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U.S. Supreme Court in favor of anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Westboro Baptist Church won a significant victory Wednesday when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of its right to promote what its church members call a “broad-based message” on public matters such as wars.

The Topeka, Kansas-based church led by pastor Fred Phelps is notorious for its angry, anti-gay protests, “God hates fags” signs, and picketing at funerals of deceased U.S. military personnel.

This case was seen by legal experts as an issue testing the competing constitutional limits of free speech and privacy.

“Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and — as it did here — inflict great pain,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote.

“On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker.”

In the 8-1 vote, Justice Samuel Alito was the lone dissenter.

The case that touched off the issue and this ruling began when Albert Snyder, the a father of U. S. Marine Matthew Snyder, who was killed in combat in Iraq in 2006, sued Westboro, saying those protests amounted to targeted harassment and an intentional infliction of emotional distress on the families of deceased service members.

Select members from the church decided to protest outside the Westminster, Maryland, church where Matthew Snyder’s funeral was being held.

Albert Snyder won $11 million during that first trial, later reduced by a judge to $5 million which the church appealed.

Phelps and other family members who make up most of the Westboro Baptist Church have picketed numerous U. S. military funerals to draw attention to their view that U.S. causalities in the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq are “God’s punishment for the nation’s tolerance of fags,” according to church spokesperson Shirley Phelps-Roper.

Westboro pickets display signs saying, “Thank God for dead soldiers,” “You’re Going to Hell,” “God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11,” as well as signs with anti-gay slurs.

The decision this morning by the Supreme Court upholds the ruling by the federal appellate court in Richmond, Virginia, which threw out the $5 million judgment saying said the Constitution shielded the church members from liability.

The Westboro church is not affiliated with the Baptist denomination or any other Baptist church. According to news reports, almost all of its members — fewer than 100 — are related to founder Fred Phelps either by blood or marriage.

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33 more reader comments:

  1. :((

    Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 6:08pm
  2. heartbreaking, outrageous, disgusting. :(

    Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 6:08pm
  3. [dislike!] Those jerkoffs!

    Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 6:08pm
  4. this makes me so EFFING mad

    Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 6:08pm
  5. Are the justices on drugs?

    Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 6:09pm
  6. I hope all those judges funerals get picketed by WBC or a similar group, so their families can know how it feels.

    Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 6:10pm
  7. Very sad. I’m not sure how anyone could support their message of hatred.

    Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 6:10pm
  8. Free speech rights should not overrule privacy rights.

    Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 6:11pm
  9. Now we’ll be ruled by ignorance and hate. Awesome.

    Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 6:13pm
  10. In my opinion,even though I REALLY don’t agree with them, they have their right to free speech, but what they were doing was harassment, and should have been treated as such.

    Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 6:18pm
  11. I think it’s terrible that these people can say things like that and not be stopped. I once heard a statement saying that church is separate from state, yet, in order to be *legally* married, you have to be male and female. My sympathy goes out to the families of the troops and to everyone else who this affects. This is unacceptable and I don’t want to sit around any longer!

    Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 6:19pm
  12. the westbaro church is a joke -_-

    Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 6:19pm
  13. It is unfortunate that these people decide to spread hate, under the guise of a kind and caring religion. It is, however, the right of every american to say and protest the way they want to.

    Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 6:21pm
  14. boro* oops

    Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 6:22pm
  15. Just because a couple thousand year old book says something doesn’t mean every person must conform to it. That goes for the small groups such as the WBC or the Government. I understand they have a right to say what they want, be where they want, and do what they do; however, there is a difference between expressing their religion, and condemning every thing they see move into a pit of eternal Hell. There is a difference between handing out fliers on a street corner saying, “Will you please come to our church.” or saying, “OBAMA IS THE ANTICHRIST, THANK GOD FOR DEAD SOLDIERS, FAGS GO TO HELL.” As much as they have to the rights they are entitled to, there is a difference between being peaceful and kind about it, or being hateful people about it.

    Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 6:23pm
  16. Honestly, I’m really disgusted by your responses. You hope their funerals are picketed? You’re really mad at these judges?
    The WBC is disgusting, but the legal precedent that would be set by ripping their right to free speech away would be DEVASTATING. Just because they’re obviously against everything we believe doesn’t mean we can silence them until they 1) incite a riot or 2) directly cause or imminently threaten violence. Hate speech is protected in our country as free speech in a lot of cases because our Constitution is purposefully structured to let us say almost anything. To rule against them before they truly violate law would strip us ALL of the rights to speak out minds. They’re awful and, sure, my personal convictions tell me something should be done, but legally, it can’t, and if it were to happen, it’d really spell trouble.

    Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 6:34pm
  17. @ dezz wolf. Its not the justices families fault. I think it is completly ignorant of them to picket funerals. I don’t understand why it wasn’t ruled as harassment and why people don’t start pressing charges on them??? I agree with free speech but ignorance should not be reconized as so! I also feel there is somone or something that will determine what happens to people . And hopefully he she it they determine the right thing for WBC!

    Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 6:36pm
  18. It’s so sad that such an extreme group of religious people have the nerve to terribly offend anyone. Not all church members are nasty and hatful. Please keep in mind that some of us love everyone, no matter what.

    Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 6:37pm

    Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 6:44pm
  20. Its time for billy jack to kick some bigots ass!!!

    Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 6:44pm
  21. What they are doing should be considered a hate crime. Why condemn someone for being different and expressing themselves when “straight” people can express themselves in anyway they want? I understand that the first ammendment says we have the right to freedom of speech and right to protest but they arent just protesting. They are in real actuality bullying. Calling someone a fag is bullying and gay bashing. Those are deff hate crimes. Something has to be done to stop them. I say we start protesting and speaking our minds about them like they do to us!

    Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 6:46pm
  22. @ Catherine – in my head, I know that this is protected free speech and that they’re getting away with the same kind of crap that the KKK did at Skokie. WBC had a free ride on it when it was “only AIDS-related and/or gay” funerals for more than ten years. I’m very glad that the Patriot Guards stepped up (and continue to do so at military and other funerals), although this ruling adds to my immense frustration.
    Intellectually, I agree with the ruling.
    Viscerally, I sympathize with Dezz on this.
    And I would not be in the least surprised if Cpl. Matthew Snyder’s family decided to move to Canada.

    Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 6:46pm
  23. One thing i have to say, is that this church is obiviously not full of true christians. my father was a baptist preacher for years, and i never once saw him at an us military soldier’s funeral protesting gays or the us. he was a former us navy seal. first off, “love and honor thy neighbor” be a real christian and start worrying about following your own “10 commandments” the god of the christian religion does not show any kind of prejeduce, so why are his/her followers. second off, these people are sad excuses of christians, did jesus go around protesting people for your sexual orientation? no, he didn’t. he loved everyone equally, even the man who condemned him to his own death for money. learn to follow your own religion before trying to push it on others. i think what the problem is here is that mr. preacher had a bad experience with a gay person before and is taking it out on everyone. personally, and i mean absolutely no offense to anyone by this, but if god was going to punish anyone for “tolerating” gays as they are calling it now apparently, it wouldn’t be someone else’s family. i’ve always been under the impression the christian god is a forgiving one. people think being gay is a choice, well guess what people it’s not. it’s how someone is born, if u dont like it gtfo and just keep your nose out of that person’s business. is them being gay hurting you, no it’s not. so why are you being so damn childish. if god really has such a problem with it, god will deal with it when the person passes away. that’s between them, not other people and them. another thing for these people to learn about their own religion, “judge not and thou shall not be judged.” if anyone has a problem with this or wants to talk, u can look me up on facebook, the name is the same as it is on here. location: saint joseph, missouri.

    Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 7:01pm
  24. While I agree that the WBC has their right to free speech, even when it’s something ignorant and hateful, I have to disagree with the decision rendered here. It was my understanding that the original lawsuit was not about free speech, but about intentional infliction of emotional sense. WBC has the right to say what they want, but they need to face the consequences when those words are intended to cause pain. That the court has just said is that WBC can do and say what they want without fear of repercussions.

    Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 7:06pm
  25. I think Matthew Snyder’s dad was right when he said that by taking away people’s right to defend themselves against these church assholes, it will end in bloodshed. I think these people are going to go to the wrong funeral and end up shot down by a grieving family member with a violent past. If you can’t go through legal channels people WILL take it to a more primitive brutal level. Certainly free speech is important, but the right to defend oneself through the right channels should remain open for the more concerned parties.

    Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 7:13pm
  26. @Andro-part of me hopes that happens

    Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 7:32pm
  27. the other part of me wants to be sensible, but if it does happen, they certainly deserve whatever is coming to them.

    Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 7:33pm
  28. This is the most annoying defense of Free speech in some time. That being said, if there wasn’t speech that was annoying, free speech wouldn’t need defending. If this was the court of god, Westboro would burn in hell. But this is the court of the United Sates of America.

    Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 7:39pm
  29. They need to be fake invitations. The last thing we need on our special days is these fuckers showing up at our weddings.

    Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 7:51pm
  30. This is probably both the most logical and least liked court decisions in a long time. Even Faux News can’t stand the WBC.
    Viscerally, I really don’t like the WBC, and I hate that they picket funerals. But logistically and legally/constitutionally, there isn’t a good argument aside from “I don’t like what they’re saying.” Which is pretty much the reason why we have freedom of speech.
    The answer to free speech is and will always be more speech.

    Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 7:54pm
  31. this is bull shit and i am a bit ashamed to live in a country that supports this.

    Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 9:07pm

    Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 9:21pm
  33. The right to freedom of speech is too difficult to get back when lost. Do I detest WBC? Of course. Do I wish they’d shut up? Of course. Do I want a law to enforce my wish? Absolutely not. Because an entire political, religious and social system wants to shut ME up, and I need the protection of the Constitution to keep them from doing it.

    Can we bring down WBC? No. But the thing is, THEY are doing it to themselves! Folks who NEVER would have “sympathized” with LGBT rights in the past are seeing what WBC is doing and they’re starting to hate them. Hell, even Anonymous, who are MUCH too busy with the pro-democracy movements in Northern Africa and the Middle East right now, not to mention Assange and Wikileaks, ANONYMOUS knocked ALL of WBC’s domains off line! I haven’t been able to access for DAYS now! And Anonymous absolutely defends freedom of speech, no censorship, etc.

    Why, just tonight, I saw an article: Sarah Palin thinks the Supreme Court is WRONG for not silencing Westboro! I NEVER thought I’d be in a position to “defend” westoboro against PALIN! But that’s not what I’m doing; I’m defending the Constitution against Palin and the theocrats!

    Look, I’m old enough to remember the Civil Rights movements of the sixties and seventies. Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis were parading in the streets. It was HORRIBLE, the poison coming out of their mouths…JUST like Westboro.

    But their hate doesn’t change OUR TRUTH, and we need the Constitution of the United States to guarantee we get to SPEAK that truth!

    That court decision is a victory for the citizens of the USA.

    Westoboro wins NOTHING! They’re just riding the backs of people who have suffered and DIED for a right that many people on the planet STILL don’t have! I have Pakistani friends. Over there, the theocrats will KILL you if you “speak against Islam,” the “blasphemy laws,” and crowds will cheer the murderers in the streets! Sarah Palin comes from THAT sort of mentality.

    Westboro is silencing itself. We don’t have to do anything but ignore them, and it’ll all be over.

    Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 9:59pm