Albert Snyder v. Phelps, Westboro Baptist Church et al.

Shirley Roper-Phelps, a prominent member of th...

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The Supreme Court has just released its ruling, on an 8–1 vote (Justice Alito dissenting) in Albert Snyder v. Phelps, Westboro Baptist Church et al. The court finds that Westboro Baptist Church has a First Amendment right to picket military funerals.

About Monotreme

Monotreme is an unabashedly liberal dog lover, writer, and former scientist who now teaches at a University in an almost-square state out West somewhere. |
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30 Responses to Albert Snyder v. Phelps, Westboro Baptist Church et al.

  1. mclever says:

    They may have that right, but it doesn’t make me any less angry about the disrespect shown to our servicemen. 😦

  2. Monotreme says:

    Not just our servicemen, but human beings in general.

  3. I find it interesting that Thomascalia didn’t follow Alito. I had figured that the three would never disagree.

    Anyway, I belive it was the right decision, even if I’m unhappy with the speech itself.

  4. filistro says:

    We can’t (and shouldn’t) legislate good taste and decency. We could, however, just IGNORE these people, which would instantly stop their antics.

  5. mclever says:


    I was a little surprised to see Alito as the sole dissenter as well.

    And I agree that the decision is the right one, as unhappy as I am with seeing funeral services disrupted by people who can’t find a more constructive way to voice their political opinions. Ignoring them would be nice, but sometimes it just isn’t possible.

  6. Mule Rider says:

    Fred Phelps is going to be surprised when he finds out one day that he is the one burning in hell.

  7. Brian says:

    A few friends of mine were discussing this and I found out something quite interesting. There’s a group called the Patriot Guard Riders, which is basically a bunch of people on motorcycles that block out the Westboro protesters. They wave American flags so the funeral attendees can’t see the Westboro people and rev their engines to block out the sound. Since you guys all seem to be more worldly and knowledgeable than me, I wouldn’t be surprised if you knew this already, but I thought it was pretty cool.

  8. dcpetterson says:

    The people of Westboro have a right to protest. It really makes them and their cause look bad, however, which is one of the reasons I firmly support their right.

    Brian, yes, I for one was aware of the people taking a principled and practical stand against the Westburrows. I think its a good way to handle them. It would be better if it were possible to ignore them. But the point of an effective protest is to do it in such a way that it can’t be ignored; witness the Town Hall rioters of ’09, or the people occupying the Wisconsin capital today, or the Egyptian protests a short time back. Whether you agree with the causes or not, all these are examples of effective protesting, and all were done in ways that could not be ignored.

    The Westburrows also arrange things such that a funeral cannot continue without interruption. The response they’ve gotten is appropriate and perfectly executed.

  9. msgkings says:

    Mule Rider isn’t always right, but in this thread he’s completely so.

    And +1 on the comment on Phelps’ postmortem destination.

  10. msgkings says:

    Wow…right after I posted that most of the thread was deleted.

    Making him even more right.

  11. Or not. I gave a forum for the topic.

  12. msgkings says:

    But his point was if he started on another topic in a manner this blog agreed with, he’d not have any problem and would not have been moved to another forum.

    That said, it’s probably correct that it be moved, but is he wrong in believing that a more liberal-minded interruption would get the same treatment?

  13. I believe he is. We’ve been trying to be a bit more regimented of late, and this is part of that effort.

    It’s one thing for the discussion to organically grow elsewhere, as it did with the religion/gay marriage discussion, or the minorities’ views on gay marriage and their ties to the Democratic Party. It’s another entirely to completely hijack a thread, as was done here.

    That said, if you see where a similar hijack from the left is occurring, and nobody’s doing anything about it, call it out.

  14. msgkings says:

    Fair enough.

  15. mclever says:

    Sometimes news happens and things come up that folks want to discuss.

    Perhaps, rather than hijacking an existing thread on an unrelated topic, a better approach would be to post a comment requesting a new thread for the subject to be discussed.

    Seeing as this is a “free speech” thread, it seems fitting that we not stifle discussion, but instead provide constructive outlets to channel that discussion. 🙂

  16. Monotreme says:

    One thing I will mention is that we’re unable to move comments from one thread to another. So if a hijacking occurs (even inadvertantly, since I’ve done it too), then we don’t have any way of moving over the existing comments without simply cutting and pasting them into a new comment on the new thread, which means the author information is lost. It’s also tedious to do (and read).

    Mclever is correct. The best way is to make a comment and say, “hey, I want to discuss XXX” and then one of us will see it and make such a post. As she says, we want to encourage discussion, not just here, but on all posts.

  17. Monotreme says:

    MW is right about ThomasScaliaAlito. I thought they were a solid, impenetrable bloc.

    It will be interesting to see Alito’s logic when the whole decision is published.

  18. msgkings says:

    Shouldn’t that be ThomaScaliAlito?

    I actually think they’ve voted differently a few times before but it’s not often.

  19. filistro says:

    @msg… Shouldn’t that be ThomaScaliAlito?

    LOL!!! Yes, it should. 🙂

  20. filistro says:

    Lots of discussion around here today about whether Canada’s Supreme Court would have latitude to reach a different decision on Snyder vs. Phelps in light of the country’s hate speech laws.

    The Canadian laws require that the speech be directed at an “identifiable group” and/or advocate genocide. The WB Baptists seem to hate everybody though they do tend to single out “fags.” And they apparently want everyone with whom they disagree to rot in hell for eternity, which is sort of genocide on steroids so… I dunno.

    Regardless, it’s just hard to picture this group being allowed to do their thing on Canadian soil. I really can’t see it happening.

  21. mclever says:


    There’s a tendency around here to think of Canadians as being just like us, except they say “aboot” instead of “about” and end half their sentences with “eh?”

    Every once in a while, something like this comes along where we’re reminded that there are substantial differences in the culture between our two countries. If we were to restrict free speech (as Canada is more willing to do), then who becomes the arbiter of what is or is not allowable? I guess we Americans are just more paranoid about the government making those decisions.

  22. filistro says:

    @mclever… I guess we Americans are just more paranoid about the government making those decisions

    No kidding. Another area where Canadians are absolutely baffled by the American POV is on gun laws. “Why do they WANT all those guns?” Canadians will often ask, totally perplexed. “It’s ruining their country! Why do they hang onto their guns so fiercely?”

    I try to explain it’s because Americans are afraid of their own government, and they want to be armed in case they ever need to launch a revolution. Whereupon Canadians will just look at me with deep skepticism and turn away, shaking their heads.

    It all comes down to the rights of the individual vs. the rights of the group… an area where Americans and Canadians, though culturally quite similar, most definitively part company.

  23. Rob UK says:

    It seems the First Amendment fails to discern between license and liberty. A truly free society respects and protects the reasonable sensibilities of its citizens. With Justices like this – God help America.

    Mr Snyder’s family have my sympathy – their country has treated them abysmally.

  24. msgkings says:

    Not their country, RobUK, just Phelps and his disgusting brood.

    And other countrymen like the Patriot Guard Riders mentioned above have come to their aid

    I hope the publicity of this case inspires counterdemonstrations at this jerk’s “church”

  25. Rob UK,
    It is often difficult for people who don’t grow up in the US to understand the degree of reverence Americans have for freedom of expression.

  26. Rob UK says:

    There is a difference between ‘freedom of of expression’ and ‘freedom to insult’.

    Please don’t tell me that the UK isn’t a free society, yet today a man was convicted of a public order offence for burning an imitation poppy (symbol of British servicemen who gave their lives for their country in war) in public on Armistice Day (the day Britain remembers its war dead).

    Freedom to protest must be cherished but is not a license to say what one likes, regardless of the reasonable sensitivities of other citizens – just as you can’t drive however you like on the highway. The Founding Fathers had immense foresight and wisdom – what a pity the current Justices have failed to emuluate them.

  27. filistro says:

    Rob… you will never, ever convince Americans of this.

    For some reason the vast majority of Americans, regardless of party affiliation, seem to absorb the “slippery slope” philosophy along with their baby cereal.

    They truly, sincerely believe that if a tiny class of horrific machine guns are regulated, the “government” will soon seize everybody’s hunting rifle. And if a person dying in terrible pain is mercifully eased into the hereafter by a small extra dose of morphine, the “government” will immediately begin liquidating the elderly and the infirm. And if hateful and offensive discourse is banned from the public square, the “government” will move at once to ban political speech of any kind in any forum. And if… but you get my drift.

    I don’t know where this comes from.. this passionate belief that (a) will ALWAYS INEVITABLY lead to (b), which will destroy freedom, Mom, apple pie, the Constitution and and Life As We Know It…. but I have given up trying to argue with it.

  28. Rob,
    “Freedom” is not a binary condition. Every society has varying degrees of freedom relative to others. The most extreme form of freedom is anarchy. But I doubt many in societies generally considered “free” today would prefer to live under anarchy.

    When it comes to freedom of expression, the UK is less free than the US. There’s nothing inherently good or bad about this; it’s just part of the nature of the respective societies.

    The United States has opted to keep restrictions on free expression to a bare minimum, which means that “freedom to insult,” as you put it, is protected. The principles underlying this freedom are closely tied to those of democracy and the free market. That is, free expression of ideas allows for a free market of those ideas. If you sell yours using insults, you’d be expected to acquire fewer followers than those who use more attractive techniques. Over the long haul, the winning ideas should be expected to come from those with the most attractive marketing.

    In other words, the repulsiveness of Westboro’s techniques are expected to end up hurting, rather than helping, them. And they’ll die off in one way or another.

    I really don’t expect people who haven’t spent most of their lives in the US to understand it.

  29. For some reason the vast majority of Americans, regardless of party affiliation, seem to absorb the “slippery slope” philosophy along with their baby cereal.

    Spoken like a true non-American. 🙂

    It’s not as simple as you describe. The US was founded on a war to quickly separate from Mother England. Canada slowly grew apart from England…so slowly that Elizabeth II still shows up on the currency. As such, the US was born distrusting government, but recognizing that a lack of government results in anarchy.

    Or, put a different way, the US was founded on the principle that human beings are greedy bastards, and you can’t trust them. And given that government is necessarily made up of human beings, the way to keep the greed in check is to separate powers. The principle of separation of powers is used in plenty of other places today as well…it’s why business checks above a certain denomination require two signatures. It’s why safe deposit boxes require two keys to open. There’s a multitude of other examples of this.

    The principle of greedy humans isn’t based on a fantasy. Without it, bribery wouldn’t exist.

    The only relation that this has to “slippery slope” is that it’s far easier, in a democracy, to accumulate power slowly than it is to accumulate it quickly. Vigilance is necessary to prevent that slow accumulation.

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