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 Anti-gay church's right to protest at military funerals is upheld

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PostSubject: Anti-gay church's right to protest at military funerals is upheld   Fri Mar 04, 2011 5:14 pm

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.
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"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.
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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.
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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).
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PostSubject: Re: Anti-gay church's right to protest at military funerals is upheld   Mon Mar 07, 2011 8:07 pm

No one has any opinions on this? I figured someone would jump in on some discussion. I honestly think Fred Phelps should be shot but that's just me.
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PostSubject: Re: Anti-gay church's right to protest at military funerals is upheld   Tue Mar 08, 2011 2:00 am

And he is a so called man of god ? He can not even respect the distress and pain of loved ones . People like that should be locked up . There is free speech and "free speech". The sort he deals out is a disgrace . How would he feel if one of his kids was sent to war and came back in a box ? Would he picket his childs funeral and shout hate at the peole there ? Where is the nearest tree .
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PostSubject: Re: Anti-gay church's right to protest at military funerals is upheld   Tue Mar 08, 2011 3:43 am

Whether what they believe is scripturally accurate is, as you would imagine, quite an in-depth discussion ( and whether it is true even more so ) but the Bible can be used to justify almost anything if you pick and choose well enough. For example, Leviticus 20:13 quite clearly backs up their "God hates fags" rhetoric.

They are also told to believe that death is a judgement from God and as such it gives them pleasure. For example, I recall a Louis Theroux documentary in which a member quite plainly claims to "love it" when people are hit by cars, or get cancer or whatever and another ( who is actually Fred's granddaughter, if I remember correctly ) says that even amongst themselves they would rejoice at the death of a member because it's God's judgement. So at least they are consistent I guess.

I think the answers to inuit's questions ( rhetorical or not ) must therefore be yes.

As for the picketing itself I think that the best thing would be just to keep them at an inaudible distance because allowing for the law to encroach on freedom of expression is a slippery slope but at the end of the day I think that they deserve pity, not hate, especially since the majority seems to be children with little choice.
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PostSubject: Re: Anti-gay church's right to protest at military funerals is upheld   Tue Mar 08, 2011 2:07 pm

My question is even if what they are saying about what god believes is true, Why would their so called 'god' take it out on soldiers who are not homosexuals? What kind of god is that to warship?
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PostSubject: Re: Anti-gay church's right to protest at military funerals is upheld   Tue Mar 08, 2011 3:54 pm

God is what you want him to be . As Turnip said, you can interpret the Bible , the Coran as well , to make it say what you want . Whether some-one is homosexuel or not it is what is in his or her heart that matters , not between their legs .
Personnally I do not pity them, they are too far gone for that .
well and good free speech but not when this free speech infringes on personnel feelings in the sort of circumstances set out in the article . There is such a thing as respect .
There are certain civilisations who make merry at a funeral . But all in respecting the defunt and his or her family .
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PostSubject: Re: Anti-gay church's right to protest at military funerals is upheld   Thu Mar 10, 2011 4:40 am

They believe that God is actively killing the soldiers as punishment for fighting for a country that has abandoned morality ( largely by 'accepting' homosexuals ); Fred Phelps claims God drove Bush to war specifically for that purpose.

They also seem to hate the Jews, the Chinese, Italy, Barack Obama, Catholics, Hindus, Muslims ... and anyone else that isn't them I guess.

The thing is God in the eyes of moderate Christians - the loving, caring, good God - is just as much a product of picking and choosing from the Bible ... Having said that, I am not really sure that it is possible to take the Bible as a whole; I mean I found it inconsistent and difficult to the extent that I feel either the God it describes is schizophrenic or the Bible just isn't accurate.

Inuit, the church is essentially one family where the children are indoctrinated from a young age. In that same Louis Theroux documentary children as young as ( if I remember correctly ) 4 or 5 were taken picketing and made to hold signs that they clearly didn't understand. One boy is asked about it and he tries really hard to parrot off the spiel he has obviously been fed. The trouble is that ( regardless of age ) the public tend to retaliate with hate and this will obviously only push the young ones even deeper.

Also, respect comes from the individual. It is not something that you can create by passing a law.
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PostSubject: Re: Anti-gay church's right to protest at military funerals is upheld   Thu Mar 10, 2011 3:35 pm

As they are homophobe then is it a possibility that they are , or some of them, latent homosexuels and refuse to accept it . That they use this form of hate to cover their true feelings ? From what you say they have no christian love for anyone but themselves . In which case they cannot be considered christians but a sect . A sect where the members are brainwashed from an early age to believe only what they are told and any divergence to this line of thought is punishable .
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PostSubject: Re: Anti-gay church's right to protest at military funerals is upheld   Thu Mar 10, 2011 5:18 pm

Possibly but it's just as likely to be attention seeking or genuine belief.

Attention seeking because Fred's daughter ( I can't remember her name ) has said that they don't intend to convert people, just to get in their faces ( not verbatim but that was essentially it ) and genuine belief because it is in the Bible...

I'll use Leviticus 20:13 again because it's a specific passage that I tend to remember ( from the King James Bible )-
Quote :
If a man also lie with mankind, as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be on them.

Most moderates would reject this passage but if you truly believe that the Bible is the word of God, your Lord, how can you choose to reject his wishes ( I've never really understood that ). The passage is absolutely clear in it's message; Surely it's just as Christian as 'Christian love'?

As for the cult like behaviour, is it really that different from any other Christian group ( or any of the Abrahamic religions for that matter ) ?
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