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The Problem With Free Speech: Westboro Baptist Church

Pundits discuss the First Amendment's dark side

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It's a legal decision that bloggers on the left and right are furious about. On Friday, an appeals court ordered Albert Snyder, the father of a dead marine, to pay the Westboro Baptist Church's legal fees. Members of the fundamentalist church had picketed Snyder's son's funeral with signs reading "God hates you," "You're going to hell," and "Thank God for dead soldiers." The Kansas-based hate group believes God is punishing America because it tolerates homosexuality.

Horrified by the protest at his son's funeral, Snyder sued the group for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress—and won. But now an appeals court has overturned the decision and ordered Snyder to cover the church's $16,500 in legal expenses. Bloggers and pundits are now weighing the court's decision, debating the free-speech issues ingrained in the case.

  • The First Amendment Does Not Cover This, writes Rick Ungar at True/Slant: "The insanity of this situation speaks for itself. The Founders no more intended first amendment rights to extend to a crowd picketing a funeral where a grieving family is burying their dead than they intended extending these protections to someone screaming fire in a crowded theater. Can you imagine the reaction of the Founding Fathers had someone done this at the burial of one of our Revolutionary War dead? Can any rational human being believe that this was conduct they intended to protect?"
  • Yes It Does, writes Brad Porter at The Crossed Pond: "I’m going to go ahead and take the very unpopular position that the court probably did the right thing (which is not always the same as the good thing) in applying standard practice to the case. Take away all the specifics and our own feelings on the matter, as you have to, and what you have is a plaintiff trying to silence the free speech of an organization because they found that speech offensive. They wrapped up the defendents in court, causing them to expend a great deal of money to defend themselves, and ultimately a court ruled that their suit could not be upheld on the merits."
  • Liberal Courts in Action, writes E Pluribus Unum at Red State: "In case you forgot why you hate liberal courts ... This is why the Senate 41 should block the nomination of every Obama court nominee at every level. Just simply block every single one. Because they are all like this, or worse."
  • It's Not a Liberal Court, writes Steve M. at No More Mister Nice blog: "I've looked at the decision (PDF). The case was before a three-judge panel -- and two of the three judges were Bush appointees. Judge Robert King was appointed by Bill Clinton, but Judges Allyson Duncan and Dennis Shedd were appointed by George W. Bush -- and, in fact, the nomination of Shedd, a former aide to Strom Thurmond, was held up temporarily in 2002 by Senate Democrats out of concerns about Shedd's record on civil rights."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.