We all know about the Phelps family, and we also know how much they feed on hate. But this is still America, and I don't think the court will confirm the lower court's attempt to stifle their disgusting speech at soldiers' funerals:
The Supreme Court's 2010-2011 term gets under way next week, and the justices are wasting no time in tackling a case that has the potential to redraw the boundaries of free speech under the First Amendment.
On Oct. 6, the court will hear arguments in a highly charged case known as Snyder v. Phelps.
It sets a grieving father who lost his son in Iraq against religious protesters who picketed near the fallen soldier's funeral. The father claims emotional distress and says such demonstrations should not be allowed; the protesters say they were protected under the freedom of speech and peaceful assembly tenets of the First Amendment.
The drama perhaps couldn’t feature a more vilified band of provocateurs – the infamous Phelps family of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., known for their protests at military funerals, where they display signs sporting slogans like "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and "Don’t Pray for the USA.” They say the signs convey their belief that American soldiers' deaths are God’s punishment for the country’s tolerance of homosexuality. They also speak out against the Catholic Church.
While most people are deeply offended by the Phelpses’methods and message, both may be protected under the First Amendment, even though their activities took place near a funeral where the attendees could not simply leave because they found the speech hurtful.
The case has gotten a lot of attention from First Amendment scholars and has also generated an outpouring of support for the grieving father, Albert Snyder. The Veterans of Foreign Wars, 42 U.S. senators and 48 states and the District of Columbia are just some of the groups that have filed briefs in his favor. When an appeals court ordered Snyder to pay about $16,000 of the Phelpses’ legal fees, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly stepped up to make sure he had enough money to cover it.
“A lot of people have an understandable visceral reaction against this speech, but the First Amendment often protects speech that is vile,” says Eugene Volokh, a professor at UCLA School of Law and a First Amendment scholar who submitted a brief to the Supreme Court supporting the Phelpses’ position in court.