August 18, 2010

Common Sense 0, First Amendment 1

Fred Phelps is a disgusting individual. He, his family and the congregation of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, KS represent the lowest underbelly of America… but regardless of that, they remain Americans and therefore the beneficiaries of the same Constitutional rights as the rest of us.

These despicable abusers of the Rights of Man have been mentioned in this space before [HERE] [HERE] and [HERE]. In that last link a court case was mentioned in which the Phelps crew had beaten a lawsuit [Snyder v. Phelps, et al] brought by the father of a Marine killed in Iraq after the Phelps family protested the funeral. 

The judge in the case ruled that in the United States of America, people have the right to believe anything they want, say anything they want, and in general to behave like ignorant idiots, so long as no physical harm is done.

Next came the 2006 law passed by the Missouri legislature, specifically targeting the Kansas church group, and severely restricting protests near funerals. Phelps sued, and won [Phelps-Roper v. Koster].

Yesterday a U.S. District Judge ruled the Missouri law violates the church’s right of free speech guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

Judge Fernando Gaitan, although sympathetic to the argument that people attending a funeral deserve some protection, ruled that Missouri officials did not demonstrate that the protest restrictions served any significant government interest, nor had it been narrowly tailored to prevent the harm of interruptions of funeral services.

Several other states have enacted similar laws, and those too will likely fall upon appeal. Judge Gaitan had little option, considering the earlier federal appeals court decision that there was no compelling government interest in protecting people from unwanted speech outside their homes.

Court documents reveal that the Kansas church has held more than 42,000 pickets, including more than 500 at funerals. This fall SCOTUS is supposed to consider the appeal in Snyder v. Phelps, et al. I predict this too will fail. The fact that these idiots behave in this manner is disturbing, but fits the category of protected speech. The fact that they have the right to be idiots is written in our Constitution. 

Now, briefly consider the parallel of this case to the ongoing debate over the so-called Ground Zero Mosque… We may not like it, and it may seem a really insensitive thing to do... but there is no legal basis for denying it.


Reverend Manny and the Twilight Empire said...

i was so torn about this when in saw the news story. I think you have a really good take on it. 42,000 pickets is even more than I'd imagined

but your right, it's written in the constitution... and frankly, i think these reprehensible assholes need to be given their right to publicly act as reprehensible assholes... it's the great thing about the 1st amendment... this way, we can all clearly identify who the reprehensible assholes are... excuse the vulgarity, but man... this is westboro we're talking about...

great stuff

one love, one struggle,
--rev manny

montag said...

There have been some very creative and enlightened response to that Phelps hate patrols. The most recent at ComicCon was inspiring. It would be fun to organize a contest to see who could put on the most creative protest at Big Gay Freds "church".

Labrys said...

I really love the comical counter-protests to the Phelps Filth-i-tude. I do think that if this brand of freedom of expression is protected, the Court had better take a similarly fortifying position on freedom of religious expression for the mosque.

Of course, I'd love to see a psychiatrist work of the Phelpians. They can't possibly believe they really are changing minds and drawing converts to their one-and-only-true-Christianity by harassing funerals. So what IS the pay-off for them?

Rogue Medic said...

Maybe they are trying to get their own reality TV show.