After years of battle, there is now closure in Snyder v Phelps. In an 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court upheld an appellate court's decision to overturn a jury verdict against Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church. The original verdict would have awarded the family of Matthew Snyder $5 million for emotional distress said to be inflicted by the Phelp's presence near a private funeral. That verdict was set aside by an appellate court and this week The Justices handed down the final decision and ruled in favor of our Constitution.
Primarily, our First Amendment rights as citizens to voice our opinions. Opinions that are not popular. Opinions that are rare. Opinions that cause response and reactions. Opinions that get people talking.
Here are just a few of the things people are saying:
They are horrible people that only want to bring down the world.
i personally would love to take a group to kansas and celebrate his arrival in hell!
[they] are sure as hell not an american.
[they] ultimately destroy the sanctity of life in America
[God] loathes what they are doing to people
These people should be ashamed of themselves!!!
[what they are doing] is un-human
What [they] do is deplorable, disrespectful, uncivil, RUDE, and a disgraceful
Karma is a huge bitch so they better prepare.
The judgment they give will be handed out to them by G-d.
[They are] sick!
all these creeps can hold their signs in hell
these people are going to bust Hell Wide Open!
Somebody should put [them] in their place.... In hell.
I DO wish great harm comes to [them]. I do hope that the meet their end soon. They are despicable and their demise can not come soon enough.
One day someone in that disrespectful crowd of idiots will end up dead. I just hope it happens soon.
If it was my child I would figure out a way to hose them down with a fire truck hose and send them packing.
if they showed up at my loved ones funeral, my 9mm would have its own freedom of speech day.
someone needs to shove [something] up their arse.
I can only hope that the "supremes" have to experience the same pain the families of the dead soldiers have to contend with
There needs to be an "accidental" car accident at the corner where they are protesting so that they all go to heaven
someone in Kansas needs to torch that Church with all the congregation it it.
Hope I get to see his obit before they toss him in a hole, so I can go to Topeka and give him the sendoff he deserves...
I'm fairly certain every one of those quotes could be pasted to some signage and you might think they came straight from Westboro. The morality cards are fairly similar. Everyone's got an opinion. But these are the responses from those commenting on a Nightline post asking for reaction on the ruling.
Can you see the glaring contradictions?
Some actually advocated physical harm and death to come to the their fellow human beings. Not because these folks broke laws. But because their speech and their beliefs were different. Take that in. The call for arson, murder, assault, manslaughter and more. Even desecration of a grave. Because of those protesting and expressing a different belief.
The professed "true Christians" in the discussion pretty much all said that judgment was going to come upon Westboro. Some even talked about their eventual burning in hell. A few mentioned how ungoldly and unbiblical the "church" was. Which, is really nothing extraordinary. Except that is exactly the type of thing Westboro says as well.
Of the close to three hundred or so comments, the majority disagreed with the Court's decision. And that is the most troubling. Because it shows a complete disregard for the Constitution. Most arguments against the Court were based on where the protests took place (a funeral) and who was being protested (military). The emotions of the family grieving were brought up. But we know this is a herring. (The protests took place on public property and did not name anyone individually). And as you'll note, some of the dissatisfaction with the Court even called for the Justices to have death in their family so they might "understand" the suffering. But we know that a Justice can't rule based on their personal feelings. Still, keep in mind, there was a voiced desire that emotional pain and harm come to one of the Supreme Court Justices of our Country.
And let's understand all these cries for violence and tragedy are coming against individuals who are on the side of peaceful protesting.
I hear your jaw dropping. "Westboro is the farthest from peaceful a group can be" - is that what you're thinking? Well, you're wrong. Once you've eliminated the bias of your personal attitudes about what their signage actually says, (I'll give you a minute.... ) ... Once you eliminate this bias, you must concede that Westboro is simply standing on public property with signs and statements about choices and beliefs they claim to disagree with. That's it. They sometimes might raise their voice, but they never bring weapons. They never hurl stones. They never lay a hand on those they are targeting with their words. It is peaceful protest.
Many called the actions of Westboro hate speech, claiming it should not be protected. Others made arguments that Westboro incites violence and therefore falls outside the scope of the amendment. Both are incorrect. Westboro never directly or indirectly calls for violence. They never solicit or instruct others to break laws or infringe upon another citizen's rights. They come as close to the line as they possibly can, but they never cross it. They are smarter than that. Like the little boy sticking his tongue out at you in grade school, Westboro is educated on the rules.
Keep in mind, in order to override our First Amendment right, it must be shown not that the speech is harmful, but harming. It is not enough for the potential outcome of violence. It is not enough that violence or riots might happen. The First Amendment protects speech regardless of possible reaction. And the First Amendment is very liberal in the line it draws. In order to shut down the expression, one must prove beyond doubt that discourse is intentionally or willfully being prohibited and that violence and public disturbance is solicited in the expressed message. And even in cases where riots or violence are a probable reaction, if the speech fosters public discourse regarding issues concerning citizens, the amendment errs on the side of liberty rather than restriction. It concerns itself with freedom over censorship and when it does limit speech (which is rare) it is careful to consider that which falls only under danger which is clear and present - referred to as "imminent lawless action".
In other words, contrary to popular belief, you can yell "Fire" in a crowded theater. It just depends on the circumstance.
The First Amendment understands that language and expression are relative. The First Amendment protects all sorts of ideologies in order that dialogue and discourse may happen. It exists to encourage debate and discussion of all viewpoints. It serves citizens. And it will guard even the most personally offensive speech.
It doesn't matter if you don't like what Westboro has to say. It makes no difference if you think it's vial or horrible or disgusting or hurtful to the grieving. All those terms are far too relative to stop the expression from happening. Just as you have the right to scream from your soapbox that Westboro is horrible, Westboro has the right to say the same about another. It doesn't matter.
Of course this group will be as polarizing as it can be. The "congregation" consists of mostly lawyers and family. People who have spent decades studying law and human nature. They bank on the reality that emotional appeals are popular and that people who are angered and bothered usually react in a state of rage over rationale. They want to taunt and torment and terrorize right up to that line where their actions are legal and legitimate. Because they know someone will get offended. They know someone will cross it.
They are full well aware that it's the kid that throws the punch that gets in trouble, and so Westboro has a goal: They want someone to swing. And they want someone to swing hard and relentlessly. Because reacting to Westboro means victory. And a lot of money.
Keep in mind, that if a hand is laid on any member of Westboro while they are peacefully protesting, they have the legal right to press criminal charges for assault and file civil lawsuits against those who attack them. And of course, there are the legal fees that must be reimbursed to Westboro for defending their civil liberties. (Currently, they are entitled to over $16,500 due to the Snyder case and that is before all additional costs incurred since the Fourth Circuit appeal, some estimates put the total at over $100,000).
And that makes perfect sense. Because it is the responsibility of the rational human being to not allow Westboro's opinions to bother them. It is the reasonable, civil response to ignore them. Let them be. Let them say what they think. It need not be burdensome or troublesome. It is only their opinion. They don't have to be given the weight or merit they are getting.
"God Hates Fags" is the equivalent to saying "Santa Hates Children". Clearly the Christmas presents prove something different. "Fags Go To Hell" shouldn't be a problem. First of all, even if you do believe in a heaven or hell, you can rest assured that Westboro's version is not yours. Second of all, if someone told you that all homosexuals will be banished to Saturn for eternal life you'd probably roll your eyes. Religion aside, Westboro doesn't control the course of your life.
Unless you let them.
Take a look at some of those comments again. Put them into perspective. The uproar is nonsense. The only power Westboro has is the power given to them.
We know this. We've all been taught this lesson. And yet, so many seem to want to silence the speech that upsets them. We can't let that happen. We must collectively defend the rights of Westboro. We must rally for their voice to be heard. We must fight right along side them and uphold our First Amendment.
Or the voice that will be silenced is our own. The expression that will be lost will cost us far more than grief due to protests at funerals. If we don't stand with Westboro, we fall victim to worse: Fear. Oppression. Censorship. A muzzle.
It's not always a popular opinion to defend the actions of those with such a polarizing expression. My defense of the ruling in the Nightline discussion led to a lot of ad hominem. Some called me heartless. Some said I had no compassion. Others asked if I was a member of the cult, as if only someone associated directly with Westboro would have reason to come against the dissent so passionately.
One woman told me I was a total disgrace.
And as silly as her personal attack was, I'd never in a million years want to take her right to say it away.
This is what is as stake.
If you haven't actually read the Constitution in a while (or ever), let me show you exactly what this amendment reads:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
It is precious. And must stand as the pillar it was meant to be for our nation. It must be rigorously defended. It must be, without exception, fought for. It is your voice that is heard. It is your speech. It is your expression. It is the message you want to send. Your argument. Your philosophy. Your ideology. Your passion. Your opinion.
And long after Westboro is gone, it will remain your pulpit to express exactly what you think of them.
Snyder v. Phelps means you win.
Let that sink in.
*Comments, discourse, debates and further discussion are (of course) more than welcome.