Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Pondering the Westboro case before the Supreme Court…

Shall we?

Members of Westboro Baptist Church have been protesting all manner of shit at a lot of locations and events for several years.

They hate gays.

They blame almost everything they define as wrong on what they see as America’s support of gays and abortion.

And they like to make their case by protesting at military funerals and screaming that soldiers died because America supports gays and abortion.

Those protests sparked legal challenges that have worked their way through the courts.  Now, the Supreme Court will hear all about Westboro Baptist Church and their ruling could have huge implications.

We the people have the right to freedom of speech…however painful, disturbing or vile.  I’ve been the target of some pretty heinous free speech…I’ve had people walk up to me at LGBT Pride festivals and say much of the same shit those Westboro folks say at military funerals.

And, even though I resent the hell out of that shit…even though I fret over the damage those hate-filled words may do to people who aren’t conditioned to handle it and don’t have a support network to help them purge post-alteraction…even so, I would fight like hell to protect the right of the rancid to speak their troubled shit in the public square.

Supporting speech we agree with is easy…it’s the speech we disagree with that challenges our commitment to the First Amendment.

And no, we don’t have the right to shout fire in a crowded movie theatre just to spark a stampede.

I get that.

But, as the Supreme Court prepares to hear the Westboro Baptist Church case, I’m pondering the implications of a ruling that may limit free speech and I’m concerned.

What door could that kind of ruling open…how many different ways could it be interpreted?

If the court limits free speech directed at individuals…what would that mean?  How would it all play out?

This shit ain’t easy.

The ruling has the potential to provide relief for many military families as they lay their loved ones to rest…

…and producing long-term drama for the masses.

Trust a bitch, this is a case to watch.


Anonymous said...

This is an article about what happens when a state tries to limit 'protesting at funerals'.

Guernican said...

Admire your willingness to embrace that sort of thinking. As that cheese-eating chap Voltaire apparently said, I may not agree with what you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.

Even if "it" consists of heckling funerals.

On the bright side, if there does turn out to be a God - admittedly, it's a stretch - then I'm sure we'd all like to be there when he condemns the lot of them to homosexual heaven for eternity.

Braghless said...

I was watching the news this morning and said this to my manfriend: "God I would hate to be a Supreme Court judge today."

I can't even imagine having to handle this case. The fact that the poor father was ordered by the previous judge to pay them $16k makes me ill, but at the same time...our rights, our freedom is in the balance. I'd like to see one of those f*^&ers protest around me though. They will get theirs.

Colonel de Guerlass said...

@Guerni can
I doubt Voltaire ate much cheese for three reasons:
- food habits, *if any*, change in 2.5 centuries
- an individual is not deterministically linked with national food habits, if any (even, now, some French hate cheese).
- Voltaire spent a great part of his life abroad, not to be jailed, in Preussen , when he was young, and in Schweiz (he had some land at the border) when he was very old. In Schweiz , one can *now* find excellent chocolate, clocks and banks, but the customs were very serious at this time

Yvonne Rathbone said...

Yup. The absolute best way to handle this is the love-drenched, Dada-esque counter protest. I have been collecting images from all over of people counter protesting these guys with signs like "God Hates Signs". Ridiculous, loving, and fun are the things that really get to these haters.

Annie said...

Agreed. Free speech should be upheld no matter who the speaker is.

And what needs to be done against the WBC is counter protesting. If they're going to be at a funeral? Get to the funeral first, create a human barrier, and protest the bigotry.

Stella said...

How about a motorcycle barrier?

Makes things a little hard to hear.

wickedwisdom said...

As one that lived in Topeka, KS where the Westboro Baptist church is located, I hope the Supreme Court does something to Phelps and his crew to make them pay.

I think there isn't enough reign on what the media and other people are allowed to say under their First Amendment rights.

I've been at many events that have had Phelps & his family picketing. Not just soldiers funerals, but plays and synagogues and just picketing on the street corners. Its made Topeka, KS an UGLY place for decades.

Ferrette said...

Yet, what about the right to free speech impedes the right to privacy? Is one superior to the other?

The way I see it, you're right, we must protect free speech at all costs. But a father has the right to a private burial for his son. Now his memories of that last moment will be forever tainted.

Admittedly, it is a very dicey issue. But I see no reason why in such cases reasonable restrictions can be found. For example, you could protest outside the gates of a cemetary, but not right next to a grave. Then both rights would be preserved, wouldn't they?

Guernican said...

@Colonel de Guerlass

Desolé. I know irony doesn't come across very well via text.

For the record, I'm half-French and grew up in Paris.

Guernican said...


And this is where what the conservative press would call "liberal elite" thinking meets the sharp end of the reality.

I can't imagine how unpleasant it must (have) be(en). It's a little like arguing against the death penalty: surely anyone with an iota of compassion in their soul knows it's a sickening thing... until, that is, it's your sister / mother / whatever that's brutalised and murdered.

I know this is a flippant thing to say, but I wonder if the town's ever considered moving en masse to the next state? Part of me rather anjoys the idea of these people shouting their hate into an empty street.

catnmus said...

I'm glad you said it. I agree too, as hateful and distasteful as it is.

Ferrette mentioned reasonable restrictions. On NPR, the lawyer for WBC (Phelp's daughter, if I remember correctly, for what it's worth) says that they were outside the 1000-feet restriction zone, that the father never even saw the signs the day of the funeral, and only filed the suit after he saw pictures/video of the protest on the news and/or online. Granted, it could be that none of that's true. But, what if it is? Does that convince anyone? Plus, someone on NPR made the contention that "funerals are different". Are they?

I'm sure that all of these questions are why the Supreme Court took the case. It's interesting for sure.

Anonymous said...

It is so hard to understand these people. Really, what is the point of protesting someone's funeral? It makes them look like fools! They should not be taken seriously, they should be ignored. A parent has the right to bury their child in peace. No matter what. These crazy people always make their connections to wholly unrelated things then vehemently go out of their homes to "defend" their insanity. It is a bizarre thing that really should be studied psychologically. How can they justify this in their minds? They think they are sane because there are other people who believe the same things. Just because you are backed by a group, that does not make you right. They are wrong on many levels. God does not hate America because of homosexuals. If God hates America it is because of all the dirt the government has done and kicked up around the world. But my guess is that God is not punishing America, and these nut jobs need to leave people alone and look within themselves for the hate they are spreading.

Résident du Pouvoir d'Achat said...

@Guernican no 2:
your comment number one did not make me suffer at all, but led me to wonder :
*the french alimentary habits (if any : I eat frogs only in Chinese restaurants, as they are better, hate snails and prefer Italian cheese) were the same in Voltaire's time and now (unlikely not : poor people ate a huge amount of bread, rich people ate a lot of meat, drunk a lot of wine -like English ones-).
*More generally, if one could demonstrate orally : as a writer, he wes more interested in written protests (oral protest were likely to be riots or revolutions : now, they come without physical violence)
* and wether a constitution , among the oldest in the world, can decide about the right to protest orally and publicly (the french one is only 50 yrs old, and its seems to be already too old, as most of the new laws find out being unconstitutionnal...)

Tom Shea said...

Westboro are scam artists. They specialize in entrapment. That's why many of them carry cameras around their necks: to get someone so riled up they take a swing, then it's all caught on camera. Phelps is (or was) an obstructionist lawyer, supposedly a really good one. they may have an anti-gay agenda, but like somany contrarian Republican douchebags, the money is the medium.

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