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Supreme Court Hears Challenge to Westboro Protest at Marine's Funeral

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The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday over a classic First Amendment case: At what point does free speech become so offensive that is loses its protection under the Constitution? At issue are the crude anti-gay protests staged by members of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church at military funerals.

The father of a Marine killed in Iraq has asked the court to reinstate a $5 million judgment against the Rev. Fred Phelps and other church members who picketed his son's funeral, carrying signs saying "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and "God Hates Fags." Phelps and his followers were not arguing that the man being buried was gay, but that war deaths are God's punishment of a country that tolerates homosexuality.
Westboro Baptist Church anti-gay demonstrators
Albert Snyder of York, Pa., says he was harmed by the protest, even though it was nonviolent. The demonstration not only tarnished his son Matthew's funeral, he said, but it is burned into his memory of his last day with his slain son. Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder died in a Humvee accident in 2006.

A Baltimore judge agreed that Snyder has been injured -- emotional distress -- and ordered the cash award. But an appeals court overturned the verdict on First Amendment grounds. The Constitution, after all, is supposed to protect unpopular speech as well as conventional views.

"No American should ever be required to apologize for following his or her conscience," Phelps' daughter Margie Phelps told the Associated Press. Margie Phelps, a lawyer, is representing the fundamentalist church. Church members -- usually six or seven of them -- have picketed other funerals and events across the country.

The Supreme Court is being asked to determine how far private entities such as cemeteries and churches can go to justify picket-free zones or buffers to silence or limit the speech of demonstrators. The Supreme Court is not expected to rule on the matter for several months.

A line of people hoping to hear the arguments before the court Wednesday morning stretched around a corner from the court building, which faces the east front of the Capitol.

Also on the scene were Westboro protesters and those opposed to them. "This nation will be no more once we're gone!" said Jacobs Phelps, 27, a grandson of Fred Phelps. He was holding a sign that read "Thank God for Dead Soldiers." His message was countered by area students, including George Washington University freshman Sam Garrett, dressed in sneakers and tight boxer briefs, the Washington Post reports. He carried a sign that read "Fred Phelps wishes he were hot like me!"

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This is by far the single most DISGUSTINGLY, REPULSIVE action of a group of people I have ever heard about. These 'protesters' are not only SICK and twisted, they are extremely evil. For the first time in my life I am ashamed to say I am an American. Freedom of speech .... my ass, this is a hate crime, and it is just morally wrong. These monsters should be put in jail. I can not believe our government allows these monsters to harass grieving families. I thought church going people are suppose to help others, do good and be positive role models.
Shame on you Phelps, shame on all your followers. Shame on you US government Shame on you!

March 03 2011 at 4:30 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Call on the Patriot Guard. If I'm not mistaken, on their website (PatriotGuard dot org) they have contacts for all 50 states. About 6 years ago, Westboro was going to show up in Cheyenne. The Patriot Guard showed up. There were so many of them, they were almost shoulder to shoulder around the entire block of the Church location. Plus, the County Sheriffs' department and Highway Patrol was there in mass. Have you ever noticed, Westboro does not seem to show up in any big city? They seem to stick to smaller cities and small towns. 'Course, they're hoping for an excuse to sue the bejeezus out of any place who would dare to stop them....... BTW - Westboro didn't show up in Cheyenne........ The people of the Patriot Guard are NOT paid for this service. True, Red, White & Blue Patriots!!

October 11 2010 at 12:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If there is a separation of church and state, then this church shouldn't be able to hide behind the Constitution. These people are committing hate crimes, pure and simple.

October 08 2010 at 12:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to amlegpst3's comment

Well, there isn't. The phrase, "separation of church and state", is just that, a phrase. There is no law "separating church from state". There is, however, a law that "prohibits the Congress from establishing any law that interferes with religion"(SEE;Establishment Clause). The government is perfectly entitled to participate in religion, just not to "interfere with" religion....FREE SPEECH IS JUST THAT...FREE SPEECH. IF WE VIOLATE THE RIGHTS OF THE WESTBORO CHURCH, WE ARE ALSO HARMING OUR OWN RIGHTS IN DOING SO. Foul though the message is, they are entitled to speak it, perhaps not at funerals, for it is easily arguable that in protesting at funerals the Westies are harming others with their excercise of FREE SPEECH.

October 08 2010 at 3:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Geez, what can I say about those creeps that hasn't already been said? They're telling us all how God is going to punish us? Of course he will,but surely God will also punish them for spreading hatred in his name and fo driving sinners AWAY from him and his grace. I also disapprove of homosexuality, but that doesn't mean that I hate homosexuals, or that I, or anyone else is somehow without sin. We are all guilty. To the homos out there, please know that these people are wrong in their spiteful hate(Jesus said that hating is equal to committing murder) and that they do not represent the true teachings and commandments of Jesus, nor is it for them to determine God's love for you.

October 08 2010 at 12:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What would Jesus do? Would he go to the funeral of a sinner and harass the mourners? Would he go instead and bring him to life and comfort those who mourn? Doesn't God hate the sin and love the sinner? Is this love thy neighbor? Did Christ die for each and every sinner? Is this feeding the poor? Is this helping the widows and the orphans? Is this wisdom? Why can't they protest at government offices where they will also be heard and seen? Isn't this a hate crime? Does this have anything to do with free speech?

October 08 2010 at 10:51 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Speech that doesn't harass others is free speech. Speech that harasses a group of mourners is a hate crime. God tells us to use wisdom, of which this pastor has none of.

October 08 2010 at 10:37 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply


October 08 2010 at 10:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

As a serious Christian, I believe that this pastor's credentials should be revoked. I don't believe we are supposed to preach hate, we are supposed to be preaching love. The Bible does state that vengeance belongs to the Lord, he will repay, and I believe that this pastor's sin is greater and his payment will be greater. To me, he just looks like another ignorant, southern, white racist with nothing else to do but preach stupidity. His church is "the blind led by the blind". He should be out there relieveing the oppressed, taking care of the fatherless and the widows. Instead, he is spreading hate and spreading bad feelings for those who truly love God are called to be Jesus to a dying world. God loves the sinner, but hates the sin. Shame on them. The Supreme Court should through the book at them.

October 08 2010 at 10:25 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Ive had the displeasure of running into these people. They are nasty vile people who thrive on hate and nothing more. You can disagree with gay people and who they are all you want to but that wont change anything. We were BORN gay. These poeple are sick liars and nothing more! If they are going to heaven Ill GLADLY burn in hell. I have no interest in being around people like this for eternity!

October 07 2010 at 3:29 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

I looked at their home page. They hate Jews, including Jesus Christ, who died for for all our sins. Jesus was a Jew from the branch of Nathan, descendant of King David. It is so sad. They have so many lists of people to hate, "before you are 6 or 7, or have to be carefully taught." I fully expect them to picket funerals of police and firemen who die in the line of duty, and also those of small children who are raped and murdered. They will probably call these victims all fags,too. Hate-speakers are sinning and have given their tongues over to the Devil, not to the Lord God on High. The works of the Flesh or Satan " are manifest, which are adultery, fornication, uncleanness lasciviousness, idolatry (it can include self-righteousness), witchcraft, HATRED, emulations, WRATH, STRIFE..." "I have also told you in times past," says St Paul, "that they that do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven." Galations 5:19-21 It is more Christian and ethical to renounce hatred. Hate-speech is not productive for the Lord God loves the Sinner, although He hates and deplores the sin. But the Fruits of the Spirit of God are: "Love, Joy, Peace, Long-Suffering, Gentleness, Goodness,Faith, Meekness (moderate behavior), Temperance (self-control: Against such there is no law." Galations 5:22. Where are these Fruits of the Spirit and Good Conduct in the Westboro Baptist Church? Perhaps not to be found? "Judge not that you be not judged." That is God's job description -- not ours, and we do not want God to judge us as harshly and as quickly as we can judge others. St Paul wrote in I Corinthians 13 of "Love,(not Hatred) as a more excellent way" of reaching the unsaved; pray for them surrounding they with God's love in your prayers. Up to now Westboro Baptist Church has kept God from acting to helpo our people and our nation, by shackling His Hands with their hatred. "Let go, and let God, and pray. Then God can act in the situation to cleanse it and make it whole." We need civil speech and prayer more than ever to rescue our country, our churches, our media and politics and ethics---not hatred. Hatred only leads to more bloodshed, and more wars, which are totally un-Godly and unworthy of people perporting to be children of God, through Jesus Christ, and saved through God's Grace. Prayerfully, Betty Chan

October 07 2010 at 2:45 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to bettychan1's comment

They aren't Christians. You read their website, so you found out that their beliefs contradict many things the Bible says. However, that has no bearing on their rights. Their speech is digusting, but it's protected.

October 08 2010 at 1:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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