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SCOTUS rules 8-1 for "GAD HATES FAGS" church's hate speech

Do you agree with the Court's decision?

  • Yes

    Votes: 7 33.3%
  • No

    Votes: 13 61.9%
  • Neutral

    Votes: 1 4.8%

  • Total voters
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Prinnctopher's Belt

Antiquities Friend
SF Supporter
Washington (CNN) -- A Kansas church that attracted nationwide attention for its angry, anti-gay protests at the funerals of U.S. military members has won its appeal at the Supreme Court, an issue testing the competing constitutional rights of free speech and privacy.

The justices, by an 8-1 vote, said Wednesday that members of Westboro Baptist Church had a right to promote what they call a broad-based message on public matters such as wars. The father of a fallen Marine had sued the small church, saying those protests amounted to targeted harassment and an intentional infliction of emotional distress.

"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. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority.

At issue was a delicate test between the privacy rights of grieving families and the free speech rights of demonstrators, however disturbing and provocative their message. Several states have attempted to impose specific limits on when and where the church members can protest.

The church, led by pastor Fred Phelps, believes God is punishing the United States for "the sin of homosexuality" through events including soldiers' deaths. Members have traveled the country shouting at grieving families at funerals and displaying such signs as "Thank God for dead soldiers," "God blew up the troops" and "AIDS cures fags."

Westboro members had appeared outside the 2006 funeral for Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder in Westminster, Maryland, outside Baltimore.

Snyder's family sued the church in 2007, alleging invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and civil conspiracy. A jury awarded the family $2.9 million in compensatory damages plus $8 million in punitive damages, which were later reduced to $5 million.

The church appealed the case in 2008 to a federal appeals court, which reversed the judgments a year later, siding with the church's allegations that its First Amendment rights were violated.

Albert Snyder, Matthew's father, said his son was not gay and the protesters should not have been at the funeral.

"I was just shocked that any individual could do this to another human being," Snyder told CNN last fall. "I mean, it was inhuman."

In an afternoon news conference Wednesday, Snyder expressed surprise at the ruling.

"My first thought was that eight justices don't have the common sense that God gave a goat," he said. "We found out today that we can no longer bury our dead in this county with dignity."

He added, "What is this country coming to?"

Margie Phelps, a member of the Westboro clan and an attorney who argued the case before the high court, told CNN the ruling was "10 times better than I had hoped for."

"You can't use the subject that your feelings are hurt to trump public debate," she said. If that were the case, "where would we be?" She promised that with this ruling in hand, Westboro Baptist would conduct more such pickets.

Church members say their broader message is aimed at the unspecified actions of the military and those who serve in it. They believe U.S. soldiers deserve to die because they fight for a country that tolerates homosexuality.

Roberts in his opinion noted the Snyder family was not a "captive audience" to the protests that were conducted several hundred yards away.

"Westboro stayed well away from the memorial service," wrote Roberts. "Snyder could see no more than the tops of the signs when driving to the funeral. And there is no indication that the picketing itself in any way interfered with the funeral itself."

Based on that the court concluded Snyder could not collect damages from Westboro.

But the chief justice showed little sympathy for the message Westboro promotes.

"Westboro believes that America is morally flawed; many Americans might feel the same about Westboro. Westboro's funeral picketing is certainly hurtful and its contribution to public discourse may be negligible," he said. However, "As a nation we have chosen a different course -- to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate."

The ruling was a narrow one, dealing with the specific, unusual facts of this appeal. Such vocal protests at military funerals are almost entirely confined to this one small group. Roberts said on the free speech question, it was enough to rely on "limited principles that sweep no more broadly than the appropriate context of the instant case."

Only Justice Samuel Alito dissented. He said the church's "outrageous conduct caused petitioner great injury, and the court now compounds that injury by depriving petitioner of a judgment that acknowledges the wrong he suffered," he said. "In order to have a society in which public issues can be openly and vigorously debated, it is not necessary to allow the brutalization of innocent victims like petitioner."

The Supreme Court has never addressed the specific issue of laws designed to protect the "sanctity and dignity of memorial and funeral services," as well as the privacy of family and friends of the deceased. But the high court has recognized the state's interest in protecting people from unwanted protests or communications while in their homes.

The justices were being asked to address how far states and private entities like cemeteries and churches can go to justify picket-free zones and the use of "floating buffers" to silence or restrict the speech or movements of demonstrators exercising their constitutional rights in a funeral setting.

A majority of states across the nation have responded to the protests with varying levels of control over the Westboro church protesters. In Wednesday's case, 48 states and dozens of members of Congress filed an amicus brief in support of the Snyders.

John Ellsworth, chairman of Military Families United, said the military protects the First Amendment rights that members of Westboro Baptist use to protest.

"Gold Star families deserve the respect of a grateful nation, not hate from a group who chooses to demonstrate during the funeral of their loved one," he said. "My family has been on the receiving end of their hate and I assure all Gold Star families, this group is an anomaly and your sacrifice does not go without notice."

Church members told the court they have a duty to protest and picket at certain events, including funerals, to promote their religious message: "That God's promise of love and heaven for those who obey him in this life is counterbalanced by God's wrath and hell for those who do not obey him."

The congregation is made up mostly of Fred Phelps and his family. The pastor has 13 children, and at least 54 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

He described himself as an "old-time" gospel preacher in a CNN interview in 2006, saying, "You can't preach the Bible without preaching the hatred of God."

Church members have participated in several hundred protests across the country.

In 2009, the high court blocked Missouri's effort to enforce a specific law aimed at the Westboro church. Phelps, daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper and other church members had protested near the August 2005 funeral of a soldier in St. Joseph, Missouri. State lawmakers later passed the "Spc. Edward Lee Myers Law," criminalizing picketing "in front of or about" a funeral location or procession.

The case decided Wednesday is Snyder v. Phelps (09-751).



Well-Known Member
To be quite honest I'm surprised these abominations haven't all got themselves shot or beaten into a wheelchair, its much better than they deserve.


Well-Known Member
It's not the job of the Supreme Court to judge if the Church is annoying, it's job it to decide if it's within their rights to protest as they do.

Mortal Moon

Well-Known Member
I'm going with a borderline "no," only because picketing and shouting at a funeral probably does (or should) count as harassment. Obviously I don't think they should be censored in general, but in this case I'm much more sympathetic to the family's right to bury their child in peace, without being constantly heckled and jeered at by a bunch of IRL trolls, with no purpose other than to cause them grief.

I dunno, though. I'm torn on this one.


Staff Alumni
You can't yell "fire" in a movie theater
You can't talk about killing the president or sedition
There are laws against "hate speech"

SO, without going too far, their should be some type of legislation started to make it illegal to harass a family at a funeral, IMO. They can hold their signs up at their own church all day if they would like...


Well-Known Member
They believe U.S. soldiers deserve to die because they fight for a country that tolerates homosexuality.
That would basically mean that ALL americans should die because 'they fight for a country that tolerates homosexuality'.

And the majority of his 'congregation' consists of his 'family'. Mind you, judging by his profound intelligence, they're probly all inbred. :rolleyes:

To any yanks here:

No offence or anything, but people like this make your country look really shit.


Well-Known Member
This church from Kansas makes my blood curdle. I'm so angry with them. Outright disregard and disrespect for others is uncalled for, People like this make it even harder for people to consider following Jesus.
That would basically mean that ALL americans should die because 'they fight for a country that tolerates homosexuality'.

And the majority of his 'congregation' consists of his 'family'. Mind you, judging by his profound intelligence, they're probly all inbred. :rolleyes:

To any yanks here:

No offence or anything, but people like this make your country look really shit.
I learned about the mongrels in a literature course I was taking, their "church" only has about 100 members and isn't growing at any particular rate
Technically it is within their right to protest, just as it is within anyone else's right to use twitter to make a flash mob and protest them in return with more than one thousand people


Well-Known Member
No offence or anything, but people like this make your country look really shit.
A few hundred people does not equal a few hundred million people. They are extremists and 99.9999% of the people you ask on the street will say they are douchebags. They are everywhere and not exclusive to the US.

Ironic since this guy died trying to protect the freedoms these nutjobs are exercising. I would LOVE to be at a protest with these people..... you believe God wants you to preach this bullshit? Well let's help setup a face to face conversation with him....


Well-Known Member
How come these aren't covered under hate crimes laws?

I cant stand outside a gospels singers club or a black mans funeral shouting N** go to hell without getting arrested so why this exemption to these.

Prinnctopher's Belt

Antiquities Friend
SF Supporter
How come these aren't covered under hate crimes laws?
Because the hate crime laws require bodily harm and/or resulting in death (which is silly because we already have laws that prohibit bodily harm, called assault and homicide laws, lol), not including solely emotional or psychological harm.


Staff Alumni
2 points to clarify. they arent baptists and they arent a church. they are one family of lunatics. freedom of speech is precious and can not be nibbled away.


Staff Alumni
The WBC is not affiliated with any known Baptist conventions or associations. The church describes itself as following Primitive Baptist and Calvinist principles,[9] though mainstream Primitive Baptists reject the WBC and Phelps.[10]
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