Free Speech Is Hard

But it is worth it:

Lawyers for the father of a Marine who died in Iraq and whose funeral was picketed by anti-gay protesters say a court has ordered him to pay the protesters’ appeal costs.

On Friday, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ordered that Albert Snyder of York, Pa., pay costs associated with Fred Phelps’ appeal. Phelps is the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church, which conducted protests at the funeral of Snyder’s son, Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, in Westminster in 2006.

Lawyers for Snyder say the Court of Appeals has ordered him to pay $16,510.80 to Phelps for costs relating to the appeal, despite the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review the Court of Appeals’ decision.

They say that Snyder is also struggling to come up with fees associated with filing a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court.

The solution here is simple- someone set up a PayPal account for Snyder. I hate the Phelps, but I’m glad the court is ruling that they have the right to spew their venom.

(via the good folks at No More Mr. Nice Blog)






153 replies
  1. 1
    stuckinred says:

    Well said. When Phelps came here for a funeral of a fallen trooper people of all political stripes came out to act as a shield between those morons and the family. It wasn’t ideal but it did make a statement.

  2. 2
    KDP says:

    A legal fund already exists for Snyder here. From the good folks at Crooks & Liars post here.

    @stuckinred: The human shield method is one way of promoting free speech across the board. If I recall, one of the suggestions was those who want to protest at a funeral respect the boundaries of the cemetery, which Phelps and his group failed to do. It’s not that they do not have a right to express their views, but that families should have a right to grieve without being subjected to those views at the grave site. I’ll have to go look up the articles from 2006 to confirm.

  3. 3
    celticdragonchick says:

    I hate the Phelps, but I’m glad the court is ruling that they have the right to spew their venom.

    Why are we assuming that there is a right to harass and disturb mourners at a private event as well as insult them and the deceased? Does the Phelps’ congregation’s “right” to yell and mock people at a solemn, private event that they are not invited to or welcome at therefore trump the rights of the people who do not wish to participate in the congregation’s “speech”?

    I think not.

  4. 4
    Liz says:

    @celticdragonchick:
    Actually they do, unfortunately.

  5. 5
    Llelldorin says:

    @celticdragonchick:

    In a nutshell? Because when he’s out screaming obscenities, he’s not sitting in a basement somewhere fuming and loading shot and powder into a bit of welded pipe.

    As long as he’s not trespassing or breaking any laws, he has the right to be a loud, offensive nut.

  6. 6
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    @celticdragonchick: Do we have the right to yell and mock people who attend a solemn, private event honoring Dick Cheney’s contributions to American security?

  7. 7
    Dave says:

    If the Phelps’ group is outside of the cemetery proper…then yes, they have a right to mock and yell. That is considered “speech”. Disgusting and vile it may be, but it is speech.

    John nailed it in the headline: free speech is hard. It means letting Nazis march and mouth-breathing teabaggers spew racist garbage. But if the idea is to mean anything, then we have to make sure everyone can do it.

  8. 8
    Eric U. says:

    I was trying to understand the father’s involvement. If the state constrains free speech, then it’s their dime. If I get a batch of bikers to beat the crap out of Phelps’ crew, that’s a criminal offense with possible civil penalties. I don’t see it as a free speech issue if the scenario is the bikers, which is what happened, correct? Seems to me that a restraining order is probably legal here.

  9. 9
    Martin says:

    John is trying to make baby McSnufflepuss cry.

  10. 10
    Dork says:

    Cue the “And Phelps is a registered Democrat!” RedState post in 3…2….1…

  11. 11
    KDP says:

    FWIW: Here is the basis for Snyder’s lawsuit from citmedialaw.com. Here is the link to all of the court filings related to this case.

    On June 5, 2006, Snyder filed a lawsuit in federal court in Maryland against Westboro Baptist, Fred Phelps, and anonymous members of the church congregation. The complaint included claims for defamation, two counts of invasion of privacy (intrusion on seclusion and publicity given to private life), and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

  12. 12
    numbskull says:

    @Eric U.: What Eric said. Free speech as a constitutional right means the government cannot restrain citizens’ actions. How is the father an instrument of the government?

  13. 13
    Arguingwithsignposts - ipod touchs says:

    Time, place and manner are legitimate restrictions on free speech. Just sayin’.

  14. 14
    Zifnab says:

    The solution here is simple- someone set up a PayPal account for Snyder. I hate the Phelps, but I’m glad the court is ruling that they have the right to spew their venom.

    I’d be more glad if high school kids were allowed to parade around “Bong Hits for Jesus” and anti-war protesters weren’t herded like cattle every time a GOoPer politico rolled into town.

    Phelps has free speech rights, what about me?

  15. 15
    Jude says:

    From here:

    Westboro Baptist Church pastor and founder Fred Phelps and members of his congregation picketed Matthew’s funeral, holding signs expressing anti-gay, anti-American, and anti-Catholic slogans, including “God hates you” and “You’re going to hell.”
    Westboro Baptist Church also posted an essay on its website entitled “The Burden of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder.” In the essay, statements indicated that Albert and his wife “raised [Matthew] for the devil,” “RIPPED that body apart and taught Matthew to defy his Creator, to divorce, and to commit adultery,” “taught him how to support the largest pedophile machine in the history of the entire world, the Roman Catholic monstrosity,” and “taught Matthew to be an idolator.”
    On June 5, 2006, Snyder filed a lawsuit in federal court in Maryland against Westboro Baptist, Fred Phelps, and anonymous members of the church congregation. The complaint included claims for defamation, two counts for invasion of privacy (intrusion on seclusion and publicity given to private life), and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

    I am no lawyer, but I don’t see how Phelps’ bullshit is protected speech here. The kid in the coffin wasn’t a public figure, so the Flynt v. Falwell caveat about public figures being open to all sorts of hyperbolic mockery doesn’t apply. Why shouldn’t this man have been able to sue over this, and why does he owe Phelps’ incurred legal fees when the case is, essentially, still pending?

    Like I said, I have no expertise here–I’m not trolling, I’m looking for answers.

  16. 16
    Face says:

    and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

    Here’s the thing — If you asked Fred, he’d agree with this intention wholeheartedly. He’d immediately admit that this is precisely what he’s trying to do. How’d the court not see this?

  17. 17
    jron says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent): only if we stand in a “free speech zone”

  18. 18
    Jude says:

    And dammit, KDP beat me to the link.

    Damn you!

  19. 19
    John PM says:

    John, why are you being such a militant Christian, forcing Phelps’ views down our throats?

    (for explanation, see comments in previous post)

  20. 20
    KDP says:

    @Jude: I see you had the same issue with blockquoting that I did. I ended up just linking to the same citmedialaw article and blocking that last paragraph.

    OK, how do you blockquote here with paragraph breaks? I know it can be done; I’ve seen it. I’ve tried insert tags, but that broke the comment submit. I tried putting p and br tags within the code tags, but no luck.

    FYWP

    @Jude: just wanting to support my previous statements on verifiable references.

    Again, there is a legal fund page for Snyder here.

  21. 21
    Fern says:

    @celticdragonchick: I agree. This is a blatant example of hate speech – in my view it’s a verbal version of assault.

    In Canada, they would have been charged, and I don’t have a problem with that.

    I think Americans have some kind of free speech fetish and take it to extremes.

  22. 22
  23. 23
    stuckinred says:

    @celticdragonchick: The service that they came here for was at a small Afircan-American church just off a main street. Phelp’s group was kept fairly far back but some of their shouts were heard I’m sure. The biggest trick was keeping a lid on the “counter protesters. Lot’s of us are vets and the tension was high.

  24. 24
    Eric U. says:

    more info is given in the crooks and liars link http://crooksandliars.com/loga.....father-pay
    He sued Phelps and lost on appeal, then was ordered to pay legal fees. His lawyer probably should have warned him that Phelps usually wins in court, and has financed his church from the proceeds of lawsuits. The best way to beat these people seems to be to mock them quietly. But of course a funeral is short enough that they usually can hang tough for the duration.

  25. 25
    mantis says:

    I hate the Phelps, but I’m glad the court is ruling that they have the right to spew their venom.

    I agree, and what I would really like to see is a concerted effort to follow Phelps and his crew around, especially when they protest, and have a constant, preferably larger, counter-protest going at all times. I think if it could be largely composed of unabashed homosexuals who would really shove it in their faces, well that would be just fabulous.

  26. 26
    Michael says:

    My fist is the equivalent of my speech (kinda like Citizens United), so I’m reserving my right to deal with Phelps in my own speechifying way if I ever run into him or his inbred relatives.

  27. 27
    fasteddie9318 says:

    John, I agree that the Phelps nuts should be allowed to spew their crap as long as they stay on public property, but if that’s your position why would you want people to contribute to help Snyder make the case that they should not be allowed to spew said crap? I feel for Snyder and despise Phelps, but the fact is that I disagree with the implications of Snyder’s case and wouldn’t be inclined to help him make it.

  28. 28
    stuckinred says:

    I was interviewed by the local paper at the gig and I said that, in theory, the young man died so these idiots could say what they wanted to. The only thing worse than what they did would have been violence at the event.

  29. 29
    stuckinred says:

    @fasteddie9318: The court ordered him to pay Phelp’s expenses and he doesn’t have the dough. If you don’t want to don’t donate.

  30. 30

    @Fern: Not all fetishes are bad. I’d put free speech in that category. The only thing I detest about Canada is the restrictions put on speech. It is just plain wrong.

  31. 31
    tavella says:

    Free speech isn’t infinite; that’s why we have constitutionally valid harassment laws. Same for libel laws. And the less public the figure, the more those laws protect them. Where the boundaries are can be debated, but the kneejerk assumption by some in this thread that Phelps can say anything anywhere at any time is… strange.

  32. 32
    aimai says:

    Its important to remember that the Phelps’ make their living off this stuff–getting paid in the form of “legal fees” is, in fact, the way they earn their money. None of their speech/protests are geared at actually doing anything political, or even (necessarily) expressing actual views on political or social subjects. Their goal is to get someone in the temporary audience to offend, strike, or sue them and then they counter sue for damages. Google “Fred Phelps Conman” and you’ll see the whole sorry story. The whole family is a set of insane, abusive litigants who travel the country in order to gin up legal cases that they can win for money.

    The free speech issues, as others have said upthread, are really murky. I object to people being allowed to protest other people’s private lives, or private griefs. After a lot of struggle we sort of got a zone of privacy around abortion clinics because of the abusive hectoring of the anti abortion crowd and their willingness to use private persons for political argument. I think a zone of privacy around funeral homes or cemeteries during funerals is also appropriate. But the only way to handle the Phelps clan is to structure events so that its more costly to them to go and protest than the money they earn attacking counterprotestors or winning suits. Ignoring them actually is the best thing to do. Anything else runs the risk that innocent bystanders, like the Snyder family, will suffer greater harm.

    aimai

  33. 33
    Spiffy McBang says:

    Can someone help me out with why he’s required to pay Phelps’ court costs? Is it normal to have to pay someone’s court/appeal costs if you lose? I didn’t think so, but maybe it is.

  34. 34
    Citizen Alan says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent):

    Do we have the right to yell and mock people who attend a solemn, private event honoring Dick Cheney’s contributions to American security?

    If memory serves, we really don’t, since anyone who wants to protest Dick Cheney has to do it from a “First Amendment Zone” located several miles from wherever Ole Dickey happened to be. If Phelps et al had to stage their protests from a designated area located miles from these funerals, no one would give a shit.

    For the record, I generally consider myself a Free Speech absolutist, but I also realize that the First Amendment itself is not an absolute. Negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress are torts for a reason, and while Phelps has a right to protest, doing so during the funerals of private citizens largely unconnected with the larger themes of his protest simply because it is so shocking that it offends all notions of decency is, IMO, actionable.

    OTOH, if Phelps’ little cult is allowed to protest funerals with impunity, then when the senile old coot finally dies, I hope every gay person in America descends on Westboro, KA, to celebrate his funeral, complete with leather bikers and drag queens.

  35. 35
    Brian J says:

    If there is a Heaven and Hell, at the very least, I think we can be certain that this Marine and his poor father will be in the former, while that piece of shit Fred Phelps will be in the deepest, darkest pits of the latter, with a salt shower pouring over his open wounds and leeches opening new ones.

  36. 36
    Michael D. says:

    Way off topic, but here’s an autistic kid who, so far, has a 100% bracket in the first two rounds.

    The odds are 1 : 13,000,000.

    EDIT: Here’s the story.

  37. 37
    Arguingwithsignposts - ipod touchs says:

    These comments — as extreme as they may be — they are taken in terms of religious expression. This is not the type of language that one is going to assume is meant as a statement of fact.” The decision was memorialized in an October 16, 2007 order.

    that’s what’s known in the real world as a cop out

  38. 38
    Zifnab says:

    @Fern:

    I think Americans have some kind of free speech fetish and take it to extremes.

    I wish. When it’s two nobodies arguing, free speech usually wins. Otherwise, it’s usually decided by who has the most money for lawyers.

    But the SCOTUS has been playing “Rich Guy Wins” with the 1st Amendment for years. A quick encapsulation here from ’07:
    http://blogcritics.org/politic.....peech-for/

    Bong Hits for Jesus: SCOTUS ruled that anti-drug policies trumped student’s rights to ridiculous slogan.

    Faith Based Initiatives: SCOTUS ruled that the federal government can play favorites with tax payer money by financing preferred religious group charities.

    McCain-Feingold: This predates the latest Citizens United ruling, but takes another step in that direction by freeing up money for “issues” ads run close to election time.

    In each case, when it was a question of big guy versus little guy, the SCOTUS ruled in favor of whoever had more money or more power. This has been a fairly consistent trend since Bush 43 began stacking the bench.

  39. 39
    Llelldorin says:

    @Zifnab:

    Oh, I agree completely. That said, I’m not going to argue for “illegally constrained speech for all!”

    @Fern:

    I think Americans have some kind of free speech fetish and take it to extremes.

    This is exactly correct, and we take real pride in it. This is why so many of us were (and remain) horrified by Bushisms like “free speech zones”–they’re horrifying breaches of our national ideals.

  40. 40
    beltane says:

    @mantis: Big signs saying “God is gay for Fred Phelps” would be funny. A couple of years ago Phelps attempted to protest at the University of Chicago (because Obama had taught there) and was frightened off by a group of frat boys simulating homosexual acts while blasting some old disco song.

    Phelps likes the shouting, he doesn’t like the mocking.

  41. 41
    Waynski says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent): Dick Cheney’s a public figure. There’s a difference.

  42. 42
    dr. bloor says:

    @tavella:

    Free speech isn’t infinite; that’s why we have constitutionally valid harassment laws. Same for libel laws. And the less public the figure, the more those laws protect them. Where the boundaries are can be debated, but the kneejerk assumption by some in this thread that Phelps can say anything anywhere at any time is… strange.

    No one is claiming that free speech is infinite, only that there are instances in which that speech can be both hurtful and protected. “Strangely” enough, the courts agree with us.

  43. 43
    scav says:

    @Arguingwithsignposts – ipod touchs: well then, by the FSM and all his tobediscoveredcohort, we need to get some good religions going so we can queue up at PapaDick’s planting.

  44. 44
    Brian J says:

    @beltane:

    Can’t we just send subscriptions of gay porn magazines to his home or work address? Throw in every fetish imaginable, from diapers and water sports to animals and being burned with cigarettes. Then give out the Westboro Church number on craigslist.org in an ad for a gay orgy.

    That’ll show him.

  45. 45
    brantl says:

    This is harassment of a private citizen. And a dead citizen, at that, with his family. Do you get to stand around in front of a citizen’s house and disturb the peace? No, actually, you don’t.

    When else is it OK to stand around a cemetary and caterwaul? Answer: IT”S NOT. If they want to get a parade permit, and stay on a public street, AND KEEP THE NOISE DOWN, then they have the exact same rights as anybody else. Period.

    You’ve got the same rights as anybody else, no less, and for damn sure, no more.

  46. 46
    Riggsveda says:

    @Jude: I’m with Jude on this one. I don’t know whether the actions of the “church” members violated the Federal Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act (prohibits protests within 300 feet (90 m) of the entrance of any cemetery under control of the (VA) from 60 minutes before to 60 minutes after a funeral). But I don’t know how a private funeral for a person who is not a public citizen can be considered subject to free speech events. To show up at a funeral and torment the grieving survivors with insults and hurrahs over the impending eternal damnation of the dead is an act of pure intimidation and harassment and should be squelched as such. It certainly shouldn’t be compared to anti-war protesters yelling insults at a sitting political officeholder during a public speech. To suggest otherwise is heartless and absurd. As a member of the ACLU myself, I find myself in furious disagreement with them on this.

  47. 47
    Zifnab says:

    @Llelldorin: The problem is the inequity. Phelps gets speech because he’s got a superior legal team. Had the roles been reverse, and the soldier’s family was protesting outside the Phelps family church, the guy would have just as likely won the case on different grounds.

    If Phelps had been a mega-wealthy individual, large corporation, or a Republican administration official, he could have gotten away with even more – or as a victim, tolerated even less.

  48. 48
    ChicagoTOm says:

    What bothers me is that the appellate court ordered legal fees paid.

    Obviously this case is in a gray area of the law since the appeals court overturned the Federal court, AND the Supremes have since decided to take the case.

    It seems odd to order the payment of legal fees. We don’t have a loser pays system, so the assessment of legal fees would be punitive for bringing a frivolous lawsuit. I don’t see how the it’s frivolous when you have conflicting opinions from and the Supremes have taken the case.

    As to whether or not it’s the right decision. Free speech isn’t free. But free from censorship doesn’t mean that you can’t be sued for the content of your speech.

    The government shouldn’t be able to stop me from saying that Karl Rove fucks pigs for pleasure, but if it isn’t true, the 1st amendment doesn’t immunize from a civil suit for defamation.

  49. 49
    mantis says:

    @fasteddie9318:

    …if that’s your position why would you want people to contribute to help Snyder make the case that they should not be allowed to spew said crap? I feel for Snyder and despise Phelps, but the fact is that I disagree with the implications of Snyder’s case and wouldn’t be inclined to help him make it.

    It’s called sympathy. The guy lost his son, engaged in an understandable, if legally inadvisable court battle, and now has to pay a big chunk of money to the biggest asshole in the universe. I for one feel for him.

  50. 50
    Tsulagi says:

    I’m glad the court is ruling that they have the right to spew their venom.

    I’d go with that, but also with a big middle finger for the Fourth Circuit ordering Snyder to pay Phelp’s attorney fees while the case is appealed and SCOTUS accepted it for review.

    Wouldn’t mind SCOTUS carving out a 1st Amendment restriction in situations like the burial of Lance Cpl. Snyder. His family shouldn’t be forced to endure a shitstain like Phelps at that time.

    Thanks for the link, KDP, I used it. Even though it really pisses me off Phelps could see any of it. That fucker really needs a date with Darwin. Jesus would approve.

  51. 51
    mantis says:

    @brantl:

    You’ve got the same rights as anybody else, no less, and for damn sure, no more.

    That’s true, but you don’t seem to understand what our rights really are.

  52. 52
    Riggsveda says:

    @brantl: Do you get to stand around in front of a citizen’s house and disturb the peace? No, actually, you don’t.

    Actually, the anti-abortion extremists have been doing it for years, harassing doctors and clinic employees, and they get away with it.

  53. 53
    Xenocrates says:

    And I have the right to attend these public events and laugh at these assholes. How’s THAT for free speech? I appreciate your premise, John, and you are absolutely correct. We must extend that right to ALL, especially those with whom we disagree. I certainly do not think we should answer their violent words with violent deeds, as tempting as it may be. As I said, just laugh at their stupidity, and forget about them. They are trash, and will end up on the dustbin of history.

  54. 54
    Waynski says:

    @Riggsveda: I too am a member if the ACLU and I agree with you on the privacy argument, which you put well. I too hope the ACLU loses. That said, I think it’s safe to assume that everyone here supports free speech and that everyone here thinks Phelps should DIAF.

  55. 55

    @Michael D.: That story is out of date. His brackets are no longer 100% correct. He missed the WVU and Duke picks.

  56. 56
    Brandon says:

    The issue here should not be whether Phelps speech is protected. The issue is whether he deserves to receive court costs on the matter of a legitimate Constitutional question: whether freedom of speech trumps freedom of expression in the Establishment Clause. The case is being taken up by the Supreme Court. Furthermore, Phelps lost at trial and won the appeal. It would be one thing if Phelps prevailed at trial and then had to defend the appeal and won that too. I would support court costs in that instance. But not in a case that involves the reversal of a judgement.

  57. 57

    I really do hate these fuckers. One of these days there is going to be some serious violence perpetrated against them and while it will be wrong, I will not feel bad about it.

  58. 58
    ChrisB says:

    @Spiffy McBang:
    @ChicagoTOm:
    That’s what I was wondering. Where’s the order to pay Phelps’s legal fees and why was it issued?

  59. 59
    celticdragonchick says:

    @brantl:

    This is harassment of a private citizen. And a dead citizen, at that, with his family. Do you get to stand around in front of a citizen’s house and disturb the peace? No, actually, you don’t.

    When else is it OK to stand around a cemetary and caterwaul? Answer: IT”S NOT. If they want to get a parade permit, and stay on a public street, AND KEEP THE NOISE DOWN, then they have the exact same rights as anybody else. Period.

    You’ve got the same rights as anybody else, no less, and for damn sure, no more.

    That. As I was arguing before, this is a private event and it has particular cultural significance that should be legally recognized. the dead marine had nothing to do with Phelp’s mania, and was not a public figure.

    This is harassment and possibly menacing, as far as I am concerned.

    If they want to make their political and religious arguments in the public square, get a permit and protest at city hall like the rest of us.

    Does anybody here see an impediment to the Phelps Congregation protesting outside of your wedding? Family reunion? Bar Mitzvah? Family cookouts?

    We need to stop this now. There are limits to speech, and when it comes to harassment and denying other people the right to peaceably go about their private business, then that should not be covered IMO.

    IANAL, so YMMV.

  60. 60
    The Populist says:

    Set up an account and I will give. Fuck Fred Phelps.

  61. 61
    RedDirtGirl says:

    There is a website dedicated to setting up counter-protests that raise money for the protested groups based on how long Phelps stays and yells. http://www.phelps-a-thon.com.

  62. 62
    artem1s says:

    constitutional protection is to provide protection to individuals from government interference. conflicts between individuals are handled by civil courts and legislation. the ability to behave in such a reprehensible manner is limited, rightly, by how much they are denying other, private citizens ‘quiet enjoyment’ of public space and private property. That is why abortion protesters must maintain a regulated distance from the property lines of clinics. Their freedom to speak does not override anyone’s right to have access (free from intimidation and threat of violence) to services.

    A must less defined area of constitutional law would Westborough’s right to free assembly. they can stand there, even as a group, as long as they are obeying local ordinances. if they want to have a ‘parade’ they need a permit. no one would deny that there isn’t ages of legal precedence for denying these people’s an opportunity to intrude on a private funeral and there is also tons of civil law that apply to these assholes. the courts have only been negligent is stomping on them because they have a thin attachment to Christianity. Seriously, if they were Muslims, protesting the invasion of a Muslim country, acting out at military funerals, they would have all been at Gitmo in a heart beat. They certainly would have been shut down years ago.

    Constitutional protection of free speech does not give you the right to intrude on private citizens lives and it never has. It does demand that if the government is going to regulate one group in a certain fashion, they have to apply that regulation to all groups evenly. Westborough is only getting a pass because they are nominally Christian and the courts have denied a consistent regulation of law to the group they are attacking. There is no way they get away with this otherwise.

  63. 63
    Lucid Fur says:

    @Riggsveda Actually, the anti-abortion extremists have been doing it for years, harassing doctors and clinic employees, and they get away with it.

    Well if anti-abortion extremists have been doing it, it must be right.

  64. 64
    FlipYrWhig says:

    This is why I’m not a civil-libertarian. This just seems transparently, obviously wrong. I really hate that expression about defending to the death someone’s right say something offensive. You know, no, I’m not willing to die for that, and I think it’s a bizarre notion that anyone ever would. It’s an issue that brings out my worst curmudgeonliness.

  65. 65
    Shawnzilla says:

    First off my last name just happens to be Phelps so don’t be hating all Phelps if you don’t mind.

    Second from what I have read about the Westboro Church it is really all a business to make money from lawsuits. I think about half the Westboro Patrons happen to be lawyers and obviously they are in the business of stirring up shit no matter what.

  66. 66
    BruinKid says:

    This feels like harassment more than free speech. And if it isn’t, it should be. Phelps is deliberately targeting people at their most weak and vulnerable, when they’re burying a loved one. And don’t think for a second Phelps doesn’t know that. He just doesn’t care.

  67. 67
    SB Jules says:

    KDP, thanks for the link. I immediately wanted to help Mr. Snyder when I read about this in the paper this a.m.

    There should at least be a buffer zone much as was ruled OK at our local Planned Parenthood back in the very bad old days.

  68. 68

    One of the things that gets this particular group past ‘gray zones’ in the free speech limits is the fact it’s (legally) a religious organization.

    That gives it two US “fetishes” (as Fern refers to them): freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

    Here’s the main thing. The US government is nominally prohibited from restricting a man from standing on a soap box on a street corner and saying pretty much anything he wants.

    Now, he can’t incite a riot. He is not supposed to slander, but that’s a civil charge. He’s got restrictions on being able to speak in such fashion as to bring harm to those listening.

    And that’s the hook Mr. Snyder thought he had. The hook that the speech harmed him and his family — emotionally. It didn’t work.

    I despise the Phelps, and have since I knew of them while living in Kansas back in 1990. But in the US free speech is a fetish — it’s a defining characteristic of our nation. And to be who we are, John’s right. The court made the right decision, but it SUCKS. Just like allowing the KKK to march and speak openly or any of a hundred other examples.

  69. 69
    Scott says:

    @Jude:

    Legally, you cannot libel the dead.

    To prove libel, you have to prove that malicious and incorrect statements caused harm to someone by damaging their reputation. And the dead are past being harmed by knocks to their reputations.

    Not a lawyer — repeating what I learned a few decades ago in mass media law courses…

  70. 70
    David in NY says:

    @Spiffy McBang: @ChicagoTOm:

    It is usual to require a litigant to pay “costs,” which are a fairly limited set of the expenses of litigation. The total cost of the litigation here, which included a district court trial and the appeal to the Fourth Circuit, is far more than the $16,000 in costs. Lawyers’ fees would usually dwarf this amount for this kind of litigation.

    Here, the lawyer for Snyder may have taken the case on a contingency, that is, on an agreement that he be paid expenses and a set percentage of the damage award, which was $5 million. The plaintiff’s lawyer may thus stand to make as much as $1.67 million for the case. Fred Phelps had hired counsel, and his legal fees were probably significant; his wife (a lawyer, I think) appeared pro se as did another defendant.

  71. 71
    The Populist says:

    @brantl:

    Apparently you can. Just ask the Tiller family about that (or any doctor that provides abortion services).

    The protesters claim freedom of assembly/free speech but I think there should be some limits to how much you can harass somebody in front of their own home. Fine, protest to your heart’s content in front of a place of business, government offices, public parks, etc. Not somebody’s home.

  72. 72
    A Mom Anon says:

    @Pigs & Spiders: That is precisely what they’re hoping for. The Phelps family has one source of income,lawsuits. They provoke people on purpose,hoping like hell they’ll get assaulted or have their rights violated. It’s disgusting. I do wonder though if they have tax exempt status and if they hold to those legal standards allowing that.

  73. 73
    David in NY says:

    Also, I think folks might well read the cases below. The facts and the law are both a bit more complicated than might be apparent at first.

  74. 74
    BruinKid says:

    OK, it seems the Phelps clan was about 1,000 feet away from the funeral, and not right outside the gates. It’s unclear from the reports if the Snyders even saw the Phelps clan on the day of the funeral.

  75. 75
    Glenn says:

    As David in NY points out, the award here was for “costs.” That does not include attorneys’ fees. And the appellate rules are clear that the loser pays the winner’s court costs, period.

    What is jaw-dropping, however, is the amount of those costs here. I couldn’t believe it, frankly. Here in the Second Circuit (NY) you’re lucky to get a few hundred dollars, tops, because all you can get essentially is the cost for printing up your papers, and that is capped at a fairly low amount per page. $16,000 is outrageous.

    So I went to look at the bill of costs here. The reason for the high cost is Phelps’ appendix. The appendix is a collection of the key documents from the district court. It is supposed to only be the key documents that you want the judges to have in front of them, not the entire record (which is sent up to the appeals court clerk’s office). The appendix here was 3,840 pages. That’s absurd, and that’s why the cost was so high. (They claimed 50cents per page copying costs, and you have to submit 8 copies.) Why the 4th Circuit didn’t see fit to reduce that is unclear.

  76. 76
    Ash Can says:

    @The Grand Panjandrum: American courts of law already have placed numerous restrictions upon speech here in the US. The difference is that the restrictions in this country focus on protecting the government and redressing monetary loss. Canada historically has sought to maintain a peaceful and orderly society, so the fact that its own free-speech restrictions reflect this isn’t terribly remarkable. And for us non-Canadians to pass judgment on what boils down to a point of quasi-religious dogma is pretty much a waste of time.

  77. 77
    geg6 says:

    @mantis:

    a concerted effort to follow Phelps and his crew around, especially when they protest, and have a constant, preferably larger, counter-protest going at all times. I think if it could be largely composed of unabashed homosexuals who would really shove it in their faces, well that would be just fabulous.

    THIS.

  78. 78
    damn good mr. jam says:

    @Michael D.:

    Unfortunately, he went on to miss three Elite Eight picks and the entire Final Four.

  79. 79
    The Populist says:

    Apparently there is a site to give that is backed by the Snyder family: http://matthewsnyder.org/

  80. 80
    davematson says:

    Agree with the free speech arguments.

    But the burden shouldn’t just fall on Mr. Snyder.

    I will exercise my free speech by chipping in $10.

  81. 81
    David in NY says:

    @Glenn:

    Thanks for the information, Glenn. (I do appeals but not ones in which costs are at issue.)

  82. 82
    Zifnab says:

    @Kirk Spencer:

    Just like allowing the KKK to march and speak openly or any of a hundred other examples.

    Honestly, it’s something of a silver lining in that regard. When guys like Phelps get maximum publicity, it’s a short term boon for himself and his church but it’s a serious blow against religious wackos in general.

    When Phelps is thrown under the rug, it defends the Ratzinger Catholics and the Falwell Lutherans who can come across as polished and professional bigots. When he’s exposed, it’s much easier to see the parallels and it discourages people from associating with the rhetoric tied to the individuals.

  83. 83
    ChicagoTOm says:

    @ChrisB:

    From what I read, the court didn’t explain or justify the order. They merely ordered the legal fees paid without explanation.

    It seems odd, and I wonder if the legal fees can be appealed.

  84. 84
    Brandon says:

    Under Rule 54 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, costs associated with non-attorney’s fees are presumptively awarded to the prevailing party, while attorney’s fees are only awarded by motion, where it must be supported by “statute, rule or other grounds” to justify the award. It would be good to read the docket for the case to see the actual motion and order, however that is a bit difficult.

    Back to the decision itself, basically, by the logic of the 4th Circuit, the more outrageous and outlandish the speech, the greater protection it is afforded under the First Amendment. That is an outrageous conclusion and I hope the Supreme Court overturns it.

  85. 85
    BruinKid says:

    From a couple posts below about the April 19th Second Amendment March on D.C., I would almost want the Phelps clan to try and protest there. Thousands of angry teabaggers and militia types carrying loaded weapons, and Phelps shouting angry things at them……..

    Whatever the outcome there, I daresay, we all win. Too bad Phelps is probably too chicken (and sane enough) to actually try to protest that gathering.

  86. 86
    The Populist says:

    @Jude:

    One cannot yell fire in a crowded theater

    One cannot speak obscenities in many public venues without being asked to leave (and if you do NOT you can be arrested).

    Why is it that these people can’t be asked to LEAVE or risk arrest? Free speech, as the supremes have ruled, has limits too.

    Fred Phelps and his progeny force themselves into private ceremonies to mock, cajole and offend and call it protesting? I hate Rush Limpballs but I don’t have to listen to him because nobody is forcing me to listen. Even if he was the only thing on the radio, I can always turn him off. I don’t like tea baggers but if they assemble peacefully and obey the laws, I can avoid their protests.

    Phelps and family should be forced from the ceremony if they can’t respect the wishes of the families. It’s no different than being told to leave the lobby of the capital during a session of congress if I am out of order. It’s no different than being thrown out of a party for being disruptive.

    The Phelps got to make their obscene points known so why can’t the family have a peaceful time to mourn?

  87. 87
    The Populist says:

    @Zifnab:

    Yes, agreed on free speech (and I am a BIG proponent for all points to be allowed in any protest) but if the KKK decide to light a cross on my lawn as a form of “protest” they step over the line.

    A funeral, to me at least, should be a safe zone from assholes who have no business being there outside of being disruptive which means police should have the right to arrest them once the Phelps clan is told to leave.

  88. 88
    The Populist says:

    @Spiffy McBang:

    I just want to know how Phelps and his inbred looking family have the means to go from protest to protest? Who is giving these idiots money? If nobody, I bet they live off the public dime.

    Argh.

  89. 89

    […] John Cole observes, “I hate the Phelps, but I’m glad the court is ruling that they have the right to spew their venom.”  And, surely, the right to free speech is meaningless if one has to go into bankruptcy fighting lawsuits from people who don’t like the content. […]

  90. 90
    Morbo says:

    @Glenn: Seriously, WTF? Did they print in color on matte paper, or what?

  91. 91
    Llelldorin says:

    @Glenn:

    Are those costs audited at all? Do you have to submit receipts? Or can I just say that I spent eleventy billion dollars on photocopies and skip the whole “trial” thing?

  92. 92
    Tsulagi says:

    Just checked RedState, a place where stupid rises as predictably as the morning sun in the east, to see if they had a post on this. They do, and the poster’s takeaway from the Fourth Circuit, “a liberal court,” decision…

    This is why the Senate 41 should block the nomination of every Obama court nominee at every level. Just simply block every single one. Because they are all like this, or worse

    .
    So what dumbass is saying is he’s certain Obama’s nominees would be as bad as Bush appointments they cheered and fluffed each other over. Or maybe even more Bushian. Two of the three judges reversing the lower court and ordering costs paid are GW Bush appointments.

  93. 93
    Glenn says:

    @Llelldorin: Yes, you do have to submit receipts. Although it appeared that Phelps (or rather his attorneys) may have done the copying in house and just asserted 0.50/page (I saw that Snyder’s lawyers complained about the fact that they hadn’t proven they actually spent this money).

    And there is a limit on what you can claim. Here in the Second Circuit, it’s 20 c/page. In the 4th Circuit, for some reason, it’s $4.00 /page (which is insane).

  94. 94
    Richard Bottoms says:

    Phelps is scum, but his speech is protected.

    So let’s help these folks pay off their debt.

    They have a Click & Pledge link on their website:

    Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder

    I sent an email suggesting they add a comment to the thread.

  95. 95
    Glenn says:

    @Tsulagi: The 4th Circuit has, in the recent past, been notoriously one of the most conservative (probably the most conservative) appeals court in the country. It’s less so now given some retirements and new appointees, but any lawyer would recognize that calling it a “liberal court” is laughable.

  96. 96
    Glenn says:

    @Tsulagi: And I meant to say, I recognize that you were just quoting, not adopting that characterization yourself.

  97. 97
    mattH says:

    I just want to know how Phelps and his inbred looking family have the means to go from protest to protest? Who is giving these idiots money? If nobody, I bet they live off the public dime.

    Essentially yes, but not in the way you might think:

    It’s a business. They travel the country, set up websites telling you exactly when they’ll be there, and using the most inflammatory statements all over the place, just to get someone to violate their rights for profit. Then they sue the military, the police force that was to protect them, and everyone that is around them for money. This is a sham, and it is a trap to get people sued. Every member of his family is an attorney. Phelps does not break the law. What he does is try to make you break the law by trying to punch your sensibilities about everything you hold dear, and then sue you and everyone municipality around him to the max.

    This is a scam.

    Whether he believes his posters or not is irrelevant.
    He’s using this as a moneymaking scheme.
    Lay one finger on him, do one thing that violates him, and he will sue you, and more importantly, the city, the police department, the US Military, and any private property owner he happens to be standing on to make money off of it.

    60 if the 71 members of his church are family members by blood or marriage.

  98. 98
    mantis says:

    @Tsulagi:

    So what dumbass is saying is he’s certain Obama’s nominees would be as bad as Bush appointments they cheered and fluffed each other over. Or maybe even more Bushian. Two of the three judges reversing the lower court and ordering costs paid are GW Bush appointments.

    Well, not really. I doubt the Redstate idiot is that aware of the details. Like most rightwingers, he likely thinks that anything he believes is ipso facto “conservative,” and therefore anything he disagrees with must be “liberal.” He disagrees with the ruling, therefore it must be a “liberal” ruling, therefore its the fault of liberal judges, and further evidence that Obama is Hitler and Al Gore is fat. QED.

    Always remember. It doesn’t have to make sense. The only rule in wingerland is “I’m right, punch hippies.”

  99. 99
    John M says:

    @Llelldorin: These things vary from court to court and state to state, but where I practice, the party seeking costs would have to file a “bill of costs” that would include some sort of itemization, and the opposing party would have some opportunity to address costs that it believed were excessive, outside the scope of the rule, not and so on.

  100. 100
    The Populist says:

    @mantis:

    If they are anything like the trolls we get here, then it makes sense that facts get ignored just to attack Obama on whatever they can make up.

  101. 101
    Glenn says:

    @mattH: Don’t disagree with your characterization of Phelps, but the fact is in this case that Snyder sued him, not the other way around.

  102. 102
    Tsulagi says:

    @mantis:
    I have zero doubt the RedState idiot is ignorant.

  103. 103
    The Populist says:

    Oh and I forget….in rightie land if you dare make a comment they disagree with you must be a liberal commie scumbag even though you have always stood up for the cause as a whole (see David Frum).

    In the world of reasonable thinkers, you can still be a liberal even if you profess a conservative belief here and there. As long as facts back up the argument, liberals accept and welcome discussion and ideas.

    When a troll like Makewi or his many ids (Bender, BoB) tries to argue they act like children and try insults because they can’t win on the facts. It’s so much easier to sell pre-packaged talking points so as to not hurt one’s brain thinking too hard to discuss a counterpoint.

    So in conclusion: Amen for rational thought and discussion.

  104. 104
    That Anonymous Guy says:

    Waaayy back in my college communications law class, we learned about something called the “fighting words” doctrine (first established under Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire). In the words of the court, fighting words are “the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or ‘fighting’ words those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.”

    I’m no lawyer, but it seems to me that Snyder has a strong case using Chaplinsky as precedent.

  105. 105
    Corner Stone says:

    I’m going to make the bold declaration that the last god damned thing we need in this country is “Phelps model” Free Speech.

  106. 106
    Xenos says:

    @mantis: The last time Phelps and his people came to Boston for a military funeral the police bagpipe band surrounded them and proceeded to blast them with music for the length of the service. It made the service in the church a bit hard to follow at times, but it seemed appropriate to fight fire with fire.

    Sent those phelpies home with ears a-ringing, they did.

  107. 107
    mantis says:

    @Xenos:

    The last time Phelps and his people came to Boston for a military funeral the police bagpipe band surrounded them and proceeded to blast them with music for the length of the service.

    I love it. If they ever come anywhere near Chicago and I hear about it beforehand, I’ll join, or start, a Phelps-negation squad.

  108. 108
    mai naem says:

    Why don’t they hit up Hannity and North to pay off the court costs? They got plenty of money. I am not being snarky here. I don’t like the good publicity that Hannity would get but at least you would get money out of his hands.

  109. 109
    mattH says:

    Don’t disagree with your characterization of Phelps, but the fact is in this case that Snyder sued him, not the other way around.

    The Phelps family seems to be gaming the system here by submitting what can only be called an oversized appendix to their brief. While not exactly the same as their usual approach, it’s still an in-kind activity.

  110. 110
    Glenn says:

    @mattH: On that point, I am in full agreement. What I can’t understand is why the 4th Circuit let them succeed.

  111. 111
    Mnemosyne says:

    It does seem that, if you cloak your speech in “religion,” your speech is more protected than anyone else’s. That’s why abortion protesters have been allowed to stand outside doctors’ and clinic workers’ houses and harass them — because they have a religious excuse.

    You’d think that once people started being murdered by those “religious” idiots at their homes and churches that we might start rethinking the wisdom of letting protesters stand outside people’s houses, but I guess absolutism is absolutism and if a few doctors have to be shot in the head in the name of the First Amendment, so be it.

  112. 112
    Ajay says:

    I don’t understand this at all. Regardless of what I think of Phelps and assuming they have the right to be at the Funeral with whatever signs they want, why should they be reimbursed for expenses. The other party has the right to sue as well.

    It just makes no sense.

  113. 113
    LD50 says:

    If a judge told me I had to pay $16K to Phelps, I’d simply refuse. I’d move to Canada before I’d give any money to that repulsive piece of shit.

  114. 114
    AngusJackBootedThugOfMeat says:

    IANAL, and in this context, I am very glad of that.

    However, to my simple cow mind, saying that Phelps’ brand of grotesque harassment is protected speech just makes a mockery of the whole idea of free speech.

    Apparently bizarro free speech means I can stand outside your house and yell and display signs that you are trash and should die in a fire.

    If that is not the case, if that is not permitted, then why would what Phelps is doing be permitted? Because it is the same goddam thing.

    It is not free speech that is hard, it is administering it appropriately and in a way that makes sense, that is hard. Just caving into the Phelpses of the world cannot be the best we can do.

  115. 115
    AngusTheGodOfMeat says:

    @Corner Stone:

    I agree 100%.

  116. 116
    mantis says:

    I’m going to make the bold declaration that the last god damned thing we need in this country is “Phelps model” Free Speech.

    Free speech is supposed to be just that: Free. There’s no model anyone need follow, and won’t be. That’s the point. Defending Phelps right to speak is not defending his words, his manner, or his purpose. It’s defending freedom and the Constitution. That’s important.

    I won’t read Hustler, but damned if I don’t believe Flynt has a right to publish it.

  117. 117
    peachkfc says:

    As others have pointed out, it’s normal for the losing party on an appeal to be ordered to pay the winner’s court costs. However, I’ve been a lawyer for nearly 25 years and I’ve never heard of costs being awarded in such an enormous amount. It sounds almost punitive to me. As for the merits of the underlying suit, the legal issues are a lot more complicated than just whether or not the Phelps “have a right to spew their venom.” Of course they do, but free speech under the First Amendment has never been absolute; the courts have allowed various kinds of reasonable restrictions and balanced the right to free expression with other Constitutional and legal rights. I think the Fourth Circuit gave short shrift to any balancing of rights and, in short, screwed over the Snyder family’s rights.

  118. 118
    Sly says:

    They say that Snyder is also struggling to come up with fees associated with filing a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court.

    It does get rather expensive. He does have the option of filing the petition in forma pauperis, which waves a lot of the fees if he qualifies, but the downside is that the court would be less likely to hear the case (the IFP docket is like twice as big as the normal cert docket, mostly due to prison inmates) and, because its a civil suit, a lot of the additional costs of bringing an appeal are not covered.

    @Ajay:

    I don’t understand this at all. Regardless of what I think of Phelps and assuming they have the right to be at the Funeral with whatever signs they want, why should they be reimbursed for expenses. The other party has the right to sue as well.

    Because politically-connected people and institutions don’t trust judges to throw out suits that they want thrown out. They need a mechanism in place to assure that such suits aren’t filed in the first place. You’ll find that much of the conservative philosophy vis-a-vis the operations of judicial branch has to do with limiting the decision-making power of judges and juries.

  119. 119
    AngusTheGodOfMeat says:

    @mantis:

    Well, the yelling fire in a crowded theater example is just one way that speech can be restricted. And it’s not even the best example.

    For example, ordinary conversation in a theater can get you thrown out, just because it interferes with other patrons’ right to hear the movie without listening to you.

    How Phelps’ behavior is held to a different standard, instead of the one I just pointed to … which is actually harassment and not “speech” at all … is beyond me. Phelps is not being asked to stop saying what he wants to say, he is only being asked to take the speech away from another activity where his speech is not appropriate and clearly interferes with the activity for no good reason. Take the speech somewhere else, or do it at another time. Who could argue that his views are best presented at funerals? Could he pick a venue with a less receptive audience?

    Free speech is freedom to say anything, anywhere, at any time? That’s just absurd.

    The thing makes no sense. As I said above, and just like “free speech” in a theater, this is not protection of speech, it is mockery of free speech.

    And unless I am missing something, a cemetary is not public property. Are we arguing that free speech is freedom to trespass and harass people on private property? What is the purpose of a cemetary, to provide open space for political or religious rallies?

  120. 120
    fasteddie9318 says:

    @mantis

    Yeah, on second thought you’re right. I was stuck on the “needs money for the Supreme Court filing” bit and lost sight of the “has to pay Phelps’ legal fees bit,” which frankly is bullshit regardless of how I feel about free speech. Somebody who does what Phelps does ought to be able to pay his own legal fees even if I, unfortunately, agree that he should be allowed to do it.

  121. 121
    mantis says:

    @AngusTheGodOfMeat:

    Well, the yelling fire in a crowded theater example is just one way that speech can be restricted.

    And…?

    For example, ordinary conversation in a theater can get you thrown out, just because it interferes with other patrons’ right to hear the movie without listening to you.

    The government is not throwing you out for speaking. The police are throwing you out because the private business has asked you to leave and you refuse, which makes it trespassing. That’s not a free speech issue.

    How Phelps’ behavior is held to a different standard,

    It isn’t. You just don’t understand the standards, or the law, apparently.

    How Phelps’ behavior is held to a different standard, instead of the one I just pointed to … which is actually harassment and not “speech” at all … is beyond me. Phelps is not being asked to stop saying what he wants to say, he is only being asked to take the speech away from another activity where his speech is not appropriate and clearly interferes with the activity for no good reason. Take the speech somewhere else, or do it at another time. Who could argue that his views are best presented at funerals? Could he pick a venue with a less receptive audience?

    Well, gee, maybe the government can just ask someone writing for a newspaper to do so elsewhere, in a more appropriate place and time. How about prison?

    But seriously, Phelps is not held to a different standard. His merry band of single-helix spawn can say whatever they want on public land or private property where they have not been asked to leave. Free speech is protected from the government, not movie theaters trying to run a business. That’s why they put that “Congress shall make no law…” part at the beginning of the amendment.

    Free speech is freedom to say anything, anywhere, at any time? That’s just absurd.

    And no one said that. Good work on that strawman.

    The fire in a theater is a good example, contrary to what you might think, because it points out the crucial distinction. Your speech is protected, until it directly endangers the life and well being of others. Phelps idiots aren’t endangering people, just pissing them off.

    And unless I am missing something, a cemetary is not public property. Are we arguing that free speech is freedom to trespass and harass people on private property? What is the purpose of a cemetary, to provide open space for political or religious rallies?

    And you know he was on private property uninvited how? The Phelps gang knows the law well enough to stay on public land, which tends to be abundant around cemeteries.

  122. 122

    I gotta agree with the crowd who is questioning whether this is really a good interpretation of protective free speech. We have many examples of free speech not being protected as noted above, and I do believe there is a difference between the clan marching downtown in a parade and these vile creatures going from funeral to funeral with their hate speech. And it is hate speech. Yet, because it’s nominally religious, it’s protected? So, if I go to a funeral of a Christian person and have signs that say Satan is fucking your dead loved one in the ear as we speak, this is protected? I somehow doubt that I would be afforded the same legal protection as are the Phelps. I do think there is a bias towards protecting Christian free speech and speech of important people or prominent people rather than nobodies. If we want free speech to be protected, then it needs to be equal.

    As for Phelps, when he first started his tour of repulsive funeral picketing, there was a group of bikers who would gather at the funerals to counter-protest. I do like that approach, but I think it’s asking too much for a grieving family to also have to put up with this shit, too. It’s intimidation and harassment. Much like the pro-birthers and their protests at clinics.

  123. 123
    AngusTheGodOfMeat says:

    The police are throwing you out because the private business has asked you to leave and you refuse, which makes it trespassing. That’s not a free speech issue.

    And how is going to a cemetary to harass mourners any different? What exactly is the difference? A cemetary is private property and a business.

    Are you arguing that the plaintiff here only has recourse through the owner of the cemetary? Why would a cemetary owner be interested in having deliberate harassment going on, on his property? If the cemetary is owned by the government, why doesn’t the government have the same responsibility to the mourner that the private cemetary owner would have? Are you arguing that a publicly owned cemetary must be protected speech territory for activities that have no appropriate purpose on a cemetary?

    That’s just nuts, I don’t care what grotesque legal construct you pony up to defend it.

    You haven’t addresses the question at all, you have just made dismissive arguments.

  124. 124
    mantis says:

    @fasteddie9318:

    Somebody who does what Phelps does ought to be able to pay his own legal fees even if I, unfortunately, agree that he should be allowed to do it.

    How far do you go with that? If I had the means to sue you, knowing full well that I would lose, but at the same time cost you a pretty penny in legal fees, I could do so. And then do it again and again until you’re in the poorhouse. That was fun! Now on to my next enemy!

  125. 125
    mantis says:

    And how is going to a cemetary to harass mourners any different? What exactly is the difference? A cemetary is private property and a business.

    Read my entire comment before responding. The assholes stand on the sidewalks next to cemeteries. Those are public land.

    That’s just nuts, I don’t care what grotesque legal construct you pony up to defend it.

    Yeah, the 1st Amendment is so grotesque.

    You haven’t addresses the question at all, you have just made dismissive arguments.

    Yes I have. You just can’t be bothered to a) learn the facts and b) read my entire comments before responding. Don’t tell me how to argue. You’re out of your depth.

  126. 126
    AngusTheGodOfMeat says:

    The Phelps gang knows the law well enough to stay on public land, which tends to be abundant around cemeteries.

    Are we talking about being “around” a cemetary? Or on the cemetary? If he is “near” a cemetary, on land that would by itself have no purpose associated with it which would restrain speech, then so be it. But if he is on the cemetary, then why can’t he be thrown off?

    The plaintiff here made an assertion in a public setting that he could not participate in his son’s funeral without dealing with Phelps’ protest. To me, the thing hangs on whatever that means, exactly. If he means that the only road into and out of the cemetary passes ground where there is no basis to restrict speech, then …. that’s unfortunate, but maybe not actionable. On the other hand, if Phelps is on the cemetary grounds, maybe it is actionable.

  127. 127
    celticdragonchick says:

    @mantis:

    And you know he was on private property uninvited how? The Phelps gang knows the law well enough to stay on public land, which tends to be abundant around cemeteries.

    The street in front of my townhouse is also public property. That does not mean that you have to be forced to endure taunts, insults and vile signs six inches away from your driveway, and nor should your neighbors.

    Courts have ruled that protests of that sort in residential areas deprive property owners of the right to use their property, since you being a forced to leave your home and go elsewhere to live in peace. I see no reason why that should not apply to people trying to conduct a funeral.

  128. 128
    AngusTheGodOfMeat says:

    Don’t tell me how to argue.

    Am I? I didn’t tell you how to argue, I just said I don’t like it. I am not free to say that?

    My position here is that the application of the law should be undertaken to give the mourners the greatest possible freedom to bury their loved one without harassment, consistent with whatever rights are involved. I didn’t make that up, those were pretty much the exact words of the plaintiff in a public statement about a week ago. I agree with him.

    Go back to my theater example. Suppose the theater we mentioned earlier were an outdoor venue, and suppose that there were a public sidewalk nearby. Would Phelps be protected in gathering his lunatics on that public sidewalk and shouting loud enough to distrupt the performance in the theater?

    If so, then isn’t an outdoor venue of any kind pretty much at the mercy of anyone who wants to use nearby public ground to interefere with the use of the venue?

    In my city, if a business makes noise that I can hear on my property, I can ask the police to go that business and ask that the noise be abated, and if this is not done, the business owner can be cited, or the city may revoke his business license, or rezone the property to eliminate the nuisance. The city even operates an office which goes into the community and “encourages” businesses to comply with the noise law, as an enforcement tactic.

  129. 129
    mantis says:

    Are we talking about being “around” a cemetary? Or on the cemetary? If he is “near” a cemetary, on land that would by itself have no purpose associated with it which would restrain speech, then so be it. But if he is on the cemetary, then why can’t he be thrown off?

    He can. That’s my point. Can you please pay attention if you are going to respond?

    The plaintiff here made an assertion in a public setting that he could not participate in his son’s funeral without dealing with Phelps’ protest.

    No, the plaintiff claimed that Phelps & Co. “wrongfully intruded upon his son’s funeral and subsequently defamed him on the defendants’ webpage, causing physical and emotional damages.”

    And on the facts of the event:

    It was undisputed at trial that Defendants complied with local ordinances and police directions with respect to being a certain distance from the church. Furthermore, it was established at trial that Snyder did not actually see the signs until he saw a television program later that day with footage of the Phelps family at his son’s funeral.

  130. 130
    mantis says:

    Am I? I didn’t tell you how to argue, I just said I don’t like it. I am not free to say that?

    You’re free to say it, and free to look a fool.

  131. 131
    celticdragonchick says:

    @mantis:

    You are really beginning to look unpleasantly trollish. Insulting people who have an honest difference of opinion on a case going before the SCOTUS doesn’t make you look smarter or better informed. It just makes you look like a jackass.

    I have disagreed with Angus on any number of occasions, but this is uncalled for.

  132. 132
    Glenn says:

    I think it is highly unlikely in this case that the outcome before the Supreme Court will turn on the public or private nature of the land where Phelps undertook his activities. It will be a question of balancing the value of protecting the speech (including how to factor in any claim that it is speech on a matter of public concern) vs. the value of the plaintiffs’ interest in being free from extreme, intentionally harassing speech. The lower court essentially analyzed under the same standards that apply to defamation, and my hunch is that the Supreme Court will take this opportunity to say that those standards don’t necessarily apply here, where the injury is not a reputational one but rather, effectively, a right to privacy.

  133. 133
    AngusTheGodOfMeat says:

    No, the plaintiff claimed that Phelps & Co. “wrongfully intruded upon his son’s funeral and subsequently defamed him on the defendants’ webpage, causing physical and emotional damages.”

    You may be citing a filed complaint or brief, but I am talking about public statements he made about a week ago.

    If Phelps is harassing the plaintiff in a manner similar to my outdoor theater example, then how is that activity protected? Are you arguing that as long as the defendant is standing on some kind of public ground, he is free to interfere (in the use of speech, as opposed to, say, throwing water balloons at the plaintiff) with activities on adjacent ground? How much latitude is there in deciding what is “intrusion” and what is not? And if the letter of the applied law can be abused, resulting in abuse of the plaintiff’s right to have a funeral that isn’t harassed by lunatics, then ….

    If the properties adjacent to public ground are at the mercy of any lunatics or thugs who want to congregate there and disrupt, intrude, or harass, then ….

    If that is the best we can do with the law, then the law needs to be changed. Does it not? I don’t see anyone here arguing that Phelps should not be able to demonstrate or speak.

    I participated in a demonstration on the sidewalk in front of the White House. The police were very effective in making sure that the activity did not intrude on anything going on in the White House, including intrusion on people going into and out of the gates. Visitors to the White House using official entries would not have been able to see or hear the demonstration even if they wanted to. Moving a block away wouldn’t have made a difference. The police apparently operated under laws that made any public gathering subject to their full control.

  134. 134
    mantis says:

    You are really beginning to look unpleasantly trollish. Insulting people who have an honest difference of opinion on a case going before the SCOTUS doesn’t make you look smarter or better informed. It just makes you look like a jackass.

    Yawn. When someone tells me this:

    You haven’t addresses the question at all, you have just made dismissive arguments.

    When I am in fact addressing the central question, and have been the entire time, I get the feeling they are just arguing to waste other people’s time. It’s annoying. It’s not an honest difference of opinion to keep ignoring key facts in order to argue an irrelevant point. That’s Goldbergism.

    I didn’t write anything insulting until I was myself insulted. And I don’t really care if I “look like a jackass” to some people.

  135. 135
    AngusTheGodOfMeat says:

    You’re free to say it, and free to look a fool.

    Yeah, if there is one thing we don’t allow around here it is foolishness, mantis. This is a very serious place.

    “Hot Air” is widely known to be a metaphor for serious talk moderated by lawyerly arguments.

  136. 136
    Little Dreamer says:

    @Citizen Alan:
    __

    For the record, I generally consider myself a Free Speech absolutist, but I also realize that the First Amendment itself is not an absolute. Negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress are torts for a reason, and while Phelps has a right to protest, doing so during the funerals of private citizens largely unconnected with the larger themes of his protest simply because it is so shocking that it offends all notions of decency is, IMO, actionable.

    I concur!

  137. 137
    AngusTheGodOfMeat says:

    I didn’t write anything insulting until I was myself insulted.

    Where did I insult you? I challenged your argument. Do you consider that a personal insult?

    I think you are out of your depth here. I know a lot more about insults than you do.

  138. 138
    mantis says:

    @Glenn:

    I think it is highly unlikely in this case that the outcome before the Supreme Court will turn on the public or private nature of the land where Phelps undertook his activities.

    I’m not saying it will, btw. Just trying to get some very basic facts about the case and free speech out there.

  139. 139
    AngusTheGodOfMeat says:

    And I don’t really care if I “look like a jackass”

    I agree. As a cow, I find nothing objectionable about the jackass look. Ungulates are ungulates.

  140. 140
    mantis says:

    @AngusTheGodOfMeat:

    Where did I insult you? I challenged your argument. Do you consider that a personal insult?

    You ignored what I wrote, claimed I was not addressing arguments when I clearly was (all the while trying to get you off the irrelevant argument about loud theater patrons), and constructed strawmen to tear down. I do find that insulting (more intellectually than “personally”). I tend to find that kind of thing more insulting than name-calling or whatever. I also don’t get insulted by stupid people. They don’t know any better. I’m not including you in that category.

  141. 141
    mantis says:

    Perhaps I am being a bit of a prick, though. I should probably eat something.

  142. 142
    Mike Schilling says:

    @Glenn
    Phelps’s appendix needs to be removed. Without anesthesia.

  143. 143
    AngusTheGodOfMeat says:

    I have disagreed with Angus on any number of occasions

    Hey, I disagree with myself regularly. Keeps me occupied while I chew my cud.

  144. 144
    numbskull says:

    I didn’t write anything insulting until I was myself insulted.

    Oh, well, THAT makes it OK then.

    And I don’t really care if I “look like a jackass” to some people.

    Whew! I was worried.

    You’re still dodging the basic point (and there is one as the case has now gone through two courts and potentially will be heard by SCOTUS), but at least we know you’re brave! Dammit!

    :)

  145. 145
    AngusTheGodOfMeat says:

    @mantis:

    Actually, I think you are doing a good job here. I just don’t agree that we can’t do better for our families of dead heroes than subject them to harassment from idiots and then defend the idiots. I think we can do right by everybody, give the idiots their room to speak, and give the mourners their privacy to mourn.

    And frankly, it’s the lawyerly types like yourself who would have to find the way to do that. So keep working the problem, that’s my request.

  146. 146
    Little Dreamer says:

    @AngusTheGodOfMeat:

    Hey, I disagree with myself regularly. Keeps me occupied while I chew my cud.

    I am a witness that this is a true statement.

  147. 147
    Little Dreamer says:

    @mantis:

    Well, at least the two of you have found some common ground, he can be a prick when he doesn’t eat too, trust me on this.

  148. 148
    Little Dreamer says:

    So where did this protest take place, inside the cemetery or outside? If outside, how far outside?

    The way it is written, it sounds like the protest was right at the cemetery close to the funeral, and personally, I think that’s totally fucked up decision making on the part of the judge if that’s true.

  149. 149
    AngusTheGodOfMeat says:

    @Little Dreamer:

    he can be a prick when he doesn’t eat

    Pull my hoof.

  150. 150
    Little Dreamer says:

    @AngusTheGodOfMeat:

    Well, apparently you’ve had lunch. ;)

    Haha!

  151. 151
    AngusTheGodOfMeat says:

    @Little Dreamer:

    Yes, I had some alfalfa and some clover.

    Then I had some water from the trough.

  152. 152
    Little Dreamer says:

    @AngusTheGodOfMeat:

    You animal!

  153. 153
    Will says:

    And like that, Bill O’Reilly picks up the tab:

    http://newsmax.com/InsideCover...../id/354287

    No. 1 cable news host Bill O’Reilly said Tuesday that he will personally write a check to cover $16,500 in legal costs for the father of a fallen U.S. Marine who sued the members of a church who picketed his son’s funeral.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] John Cole observes, “I hate the Phelps, but I’m glad the court is ruling that they have the right to spew their venom.”  And, surely, the right to free speech is meaningless if one has to go into bankruptcy fighting lawsuits from people who don’t like the content. […]

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