The Supreme Court justices, hearing arguments Wednesday in a funeral protest case, sounded as though they are inclined to set a limit to the free-speech rule to permit lawsuits against those who target ordinary citizens with especially personal and hurtful attacks.
The First Amendment says the government may not infringe the freedom of speech, but it is less clear whether it also shields speakers from private lawsuits. [...]
Justices Anthony M. Kennedy and Stephen G. Breyer, usual defenders of the First Amendment, said they thought people could be sued for outrageous personal attacks. [...]
Though the case is about funeral protests, Breyer said the court’s ruling will have an impact on the Internet, since it tests whether personal attacks can lead to lawsuits.
Elena Kagan’s first question to Margie J. Phelps, the lawyer who was defending her lovely family, was a good one. Read all the details here.
If we’re going to argue that they must endure this for the common good, then the news media ought to do the decent and the rational thing and ignore Westboro’s future protests. As the Anti-Defamation League pointed out in its analysis of this hate church, its tiny congregation seems to live for little but publicity.
If Albert Snyder and his family must forbear to protect the 1st Amendment, the American media owes it to them to restrain their vulgar impulse toward the bizarre and the sensational.
But the L.A. Times editorial staff posted “The right to speak offensively”:
The court should rule that the 1st Amendment also protects the ravings of the Westboro Baptist Church.
Debating the 1st Amendment
Re “Funeral protests test 1st Amendment right,” Oct. 4
How is it that a protestor can be shown actually stepping on the American flag at a funeral for a U.S. Army soldier — who defended the very right of that protestor to be free — just so he can actually express that freedom of speech in such a cruel and inhumane manner?
A disagreement with something or someone does not call for the desecration of the very thing that represents our freedom.
Why doesn’t the entire Phelps-Roper family, with their intolerant, hypocritical attitude, just move off American soil and live in a great place such as Afghanistan, or Iraq, or North Korea, where they can really see what the cost of freedom is like.
Freedom of speech, eh?
I hope the Supreme Court will take a stand on “common decency” — a human value integral to a civilized society.
I don’t think the 1st Amendment gives anyone the license to be cruel, insensitive and destructive. Those who hide behind the veil of freedom of speech need to be held accountable for their ill deeds and their misguided actions.
A funeral is one of our most sacred and solemn events. I believe it trumps our 1st Amendment right to free speech, especially if such free speech is intended to inflict emotional distress. If people want to protest at a funeral, they should be kept out of sight and hearing of the funeral procession.
I believe the Supreme Court will see it that way.
As Americans, we have an absolutely wonderful guarantee that many places do not have — to be able to speak our minds freely, without fear.
Sadly, we often forget that for us to have this cherished right, we must also grant it to others who not only disagree with us but may hold what we deem despicable views.
Such is the case with the disgusting display of bigotry shown by the protesters at Army Lt. Todd Weaver’s funeral, who were heartlessly displaying signs such as “God hates fags” and “Thank God for dead soldiers.”
This is a real test for those of us who believe that our 1st Amendment not only guarantees freedom to express views with which we agree, but also guarantees it to those who we believe to be misguided and ignorant.
In order to keep this fundamental freedom, we must live up to the challenge presented by this exhibition of cruelty.
Most mainstream theology says that “God works in mysterious ways” and “it is not given to man to know God’s mind,” yet the Phelps family seems to have the inside track to God’s mind: They hold signs proclaiming that “God hates fags.”
I think the source of the virulent hatred lies between the ears of those doing the protesting.