Wednesday, March 02, 2011

It's not against the law to be a jerk.

The Supremes just decided Snyder v. Phelps in favor of the asshats from Kansas, which was the right thing to do.

The First Amendment protects jerks the same as it protects normal people. Maybe more, because there's no particular need to protect somebody waving a sign that says "I love mom and apple pie!"


Joshkie said...

The best defense against speech you find objectionable is more speech. I should know.


Tango Juliet said...

I detest the Phelps gang but they have every right to be jerks as you say.

Gunnutmegger said...

Does the right of free expression cover the use of this?

Because I cannot think of a better situation in which to employ that device.

DirtCrashr said...

They are sick, disgusting, bile-filled, and twisted-up jerks and if someone were to get angry and do something super-mean back to them I would just laugh and point and say they brought it on themselves and deserved it - and then let the Courts work THAT one out.

Bubblehead Les. said...

8-1? Hmm. Guess we can now march on the Joyce Foundation and wave our "Guns Save Lives" and "Hi-Cap Magazines: There when you NEED them" signs, right? Sauce for the Goose and all that, you know.

Anonymous said...

Free speach is definatly a two way street. But they must remember the old saying What comes around goes around.

og said...

Indeed. However, freedom of speech does not guarantee freedom from the consequences of that speech; Problem with the self righteous scumbags from Kansas is that whenever someone pops them for being assholes, they sue, and win.

Freedom of speech should carry with it the responsibility of garnering the consequences of that speech.

"and then let the Courts work THAT one out." That scenario has played itself out over and over, Dirt. The Phelps Phucktards are not a religious organization except in name, nor are they even remotely invested in their message, they could care less, Their entire tactic is to annoy people enough so they'll kick back, and then they sue, and they always win. Phelps himself is a disbarred lawyer and surrounds himself with lawyers expressly to make a very comfortable living taking money from the upset, greiving family and friends of deceased servicemen.

Democrats, basically.

Anonymous said...

The key to protecting your rights is to help protect the rights of those that you do not agree with. Since the court system is still partially agreeing with private property rights I think the easiest way to get rid of the Westboro a-holes is to simply not allow them into these funerals. I am sure that many of these cemeteries are considered private property. Don't let them in.

og said...

"Don't let them in."

Indeed, and block visual access from mourners. This is the stated purpose of the Patriot Guard riders, and while I only know a very few of them personally, the ones I do know are the very salt of the planet; I hope the rest of them are similar.

John A said...

The group is in show business, not religion, and succeeds at it.

I wonder how hard it would actually be to get proof of hypocrisy. Do they eat cheeseburgers? Abomination. Ham, bacon? Abomination. Lobster or crayfish? Abomination.

Robert Langham said...

It's the right decision. We need MORE free speech, not less.

Joshkie said...

Anon 11:40 am -

Point about the case in question the philptards where back I believe a thousand feet on pulic property i.e., the street in view of those that entered the cemetery.

Now it is commen for counter protest to form and shelter those and block the phelptards disrupting the funerals.

More Speech, not less.


Borepatch said...

Alito's dissent is pretty interesting, focusing on "fighting words". What's perhaps most interesting is that it proposes de-Federalizing the reaction to the Westboro kooks, and letting the citizenry take care of things for themselves.

IOW, it seems to be applying the old saying "Son, the First Amendment protects you from the Government, not from me."

And I agree with Og - there's no compelling First Amendment purpose served by having the protest within sight of the funeral (which is private). The Westboro kooks are engaging in political speech, which targets the government.

Tam said...


"Son, the First Amendment protects you from the Government, not from me."

Yes, and Snyder v. Phelps was protecting Phelps from being held tortiously liable (ie. being ordered by the government to pay monies to someone else under penalty of law) for speaking offensive words.

Roberta X said...

The Patriot Guard Riders seem to have a website -- with a donation button.

GreatBlueWhale said...

I heartily recommed Nat Hentoff's excellent book "Free Speech for Me — But Not for Thee: How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other".
I may never agree with Mr. Hentoff about anything else, but he has the First Amendment down pat.

Anonymous said...

I love that it lets post "Anonymously" here.

First, if it makes anyone feel any better (probably not, I'd wager), WBC has garnered Anonymous' undivided attention. So, they can continue to experience DDOS attacks and various other forms of interbutts skullduggery. The WBC may not realize it but there are actually quite a few Anonymous in, and around, Kansas and we will be more than happy to take time away from protesting Scientology to go and protest WBC. It will sort of screw up their message if another protester (that happens to be wearing a Guy Fawkes mask) is holding an anti-WBC sign right beside them.

Good times.

The government shall not infringe the freedom of speech. However, Anonymous is not the government.

DirtCrashr said...

"and then let the Courts work THAT one out." And I'm still waiting.
I meant see who goes to jail for arson when the Phelps "Church" get's burned to the ground or one of them is severely injured in the dark, somehow...
I know it's not really about religion or free speech except as far as they can wrangle a lawsuit on either grounds - those are convenient foils - it's about spoiling for a lawsuit to win and stay afloat.
Show-Biz lawyers - the worst damn kind.

Tam said...


Anonymous is late to the party.

Anonymous said...


Better late than never.


og said...

If someone painted a flag on old Phred, and then burned it, would that be covered as freedom of expression? it's a quandary.

Anonymous said...

I suppose that playing Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture right in front of the WBC folk is also "protected speech" and much nicer to hear, too! Concert Cannon!

Ulises from CA

Mikael said...

*sigh* I'm of the opinion that someone should just drop a multi-ton FAE on the Phelp's place and be done with it.

Or just nuke the site from orbit, it's the only way to be sure.

Kristopher said...

There is a tactic that has worked against Fred and co in southern Oregon:

The cops hand the head protester a 911 only cheap cell phone, and tell him to call them if they are assaulted.

Then they just leave.

For some reason, the Phelps brigade just left town.

Anonymous said...

They drove all the way to Spokane Wa. to protest,when they got a look at all the people lining the streets, they lit out for home.
WELL DONE! Spokane.

Anonymous said...

If played correctly, the WBC could be the biggest PR coup ever for gay rights advocates. Imagine if every time Phelps and co. showed up at a funeral there was an impromptu gay pride march staged, with the approval of the families. Get every GLBT in the tri-county area marching with American flags and holding pro-military signs in clear opposition to these wackjobs and see how pro-gay everyone becomes all of a sudden. Once someone points out to the WBC that they're helping the people they're trying to hurt, I'd think they'd have to go find other ways of pissing people off.

Ritchie said...

"Popular speech needs no special protection"-some smart guy.

Boris da Bastid said...

As an two-tour OIF vet, current Army Recruiter (blech), and someone who lost a friend on his first deployment, I would love nothing more than to walk up to these goons and smack them all in the face with a sock filled with quarters.

Of course, my love of my normal Army job, family, and paycheck prevents me from committing said assault. Oh yeah, and the first line of my Oath:

"I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic"

Kinda means something to me. I can't be defending that outstanding piece of paper without realizing that the rights therein are sometimes utilized in ways I don't personally like.

wolfwalker said...

DirtCrashr: "...and if someone were to get angry and do something super-mean back to them..."

og: "That scenario has played itself out over and over, Dirt."

Only if you have a very mild definition of "something super-mean." Dead men can't sue.

Anonymous said...

If only we could get the WBC to stage one of their "protests" in front of an abortion clinic, then the law could come down on them like a hammer.

Alternative Enforcement Bureau said...

@Boris -- Yep, that's the problem that most of us have, whether we're protecting our beloved .mil job or only our CCW/CHP permission slip.

@Phelps -- If I, or any of the gazillion likeminded others, ever happen to slip past your lawyers in voir dire, you can bet your bottom dollar on some good ol' fashioned JURY NULLIFICATION coming your way. Bubba beat the everlovin' stuffings out of you? Well, gosh, I don't see it that way and I declare him INNOCENT. Tina flattened all y'alls' tires while you were raising a ruckus in the cemetery? Bummerdude, I don't think the prosecution met its burden of proof, and I declare her INNOCENT. etc

Joshkie said...


Sorry to say the courts don't work that way anymore...sigh.

The judge would probable declare misstrial siting jury didn't follow juryinstruction or the "law."

Sigh :-(

wolfwalker said...

He can't do that, Josh. That's the whole point of jury nullification: the judge can't overturn a 'not guilty' verdict for any reason. The Fifth Amendment forbids it. The only exception is if it's proven after the trial that the defendant rigged the trial by blackmail, bribery, etc.

Mark Alger said...

I would love to see the meme spread that, perhaps, (wondering if anybody ever considered that) the existence of homosexuality is evidence that God hates Fred Phelps.

Just a thought.

Plugging thoughts into the meme streme since 1988.


Joshkie said...

WolfWalker -

The judge is not overturning the "not guilt verdict" he's declaring mistrail. This decision would then be appealed to higher court or a new trail and jury selected. The judge overturning the verdict would be him ruling guilty or not guilty himself.

Our legal system hasn't adhered to the strict interpretation of the Founding Fathers in a longtime.

I'm not a lawer and this is my curent understand of our legal system, so I could be wrong.


Joshkie said...

"....interpretation of the US Constitution as written by the Founding Fathers in a..."


McVee said...

How are these people financed? I mean there is like what... 6 of them.
Where's the money coming from?

perlhaqr said...

I have to admit that I'm finding it pretty distressing that the people notionally on "my team" here, which includes a fair number of people who take the Constitution pretty seriously, have an issue with this ruling.

I mean, seriously, we're talking about a group of people who will generally with a straight face say that the Second Amendment secures a right to civilian ownership of Main Battle Tanks (which I happen to agree with, let it be said) and Destroyers or Aircraft Carriers, and there's even a debate that perhaps the government should be fining people for saying mean things? Or even turn a blind eye to actual assault and battery? I mean, come on!

Yes, they are absolute assholes, and in a just universe they will be delivered to a God who takes some umbrage at the abuse of his name to further their horrible bastardry. After death, they should probably be stored in France in an airtight container as the official SI measure of Metric Shithead. But while they're on this plane, they have the right to say whatever the hell they want, even if it's really mean.

This is not speech that can be presumed to cause actual physical harm to anyone, in the way in which shouting "Fire" in a crowded theater can. Howling about how "God Hates Fags" and whatnot is not going to cause a mad stampede to the exits because it's not a mortal threat. Lacking that, it must be acknowledged as protected speech, and defended as such no matter the content.

B.S. philosopher said...

The Phelpses support themselves on the jury awards that they receive when the righteously indignant belt them one.

SpeakerTweaker said...

I'm sorry, but I just cannot agree with SCOTUS on this one. I was all for it; "When they came for my..." and all of that. I get it. I'll defend reprehensible speech in full wookie apparel.

That was until I read Alito's dissent. Having learned the full facts of the case, and considering that this was a full-blown direct, personal attack on the deceased and family, I am forced to ask the question again: where do we draw the line? Is it really only when there's actual physical harm done? Is there a point at which words are harmful enough to cross that line where Your Rights End and Mine Begin?

Someone, anyone, tell me: did SCOTUS just say that anyone can come to a funeral and say any damn thing they want, including press releases before the fact and personal attacks after, and the bereaved have to stand there and take it? Of course we can always hire dudes on choppers to line up their bikes to drown out the protesters, but I don't want choppers at the funeral.

I give a damn about the content of the speech. Phelps and Co. are gaming the system, and they're winning. Why is that not a problem, and if it is, what is the solution (the one that won't land me in prison with Phelps siphoning away my life's savings)?


Trent said...

I agree with the decision that was made. However, it should have been noted that the 1st Amendment protects a citizen from the government, not from a good old fashioned ass kicking administered by your fellow, pissed off citizens when you go off and act a fool.

I will reference LawDog:

Kristopher said...

perlhaqr: The problem is that our current attitude towards policing, as well as the rabbit-ization of America is enabling them, in my opinion.

You are not going to see Phelps and his a-holes go into a biker bar and accuse Hells Angels and Mongols of being "fags".

You would not have seen these a-holes pulling the same crap prior to the 1950's.

The cops would take a statement from the survivors in the hospital, and quietly suggest that it might be more intelligent to not say such things in public, no matter how constitutional it might be.

Joshkie said...

There is one type of speech not protected by the 1st Amendment.

Lying. Covered by Calumny: libel & slander.

You can call out fire in a crowded movie theater if there is one but not if there is not. We now have hate Speach laws and others. The law has been broadened censor speech certain types like calls to violence. Used to be you could cal for someones death all you wanted, but unless they were actually kill and the murder sayed or could be linked to what you said. Nothing would happen as no harm was caused. If there was a link, you would be charged as an excesory to the murder. No speech was ever supposed to be forbidden or cesored.

Even Lying is not forbidden you can just be prosecuted for the harm you cause. I just wish the government did give them selves immunity.


Anonymous said...

'...there's no particular need to protect somebody waving a sign that says "I love mom and apple pie!"'

Don't be so sure. These people are now to be regarded as "Tea-bagging Fascists" and the like. -- Lyle

wolfwalker said...

Joshkie: The judge is not overturning the "not guilt verdict" he's declaring mistrail.

Still not allowed. I believe there's actual case law on this, you can look it up. A mistrial must be declared while the trial is still going on. When the verdict is delivered, the trial is over, period, end of file. If the jury finds 'not guilty,' the case is closed regardless of the reasoning the jury used. A judge can overturn a 'not guilty' verdict for one reason and one reason only: if one or more jurors were illegally tampered with, so that the trial wasn't fair.

Ian Argent said...

@SpeakerTweeker: "where do we draw the line? Is it really only when there's actual physical harm done? Is there a point at which words are harmful enough to cross that line where Your Rights End and Mine Begin?"

Yup. That's an obvious line to draw; the use of physical force without fear of unlawful physical force.

Once you start allowing some words that are not threats of imminent bodily harm to justify use of force by private citizen or by the government, you've stepped into a scary place.

Legally speaking, waving a sing saying "God hates fags" should be no different than waving one saying "I support the troops". I know which sign-waver I'll invite to dinner, admittedly, and it's not the ones with a case of the Rage Virus.

When evaluating a power delegated to the government, consider what your worst enemy could do with it. If the government can shut down the WBC for using crass language, they can shut down an open holster protest for scaring the hoplophobes.

Borepatch said...

Tam, sorry for the long delay in replying to your comment. Been a lousy week or three.

Tortuously liable limits the Government involvement to essentially a market function, where what is essentially a Blood Price replaces Blood Feud. Person A slanders person B, who sues. The gubmint involvement is limited to enforcing the judgment in a private suit. First Amendment comes nowhere near this.

Fron Alito's dissent:

Petitioner Albert Snyder is not a public figure. He is simply a parent whose son, Marine Lance Corporal Mat-thew Snyder, was killed in Iraq. Mr. Snyder wanted what is surely the right of any parent who experiences such anincalculable loss: to bury his son in peace. But respon-dents, members of the Westboro Baptist Church, deprivedhim of that elementary right. They first issued a press release and thus turned Matthew’s funeral into a tumultuous media event. They then appeared at the church, approached as closely as they could without trespassing, and launched a malevolent verbal attack on Matthew and his family at a time of acute emotional vulnerability. As a result, Albert Snyder suffered severe and lasting emotional injury. [fn] The Court now holds that the First Amendment protected respondents’ right to brutalize Mr. Snyder. I cannot agree.

I can't agree, either. The problem with the current 8-1 opinion is that the government is essentially abdicating its market making funtion. The only private response will be to return to the Blood Feud, as the government will not allow lesser measures in this private dispute.

What's going to happen is that the Westboro folks are going to get beaten, physically. That's too bad, because when this sort of thing starts, it's not so hard for it to escalate to where people get killed.

It's a truism that "bad cases make bad law". This is yet another example of the tragedy of the commons, where a small part of the common weal just got trampled, because the elites cannot imagine actual physical power being exercised by anyone other than the Approved Organs (tm). It's not often that I get all Billy Beck-ish, but this will not end well.

Not meaning any disrespect to Billy, just that he's typically much more pessimistic about the Republic's chances than I. But this time, I fear that this will have far reaching - and terribly destructive - effects that the Elites simply are incapable of imagining.

Joshkie said...


I want to agree with you, because what you say is as it should be. I'm just not sure if that is curent case law or not.

Sad to say I'm to lazy at the moment to dig into it, so here's to hope I'm wrong.


Joshkie said...

Borepatch -

I respectfully disagree what you are advocating will lead to anytime any says anything you don't like in your presense you will know be emotionally scarred as a way to silence their speech, leading to leading to self censorship for fear of law suit.

The correct action is being taken by groups like the patriot riders.

More speech, not less,

Joshkie said...

Ian Argent -

I agree with you. But I wonder if do you realize this was my argument to you in our discussion involving the 2nd Amendment on your blog.

Maybe, I just didn't convey it as well as you.


Joshkie said...

The government through the justice system is there to determine guilt and punishment not protect us from ourselves. The only thing the government was supposed to protect us from is other governments.

The only way the government can protect us from ourselves is to take our Libery from us.

Something to think on,

Joshkie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ian Argent said...

@Joshkie: My views on the 2A are similar to what I've posted here as to the rights under the First. I suspect the difference you're seeing is that I didn't speak as to what happens on private property.

When I said "Legally speaking, waving a sign saying "God hates fags" should be no different than waving one saying "I support the troops," I meant that in a public venue the power of government shouldn't be used to shut either down. If you trespass upon private property while doing so, that changes things.

Joshkie said...

No, I was talking about your "counter offer to gun grabbers" post.

What the government Give'th. The Government can take away.


Ian Argent said...

Oh, that thing. I will point out that we now have 2 or 3 examples of states that went through permits to constitutional carry; and that I was more or less making fun of the anti-gun suggestion that we can't be allowed to carry but police can because of their "training."