The facts for this comment, but not the legal conclusions, come from an
article carried on the CBS website on 1 November. It is unclear whether the
ACLU was involved in defending the Westboro Baptist Church in this case, but
it is clear from other cases that the ACLU defends the most reprehensible
“speech” like that present here.
A federal jury in Baltimore awarded a total of $10.9 million to Albert
Snyder, father of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder who was killed in Iraq,
against the apparent Church and three of its leaders who demonstrated at his
son’s funeral. The defendants carried signs that said, among other things,
“Thank God for dead soldiers,” and “God hates fags.”
Twenty-two states have passed laws seeking to curtail the activities of this
so-called Church and its members. The Church was founded by Fred Phelps.
His two daughters, Phelps-Roper and Rebekah Phelps-Davis, are active in the
Church and were also found liable. One of them is a lawyer and was active
in the defense of the case.
Fred Phelps said, after the verdict, “”Oh, it will take about five minutes
to get that thing reversed.”
Speaking as a three-decade First Amendment practitioner in the Supreme
Court, this will be a difficult verdict to uphold on appeal. “Freedom of
religion” is a broad right, but it is not absolute, as shown by cases on
medical treatment of children over their parents’ religious objections. “”Freedom
of speech” is also a broad right, but it is also not absolute, as shown by
cases concluding “there is no right to cry fire in a crowded theater.”
Because of interviews I have seen with members of this so-called Church, I
believe this verdict will be upheld. They have stated in public their
intent to hurt other people by the demonstrations they hold, and the
statements they present on their posters at these funerals. And, in order
to appeal, they should be required to post bond. If they do not post bond,
their church building, vehicles and personal property will be taken away,
and the Westboro Baptist Church will disappear.
Like the child pornography case that was argued this week in the Supreme
Court, there are certain cases whose content are so vile that they give a
bad name both to the concept of free speech, and to the lawyers who defend
such cases. The Westboro Baptist Church case goes further, and gives a bad
name to freedom of religion, as well.
Source for original story on the Net: