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    Supreme Court Rules For Westboro Baptist Church

    Supreme Court Rules For Westboro Baptist Church

    The U.S. Supreme Court, in an 8-1 ruling (Alito dissenting), ruled in favor of the right under the First Amendment for protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church to picket near the funerals of soldiers.

    Here is a key piece of the Opinion, written by Chief Justice Roberts:

    “The “content” of Westboro’s signs plainly relates tobroad issues of interest to society at large, rather than matters of “purely private concern.” Dun & Bradstreet, supra, at 759. The placards read “God Hates theUSA/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 to broader public issues.”  (p. 8)

    The Court found the speech to be protected, and further found that such protection extended to public spaces, including public land near funerals:

    Westboro’s choice to convey its views in conjunction withMatthew Snyder’s funeral made the expression of those views particularly hurtful to many, especially to Matthew’s father. The record makes clear that the applicable legal term—”emotional distress”—fails to capture fully the anguish Westboro’s choice added to Mr. Snyder’s already incalculable grief. But Westboro conducted its picketingpeacefully on matters of public concern at a public place adjacent to a public street. Such space occupies a “special position in terms of First Amendment protection.” United States v. Grace, 461 U. S. 171, 180 (1983).” (p. 10)

    The Court left open the possibility that there could be legislatively imposed, content-neutral, restrictions on picketing, but found that those restrictions did not apply in this case:

    “Westboro’s choice of where and when to conduct its picketing is not beyond the Government’s regulatory reach—it is “subject to reasonable time, place, or manner restrictions” that are consistent with thestandards announced in this Court’s precedents. Clark v. Community for Creative Non-Violence, 468 U. S. 288, 293 (1984). Maryland now has a law imposing restrictions onfuneral picketing, Md. Crim. Law Code Ann. §10–205 (Lexis Supp. 2010), as do 43 other States and the Federal Government…. To the extent these laws are content neutral, they raise very different questions from the tort verdict at issue in this case. Maryland’s law, however, was not in effect at the time of the events at issue here, so we have no occasion to consider how it might apply to facts such as those before us, or whether it or other similar regulations are constitutional.” (p. 10-11)

    The Court stressed that the picketers kept far away from the funeral, and that the challenge was made based on the content of the speech, not the fact of speech near the funeral:

    “The record confirms that any distress occasioned by Westboro’s picketing turned on the content and viewpointof the message conveyed, rather than any interferencewith the funeral itself. A group of parishioners standingat the very spot where Westboro stood, holding signs that said “God Bless America” and “God Loves You,” would not have been subjected to liability. It was what Westboro said that exposed it to tort damages.
    Given that Westboro’s speech was at a public place on amatter of public concern, that speech is entitled to “special protection” under the First Amendment. Such speech cannot be restricted simply because it is upsetting or arouses contempt.” (p. 11-12)

    The Court concluded:

    “Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, movethem 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. As a Nation we have chosen a different course—to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stiflepublic debate. That choice requires that we shield Westboro from tort liability for its picketing in this case.” (p. 15) 

    Justice Alito dissented:

    “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 Mat-thew 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 respon-dents, members of the Westboro Baptist Church, deprivedhim 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. [fn] The Court now holds that the First Amendment protected respondents’ right to brutalize Mr. Snyder. I cannot agree.”

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    What intrinsically troubles me most about the majority opinion is the consequence of having thereby rendered to a virtual nullity, the law’s implicit guarantee of protection of deeply wronged persons, individuals who have been harmed at the hands of a vile and debased individual or group, particularly given that the case arose out of such a perversely strained interpretation of the greatest single constitutional commitment to the protection of individual rights in the history of mankind . . . our Bill of Rights.

    The primary thrust of the Bill of Rights (including up front and in particular the speech protection in the First Amendment), was intended to guarantee protection to individuals against the power of the State. Yes, the First Amendment speech protections must perforce protect not just individuals, but groups and other entities against one another as well, and it surely has and ought to continue to be such a shield.

    But that very first ringing guarantee, of protection of free speech, was tailored by its terms, first and foremost, for the protection of individuals, and was basically intended as a buttress against the power of the federal government (and by operation of the incorporation of the Bill on Rights through the 5th and 14th Amendments) against the power of any of the States, to either prevent utterances being made or published, or to suppress the repetition thereof, or to punish such utterances thereafter.

    That was not the case here. The case was merely a private suit for damages arising out of intentionally inflicted tortuous actions, some unquestionably aimed at an individual, Albert Snyder, who was not a public figure.

    In this case, the Court even noted in the majority opinion that the State itself had adopted a law intended to minimize funeral picketing (read that as "abridge") limiting, perhaps even further, the capacity of Phelps and his Westbrook cult of "followers" to intrude so offensively, even viciously, into the private lives of others, whilst claiming to squeeze under the protective umbrella of First Amendment guarantee of free speech. But because the State had not done prior to the picketing, the impact of that law obviously could not be taken into account.

    As noted above, not all of the communications were addressed to "matters of public concern." Some were quite personal. But because the Court considered them "on balance" to be addressed to the public concerns, this private individual, Albert Snyder, father of Matthew Snyder, was made instead to suffer an almost unimaginable indignity, all without any possible recourse, for merely wanting to bury his son with honor.

    Good God . . . that young man, Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, gave his life for our country!

    I say Sam Alito got it right.

    Harassment by religious extremist

    Jehovah's Witnesses instigated court decisions in 1942 which involved cursing a police officer calling him a fascist and to get in your face at the door steps,….this same JW 1942 court decision upheld infamous Phelps hate church in 2011
    Danny Haszard, more on this group

    "What intrinsically troubles me most … (having nullified) the law’s implicit guarantee of protection of … individuals who have been harmed"

    What troubles me most is your rush to redefine the word "harmed" when it is now politically convenient…. without thought of how any liberal grievance monger would later use that elasticity to shoehorn legitimacy into ever more absurd claims of victimhood. This is exactly why there's a "Human Rights" industry in Canada… where special interest groups are raking in punitive damages money while not spending a dime by using the government provided attorneys and investigators to effectively wage SLAPP campaigns for such offensive offenses as questioning gay marriage or insulting Islam. I highly suggest reading Ezra Levant's "Shakedown" for a step-by-step guide to exactly where this path leads.

    Speech which is not libel nor fraud, which does not create an immediate danger, no matter how offensive is protected for a good reason.
    Offended sensibilities does not equal harm. Period.

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