednesday.

Photo credit: Jeff Malet/maletphoto.com

David Edwards
David Edwards
David Edwards has served as an editor at Raw Story since 2006. His work can also be found at Crooks & Liars, and he's also been published at The BRAD BLOG. He came to Raw Story after working as a network manager for the state of North Carolina and as as engineer developing enterprise resource planning software. Follow him on Twitter at @DavidEdwards.
 
 
 
 
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  • https://twitter.com/DrMatthew Dr. Matt

    They Westboro parasites are pathetic scum. There is a special place in hell waiting for them.

  • Anonymous

    Does this mean that we have a 1st Amendment right to have informational demonstrations outside churches, synagogues and mosques to say what we think of their fecal superstitions?

  • Johnny Warbucks

    Not contained in the opinion, of course, is the fact that the Corporate Supreme Court is treating Westboro Baptist Church as a corporation, therein, the rationale for an otherwise irrational decision. The stooges in the black robes know where their loyalties lie.

  • Johnny Warbucks

    Please do not forget the understood duplicity of our system of injustice. What’s good for them is not good for us and vice versa.

  • Anonymous

    You know you have created GOD in your own image when HE hates all the same people you do.

  • Anonymous

    YES!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KNOIE3O32T6T3UBLZWRBA4L62Y Roberta

    As long as you are on public property and are following any ordinances or on private property with permission of the owner, you have the right to say or promote your interests; no matter how vile or heinous. That is how the First Amendment has been interpreted.

    I agree that the members of the WBC are terrible people who care nothing about others’ feelings. They start indoctrinating their children when they can barely walk and talk. It is very sad to see. One wonders how the Phelps family became this way. They truly are despicable.

    But, the First Amendment is so important to our democracy that once we start making exceptions to it we will start down a road that could end our freedoms. This ruling [by eight Justices no less] supports our Constitution and is rightly supported by many disparate groups, especially journalists.

  • Anonymous

    In a word, yes it does.

  • Anonymous

    Sure does read that way. How soon can the picketing begin?

  • Anonymous

    Who are the idiot judges THIS time?

    This is very sad. The US really is doomed.

  • Anonymous

    Actually God hates the Westboro Baptist Chuch. She told me so last night, as we were talking over drinks.

  • gypski®

    Except Roberts wrote an opinion that said AT&T didn’t have personal privacy rights. Its on the Washington Post web page. Interesting because it could weaken the corporation’s assumed individual rights like real people have. And that decision was 8-0

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/03/01/AR2011030106527.html

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UJ4XRIA3A3E6MYGK755EGWLN4Q Dani A

    As degenerate as the Phelps family is, this is the correct ruling. I would love to see the entire WBC brought down in some way, but not at the expense of our waning freedoms.

  • Anonymous

    It must have been one of the most distasteful decisions the Supreme Court has had to make and I applaud them for their courage. People that abuse their freedoms like the Westboro Baptist Church are only a threat to those freedoms if we allow it. Democracy is not for wimps. Was this the same Supreme Court that ruled the way they did in the Citizen’s United case? Weird.

  • Robert

    Hopefully no one would be so childish as to slash WBC’s tires, put tire locks on them, shove potatoes up the tailpipe, pour pig’s blood or cow shit on their windshields, or any other such infantile act that would prevent Phelps and his ghoulish followers from disrupting what is one of the most heart-wrenching experiences any family can experience.

    On a more positive side, how about erecting “free-speech zones” several hundred yards away so that WBC can rant away without interfering with the funeral? After all, if it’s appropriate to put protesters at conventions into cages, why not put Phelps in one as well?

    I doubt Phelps will ever protest within 100 miles of where I live but if he does I’ll be sure to put on a happy face and greet him with open arms.

  • Anonymous

    Just like scotus opened the door for corporate hegemony. They have now opened the door to mob proseltyzing and christian sharia. The religo fascists have won.

  • dula

    Free speech? Then why do people get arrested for protesting in front of the White House?
    for example: http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2010/12/16/135-antiwar-protesters-arrested-white-house/

  • Anonymous

    These people are the sickest of sick. I don’t believe in god or churches nor do I believe in the wars, but there is such a thing as common decency. Anyone who has children realizes the pain and heartbreak these parents of soldiers are going thru. While I don’t believe in the wars, I believe the soldiers are not at fault and in their hearts are defending their country. If this church wants to demonstrate park their butts out side of bush/cheney or rumsfeld’s houses or the white house. These parents are suffering enough with the loss of their children. If this church [and I use the term loosely] is truly a church, where is your love for your neighbor? Your christian charity and empathy? You are merely a cult led by a mentally ill wacko with a giant ego. If there were a god he certainly wouldn’t be condoning your actions. I believe religions teach god created all things. So you mental midgets are saying god made a mistake when he created gays? Or are you saying that this glorious god you talk about is so petty and vindictive he would punish all for what YOU think are against gods laws? Remember the bible was written by men. Religion was created by men. Maybe god made a mistake when he created you!

  • Guest

    And people are calling Charlie Sheen batshit crazy!

  • Anonymous

    So…does this mean our freedom of expression is protected when we throw buckets of harmless urine on them?

  • Guest

    I thought that was point.

  • enorceht

    if it’s good for the goose, it’s good for the gander

    Supreme Court ruled Wednesday, in a 8-1 decision, that an organized group’s widely despised anti-corporate protests were protected speech.

    The First Amendment protects the organized group’s right to picket wall street ceos, kock bros corporations, oil company corporations, u$ treasury, etc, the court said.

    Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion for the court.

    “What organized group said, in the whole context of how and where it chose to say it, is entitled to ‘special protection’ under the First Amendment, and that protection cannot be overcome by a jury finding that the picketing was outrageous.” he wrote.

    so go out and picket their homes, their offices, where they shop, where they go to church, etc

    it’s cover by scotus

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/3ETFGMQ3B7VD4AAMILBBEVMCWE JasonA

    Unfortunately…both the court and you are correct. Too bad we cannot amend the Constitution to outlaw religion.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/3ETFGMQ3B7VD4AAMILBBEVMCWE JasonA

    The most relevant issue here is the insanity of religion.

  • Rush Goofbaugh

    The signs says “god hates”….. they do have that part right! But it’s the christian god that does all that hating…

  • Gert B Frobe

    There is no god

  • Rush Goofbaugh

    I like to think of god as all things… seen and unseen. Is that wrong?

  • Gert B Frobe

    No, not wrong. What ever helps one get through the day my friend.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t recall if it were here or on our local paper’s website, but someone had brought up the idea of filing charges with the legal ethics board here in Kansas. As everyone knows, Freddy was disbarred permanently. Shirley and the rest of the clan should be as well. If we take away their ability to fight lawsuits and make them pay attorneys to do it, maybe that would help.

  • Rush Goofbaugh

    I’m not sure it helps me get through the day… but it does help me understand the wonders of chaos. Maybe chaos is really what “god” is?

  • Anonymous

    It’s time to picket baptist church services. god hates baptists. See how they like it.

  • Anonymous

    They were kept a distance away from the church in this case for “security reasons”.

    When they get their money for legal fees from the plaintiffs, they will be able to travel to your town.

  • Anonymous

    Let’s hope that one of the outcomes of this decision is that we all now will ignore the WBC.

  • FieryLocks

    These nuts would protest their Jesus if they lived during his time…hell, they would fight the Roman soldiers so they could hang him on the cross themselves. Then they would protest at the foot of the cross with signs “GOD HATES JESUS”.
    Kooks!

  • Guest

    So…let’s do it!!!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PCHLMPBJKYTW3LJBHZEZMO3TXQ What Ever

    So this means we can picket the funerals of the wealthy elite I take it. Bet that isn’t allowed huh.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PCHLMPBJKYTW3LJBHZEZMO3TXQ What Ever

    Well said, well said……

  • Anonymous

    Good. Those A-hole make the rest of the right wing fundmentalists look bad with them. They can all roll in the shit together. Go ahead and protest at more soldiers’ funerals, you pathetic jerks.

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