Shocked and Persuaded


Separating Fact From Fiction

Back Off Westboro Baptist Church

Last year we had a group of visitors here in Burlington from Topeka, Kansas affiliated with Fred Phelps‘ Westboro Baptist Church. For those not familiar this group you may be familiar with some of their pleasant slogans such as “God Hates Fags”, “Thank God For Dead Soldiers”, “Thank God for 9/11”, “Thank God for IEDs”, “Fags are Beasts, “God Hates Jews”, “Fags Doom Nations”, etc, etc. The list is long and oh so thoughtful. When this group came to Burlington they brought with them their signs and their children to protest Vermont being “most ‘gay’ friendly spot in DOOMED america.” This was not the first time they visited little ol’ Vermont they came a couple of years earlier to spew nonsense during the funeral of a Richmond man killed in Iraq by one of those IEDs they like to scream about so much.

During their most recent visit the anti-Westboro contingent was large, persistent, and peaceful following them from Montpelier to Burlington and all around town just letting them know we didn’t agree with their tactics or the hateful rhetoric that came forth from their mouths and those of their children. BUT I don’t know one person involved in the Burlington section of the anti-Westboro crew that thought they didn’t have the right to say what they wanted wherever they wanted. As common defense of Howard Stern goes: If you don’t like him change the station?

Well the Westboro’s right to free-speech went before the Supreme Court last year. The case “arose from a [Westboro] protest at the funeral of a Marine who had died in Iraq, Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder” with the church festooned in their signage. The Marine’s father, Albert Snyder “sued the protesters for, among other things, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and won a substantial jury award that was later overturned by an appeals court.” He and his lawyer appealed and got all the way to the Supreme Court, but Justice John Roberts’ court ruled 8-1 against the plaintiff’s claims buttressing the church’s freedom of speech going forward a defense that received an amicus brief from “The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 21 news organizations, including The New York Times Company”which was a relief because these folks maybe even more so than Westboro depend on the freedom of speech in order not simply to annoy people but for their paychecks.

Justice Roberts reasoning:

1. the church’s placards and rhetoric spoke to “matters of public concern”

2. the Snyder-Westboro relationship was not a private grudge

AND Finally the reasoning that I am sure politicians all over the land are going to invoke when pushing protesters further and further away from their line of site during conventions or any manner of so-called “meet & greets”

3. the church contingent picketing 1,000 feet from the site of the funeral “had the right to be where they were.”

>>>>>THIS FOLKS will be how politicians create more and more Orwellian protest a/o free-speech zones at further and further distances from the activities that are actually being protested to the point where the protests themselves will be irrelevant. I would imagine # 3 was a bone thrown to Judge Roberts’ Permanent Surveillance State buddies across the political and legal landscape.

Regardless the 8-1 ruling is an undoubted victory for freedom of speech BUT and there is always a BUT it comes with 2 caveats:

1. I find it disturbing that a poll conducted by the apparently liberal MSNBC Poll (12,141 Polled last time I checked) of its apparently liberal audience asking the following Agree or Disagree question

Pickets by anti-gay church members outside military funerals are free speech protected by the First Amendment

Resulted in the following distribution

Strongly Agree 5.1%>>>Agree 6.3%>>>Neutral 2.0%>>>Disagree 6.7%>>Strongly Disagree 79.9%

This convenient disregard for freedom of speech is meant to wash us of our feelings of guilt about the 2 failed wars and conveying our surficial support for troops and their families, when the best support we could offer them is increasing veteran’s health-care benefits, demanding PTSD treatment across the board, and bringing all men and women home now. Instead we make vapid claims to the sovereignty of military funerals via the abrogation of one of the fundamental tenets of democracy.

If you say you think Westboro should be allowed to protest that doesn’t mean you are condoning their actions or in any way supporting their speech BUT if you say they don’t have the right to say what they want where they want you are saying that some forms of speech must be censored and that the funerals of certain members of our society are somehow exceptional and deserving of special constitutional carve-outs. Well if we keep carving out the constitution it will be hollow and then where will we be?

2. The one descent in this ruling was Good Ol’ Sammy “The Bull” Alito Jr. who wrote “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.” HEY SAMMY the brutalization of innocent victims in this case happened in Iraq and Afghanistan it happened when the man who put you in your seat and his crew deceived us into a bogus war and an offensive non-sustainable trajectory that will mire us in debt and realpolitik nonsense for quite some time. AND who was brutalized Judge Alito? The family of the fallen?

I think that what the Westboro folks said and adorned themselves in on that sad day probably pales in comparison to the day the Snyders found out that they would never see their son, brother, cousin, friend again. This nonsense by the Topeka morons was just words and to give their words any extra weight OR render them some sort of extra-constitutional threat to open and rigorous debate is the same boogey man tactics you and your ilk have been using since the War On Terror began. Freedom of speech is not free and it must be defended even if the words are distasteful to no end.

This notion that freedom of speech should be tossed in the garbage because it somehow hurts someone’s feelings during a time of crisis is the kind of encroachment on personal rights that the founding fathers warned about. They were not perfect men and neither are we but our words must be allowed to be said and written regardless of the nobility of the plaintiff.

The scary thing is that freedom of speech is being attacked from the right via it’s judicial pit bull Sammy Alito and the left judging by the response to MSNBC’s overwhelming poll results refitting the most conservative court we have known in a long time. This makes me think of the title of a soon-to-be-written post by  me “With Tories like David Cameron who needs Democrats!”

Category: Burlington, Faith, Journalism, National News, Vermont

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One Response

  1. Harassment by religious extremist

    Jehovah’s Witnesses instigated court decisions in 1942 which involved cursing a police officer calling him a fascist and to get in your face at the door steps,….this same JW 1942 court decision upheld infamous Phelps hate church in 2011
    Danny Haszard

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