Supreme Court: Can Westboro Baptist Church protest military funerals?
Supreme Court to hear free speech case pitting a bereaved father against the Westboro Baptist Church, which held an antigay protest near the funeral of his son, a marine killed in Iraq.
(Page 2 of 2)
The panel quoted a fellow appeals court judge: “Judges defending the Constitution must sometimes share [their] foxhole with scoundrels of every sort, but to abandon the post because of the poor company is to sell freedom cheaply.”Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The opinion continues: “It is a fair summary of history to say that the safeguards of liberty have often been forged in controversies involving not very nice people.”
Phelps’s lawyer, his daughter Margie Phelps of Topeka, said that contrary to claims by opposing counsel, the Westboro protesters did not disrupt the funeral service.
The seven picketers stood in a place designated by a priest and by the police, over a thousand feet from the funeral, she said. They sang songs and waved signs that included the messages: “You’re Going to Hell,” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” The demonstration was neither visible nor audible to those attending the funeral, she said.
“No one going to the funeral saw them, including [Mr. Snyder],” Ms. Phelps writes. Snyder “did not hear them; and, they were gone when he left the church.”
Margie Phelps says Snyder’s objections to the protest were prompted by news footage he viewed after the event and by written material he viewed on the Internet a month after the service.
Westboro’s lawyer said Snyder’s lawsuit violates the free speech protections of the First Amendment because the church members were engaged in public speech that has not been proven false.
“The Constitution is imperiled if a subjective claim of outrage can be used to penalize into silence speech that does not make false statements of fact, uttered in public arenas on public issues,” Margie Phelps writes.
In asking the Supreme Court to overturn the appeals court decision, Snyder’s lawyer says the high court has never granted categorical protection to the type of speech at issue in the case.
Mr. Summers says his client is a private individual who had done nothing to hold himself up as part of a public event or controversy. “There is no reason for the court to extend absolute protection to expressive conduct that intentionally harms that individual,” he says.
“Mr. Snyder had a substantial privacy interest in attending his son’s funeral without unwanted interference,” he writes. “The Phelpses’ conduct during Matthew Snyder’s funeral caused Mr. Snyder serious emotional and physical hardship and hindered his grieving process.”
Summers adds in his brief: “The Phelpses’ freedom of speech should have ended where it conflicted with Mr. Snyder’s freedom to participate in his son’s funeral, which was intended to be a solemn religious gathering.”