Monday, May 10, 2010


Update on Snyder v. Phelps

Right: Protesters from Illinois and Topeka line a portion of the S.W. 12th and Gage Boulevard intersection on Sunday. They were protesting the Westboro Baptist Church's picketing of soldier funerals. ANN MARIE BUSH/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL

Early last month I wrote that Harriet Robbins Ost's article is the most thorough treatment I've seen so far of the important constitutional issues in the Snyder v. Phelps Supreme Court case. Shortly after that the Marine Corps Times published "Snyder-Phelps fight has many twists, turns" by Dan Lamothe. Here's a summation of the constitutional issues from that article:
• Speech and privacy. Snyder asked the Supreme Court to review whether the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., was correct in protecting the church’s speech if it attacked a “private” figure, Snyder, concerning a private matter, the funeral. The Phelpses argued to the court that there is a “viable basis” to saying Snyder is not a private figure with regard to his son’s death because he had already granted media interviews. The church also said its protests are focused on public issues, making them protected speech.

• Speech and religion. Snyder asked the court to review whether the First Amendment, used to overturn Snyder’s initial settlement, allows the Phelpses’ freedom of speech to trump Snyder’s right to mourn his son in a private religious ceremony. The church has countered by saying its members picketed on a public street, on issues that were of public interest.

• Funeral attendees’ rights. Snyder’s lawyers say that even if the appellate court’s decision to uphold the Phelpses’ free speech was appropriate, it failed to consider that Snyder was a “captive audience” at his son’s funeral. A federal appeals court already has ruled in another case involving the church that the government is allowed to protect private citizens from unwanted communication when they cannot avoid it, Snyder points out. The Phelpses say the argument is not relevant, since the previous case focused on whether a state law banning picketing within 300 feet of a funeral was constitutional — a separate issue.
Today, the Marine Corps Times published "Former Marine protests funeral picketers" which discusses a protest against the Westboro Baptist Church on their home turf, it started last month. That's a better way to deal with Fred Phelps and his church instead of trying to set dangerous legal precedents that erode everyone's First Amendment rights. Oh, wait a minute, I forgot about the slavish fools who don't understand or don't care that freedom of expression means nothing if it is only accorded to those who don't rock the boat or offend the delicate sensibilities of the 'patriotically correct,' etc. masses.

See also: "Attorneys: First Amendment doesn't fully protect funeral protesters" by The Associated Press (26 May 2010) on the First Amendment Center web site.

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