Anti-gay church's right to protest at military funerals is upheld

Discussion in 'Politics, Religion, Social Issues' started by Rodimus Prime, Mar 2, 2011.

  1. Rodimus Prime macrumors G4

    Rodimus Prime

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    #1
    http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/03/02/scotus.westboro.church/index.html?hpt=C1
    As much as I hate Phelps and his group I have to agree with it. First amendment gives to free speech including what we hate.

    Sometimes free speech sucks but I would honestly rather have that suck age over that right taken away.
     
  2. 184550 Guest

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    #2
    Unfortunately, I agree with the ruling too.

    Though the precedent it would set would be useful in certain circumstances, it could easily be abused in the future.
     
  3. CalBoy macrumors 604

    CalBoy

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    #3
    I read the bulk of the majority opinion and the entirety of the dissent, and I'm shocked to say that for once I fully agree with Alito.

    To me the issue wasn't about freedom of speech (I think it's pretty clear that anyone can say that fags are going to hell and so on) but rather how the church targets its victims. Alito discussed (quite thoroughly) how the church goes around saying where it is going to protest ahead of time to get attention. They do this intentionally to families who have recently lost children and siblings (including the family of the 9 year-old who was killed in Tucson). Would you want to know ahead of time that a media circus is going to interrupt your family's otherwise peaceful and private funeral?

    I have no problem with the church writing editorials, shooting commercials, marching in the streets and on street corners like other protestors, or any of the other acts of speech that actually put forth an opinion without directly assaulting a particular individual. Here, however, the church goes after grieving families when they are most vulnerable. The families are a captive audience (unless you're seriously suggesting that they can or should freely leave in the middle of their son's funeral) during the funeral, and are made to suffer for as long as the church sees fit to draw attention to them.

    To me the church's behavior is a classic example of intentional infliction of emotional distress. The church knows that it is harassing and emotionally disturbing people who have already suffered a great deal, and this causes distress for the victims that doesn't need to happen for the 1st Amendment to stand. The church doesn't need to protest at funerals for its opinions to be heard, and it doesn't need to cause a media frenzy beforehand. Those are just attention grabbing tactics, which while otherwise would be understandable, simply cannot trump the rights of grieving families.
     
  4. rdowns macrumors Penryn

    rdowns

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    #4
    Free speech is free speech, no matter how abhorrent their message may be.

    I'm shocked that of all justices, Alito was the lone dissenter.
     
  5. CalBoy macrumors 604

    CalBoy

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    #5
    It's not the message, it's where you can say it. You have the right to preach any religious book you want, but you can't do it somewhere that doesn't let people leave freely (called the "captive audience" rule).

    This surprised me too. I'm not sure what to make of it.
     
  6. neko girl macrumors 6502a

    neko girl

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    #6
    Free speech is free speech. Good ruling.

    Thanks for posting this Rodimus.
     
  7. Rodimus Prime thread starter macrumors G4

    Rodimus Prime

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    #7
    Could of been a lot like the Brown vs Board of education.

    In private it was a pretty split vote but the judtices knew that the ruling was important so they came out with a 9-0 vote for it.

    In this case they could of all agreed that yes Phelps had the right under free speech but at the same time knew he was well crap and needed a good dissention writing so the one that would send the strongest message was the one that wrote it.
     
  8. leekohler macrumors G5

    leekohler

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    #8
    Agreed. The right thing was done here.
     
  9. CalBoy macrumors 604

    CalBoy

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    #9
    What was actually splitting the justices in Brown was the reach of the opinion and the precise reasoning they would use. One opinion for the Court would send a very clear message to segregationists.

    This Court is too divided and independent for that kind of collaboration.
     
  10. skunk macrumors G4

    skunk

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    #10
    Absolute freedom of speech is the chiefest liberty worth fighting for.
     
  11. 184550 Guest

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    #11
    In that case I'm rather peeved that I can't yell 'Fire' in a crowded movie theatre without repercussions. ;)
     
  12. skunk macrumors G4

    skunk

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    #12
    Almost absolute. Doesn't have quite the same impact, but still... :p
     
  13. iJohnHenry macrumors P6

    iJohnHenry

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    #13
    It would appear that all statements of authority must be idiot-proofed.
     
  14. skunk macrumors G4

    skunk

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    #14
    I wouldn't dream of calling anyone an idiot.
     
  15. fivepoint macrumors 65816

    fivepoint

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    #15
    "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
     
  16. skunk macrumors G4

    skunk

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    #16
    On this single point we agree.
     
  17. Lord Blackadder macrumors G5

    Lord Blackadder

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    #17
    Ultimately this is a situation where it is up to all of us, not as a nation, or as voters so much as a culture, to make it plain that this Westboro gang are an antisocial aberration with regards to the other 300-odd million of us.

    They can profess their beliefs ad nauseum, and we will drown them out by going about our business. I wish the media would ignore them as well.
     
  18. rdowns macrumors Penryn

    rdowns

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    #18

    As do I.


    Kumbaya my Lord, kumbaya
     
  19. neko girl macrumors 6502a

    neko girl

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    #19
    This sort of reasoning can be used with a lot of minority groups.

    My suggestion would be to leave this sort of behavior up to ignorant people, and instead of dropping down to their level, you can tolerate their diametrically opposing beliefs without losing your own.
     
  20. gkarris macrumors 604

    gkarris

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    #20
    A late-Cousin of mine (who was Gay) and myself (a Christian) had the unfortunate experience of dealing with these type of people.

    My late-Cousin, obviously, with his mis-givings. With me and group I was with, they had told us that they were the only "real Christians" and that we had to join them or we are essentially evil just like everyone else. :eek:

    Yes, great for "Free Speech", but this Christian Cult Group is, unfortunately, extremely attention-starved and will do what it takes to be in the forefront of news.

    It will be interesting to see what they do to take things to the "next level". That could be showing up a Military Funeral homes and gavesite funerals, blowing up GLBT establishments, etc. This is what they proudly strive for.

    Knowing some personally, their ultimate goal is to take over the US Goverment and make it a Christian Fundamental one (don't laugh, some of their stuff I've seen like sermons, and newsletters are *pretty scary*...).
     
  21. Rt&Dzine macrumors 6502a

    Rt&Dzine

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    #21
    Then they better start procreating faster than rabbits since it's mostly a family affair. Also, most sects think they're the only "real" ones. Look at all the Protestants who don't consider that Catholics are Christians.
     
  22. todd2000 macrumors 68000

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    #22
    Thats just the thing, as hateful, and disturbing as the churches actions may be, they are not "trumping" the rights of the families. They (the family) paid to essentially rent the funeral home for the day. Now since it is private property that they essentially own for the day they have a right to deny anyone access to the building, and whatever property around the building that is considered "private." They do not however have a right to deny people the ability to voice their opinion on PUBLIC property, even if that opinion is crazy.

    Well I agree what the church is doing is hateful, and in poor taste, they have every right to do it as long as they stay far enough away from the actual funeral.


    Where exactly is the "captive audience" rule?

    Now like I said I think that Fred and his gang are a bunch of crazy bigots, and what their doing is disgusting, but as much as some people might not like it, they have every right to do it.
     
  23. Lord Blackadder macrumors G5

    Lord Blackadder

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    #23
    I'm not advocating pitchforks and torches. As I said, the best way to combat their behavior is to go about our business, in the face of their provocations.
     
  24. citizenzen macrumors 65816

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    #24
    Two good rulings by the SCOTUS recently.

    Things just might be looking up.
     
  25. CalBoy macrumors 604

    CalBoy

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    #25
    Actually, the Supreme Court didn't really touch on this. They left open the ability for state and local governments to increase distance requirements for funeral processions and cemeteries. It is very possible that because of the Phelps' actions, many states will increase their minimum distance rules.

    For the Supreme Court, the Phelps family was far enough way to not interfere with the funeral (Roberts wrote that the petitioner could only see the tops of their signs).

    However, like Alito, I am less concerned with precisely where the protest was happening than with the predatory behavior the Phelps family engages in. To me their practice of using the media to target and harass families prior to the funeral is troublesome because at that point it's less about expressing an opinion than about using the media for personal attention, at the expense of others.

    The tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress [IIED] (which is what the Phelps family was sued for) doesn't usually take into account the location of the tort, only whether or not the act was cruel and whether or not it advanced a legitimate public or private interest. Phelps did not need to use the machinery of the media before the funeral to have access to his free speech. In fact, one might posit that Phelps would be least obstructed if picketing/protesting locations were kept a secret (since then the motorcycle gang which usually shields grieving families from seeing them would not have a heads-up). Instead, Phelps intentionally targets families and launches not only a media frenzy on the family, but also forces them to keep in mind at all times leading up to the funeral and during the funeral, that a hate group is just beyond the cemetery's walls waiting to harass them further.

    It also bears keeping in mind that even though this particular father could only see the Phelp's to a limited extent, others have had to deal with them in plain sight. This is where your second question comes in:

    The captive audience rule is one that has been carved out through decades of First Amendment litigation. It is one of the few restrictions on free speech that the Supreme Court has recognized (others include fighting words and the famous "fire!" in a crowded theater imminent danger doctrine). It essentially holds that where an audience is not free to otherwise shield itself or remove itself from speech, freedom of speech can be restricted. The most common application of this doctrine is in public schools during assemblies. However, it can broadly be defined as any place where the audience would be physically unable to leave, or if it could leave, it would surrender something extremely valuable.

    For families at a funeral, I think it's very unfair to ask them to surrender the peaceful funeral in exchange for Phelps' speech that can be done at any other place and time. The family cannot redo a funeral, and if they can hear and see the Phelps family during the funeral, they have no reasonable alternative to escape from that speech.

    The Supreme Court chose not to extend the doctrine in this case to families at a funeral, but I think that was an error in judgement. Funerals are typically the most tragic events individuals can attend in their lives, and a funeral for a child certainly would be the most tragic among them. I doubt any one of the eight justices who were in the majority would leave the funeral for their child, and yet they're asking families who are the target of hate groups to do that.

    This is exactly what the case turned on though. For the majority, the Phelps family wasn't close enough, and for the dissent, it was not about distance but about abuse before the funeral.

    I don't think anyone really thinks the Phelps family should be stopped from protesting in general, but if they cause injury to someone by being brutally abusive, then why shouldn't they pay like other tortfeasors?
    This is one of those cases where I feel that people need to remember that the First Amendment only protects you from the government preventing speech. It only is only a balancing factor in civil litigation, which is what the Snyder case was. The First Amendment does not give you the right to say anything without being the target of a lawsuit. Courts are full of suits for libel, slander, and IIED. If you or I were to go up to a grieving mother and tell her that her child was off to hell because he served for a country that encouraged[insert whatever you like here] and if we knew that was bound to cause distress, we would be sued for IIED and we would most likely lose, or at least we would have before this case.

    I agree that the state or Federal governments should not restrict the Phelps family unreasonably, but they should have to pay the piper if they cause harm. It seems to me that they did cause harm in this case, and they should have to pay a monetary reward to the injured party just like anyone else who crosses the line.
     

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