ACRU

Potty-Mouthed ‘Church’ Loses $11 M

The facts for this comment, but not the legal conclusions, come from an

article carried on the CBS website on 1 November. It is unclear whether the

ACLU was involved in defending the Westboro Baptist Church in this case, but

it is clear from other cases that the ACLU defends the most reprehensible

“speech” like that present here.

A federal jury in Baltimore awarded a total of $10.9 million to Albert

Snyder, father of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder who was killed in Iraq,

against the apparent Church and three of its leaders who demonstrated at his

son’s funeral. The defendants carried signs that said, among other things,

“Thank God for dead soldiers,” and “God hates fags.”

Twenty-two states have passed laws seeking to curtail the activities of this

so-called Church and its members. The Church was founded by Fred Phelps.

His two daughters, Phelps-Roper and Rebekah Phelps-Davis, are active in the

Church and were also found liable. One of them is a lawyer and was active

in the defense of the case.

Fred Phelps said, after the verdict, “”Oh, it will take about five minutes

to get that thing reversed.”

Speaking as a three-decade First Amendment practitioner in the Supreme

Court, this will be a difficult verdict to uphold on appeal. “Freedom of

religion” is a broad right, but it is not absolute, as shown by cases on

medical treatment of children over their parents’ religious objections. “”Freedom

of speech” is also a broad right, but it is also not absolute, as shown by

cases concluding “there is no right to cry fire in a crowded theater.”

Because of interviews I have seen with members of this so-called Church, I

believe this verdict will be upheld. They have stated in public their

intent to hurt other people by the demonstrations they hold, and the

statements they present on their posters at these funerals. And, in order

to appeal, they should be required to post bond. If they do not post bond,

their church building, vehicles and personal property will be taken away,

and the Westboro Baptist Church will disappear.

Like the child pornography case that was argued this week in the Supreme

Court, there are certain cases whose content are so vile that they give a

bad name both to the concept of free speech, and to the lawyers who defend

such cases. The Westboro Baptist Church case goes further, and gives a bad

name to freedom of religion, as well.

Source for original story on the Net:

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/11/01/ap/national/main3439663.shtml