Tag Archives: Fred Phelps

LIONEL PODCAST: Why SCOTUS Was Absolutely Correct In The Westboro Case. And Why Fred Phelps Is Still A Jerk.

The Supremes ruled correctly (at least eight of them) in Snyder v. Phelps in affirming a lower court’s dismissal of a $5 million judgment against Pastor Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church. Albert Snyder brought a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress for damages sustained by virtue of his demonstration at his son’s funeral. [See infra.]

“Simply put, the church members had the right to be where they were,” the decision notes. “Westboro alerted local authorities to its funeral protest and fully complied with police guidance on where the picketing could be staged. The picketing was conducted under police supervision some 1,000 feet from the church, out of the sight of those at the church. The protest was not unruly; there was no shouting, profanity, or violence.

“The record confirms that any distress occasioned by Westboro’s picketing turned on the content and viewpoint of the message conveyed, rather than any interference with the funeral itself,” Chief Justice Roberts continued. “A group of parishioners standing at the very spot where Westboro stood, holding signs that said ‘God bless America’ and ‘God loves you,’ would not have been subjected to liability. It was what Westboro said that exposed it to tort damages.

“Given that Westboro’s speech was at a public place on a matter of public concern, that speech is entitled to ‘special protection’ under the First Amendment,” the decision states. “Such speech cannot be restricted simply because it is upsetting or arouses contempt.” [See also Courthouse News Service and NYT.]

Let me explain. My hoarse voice notwithstanding.

LIONEL AUDIO: The Protected Speech of Vile Hate

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Wednesday, October 6th, in the case of Snyder v. Phelps. A video of Pastor Phelps may help explain him better than anything I could write. As you know, Phelps is the fire-breathing Kentucky pastor of Westboro Baptist Church. (Check out its URL.) A jury awarded $10.9 million (later reduced to $5 million) for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress to Albert Snyder, the father of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder who was killed in Iraq. It seems that the pastor interrupted the military funeral of the fallen Marine when he and his cacophonous comrades jeered the attendees claiming that Matthew’s death was the result of God’s displeasure with American tolerance toward gays. Or something. On appeal the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals tossed the verdict claiming that it was protected speech under the First Amendment.

The issues addressed before SCOTUS are most artfully enumerated infra.

(1) Whether the prohibition of awarding damages to public figures to compensate for the intentional infliction of emotional distress, under the Supreme Court’s First Amendment precedents, applies to a case involving two private persons regarding a private matter; (2) whether the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment trumps its freedom of religion and peaceful assembly; and (3) whether an individual attending a family member’s funeral constitutes a “captive audience” who is entitled to state protection from unwanted communication. [Source]

First Amendment issues on the Court’s docket also include Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association, which seeks to answer the musical question whether a California law banning the sale of violent video games to children is violative of the the constitutional numero uno.

Herein lie and are my review and perspective. Con Law 101’s in session.