Westboro redux QUESTION

Nuance sucks.

Sometimes, I’m really quite the talented prognosticator. Back in October, I suggested that the Snyder v. Phelps case, involving this so-called religionist protesting at the funerals of American soldiers killed in action would be decided 8-1 or 7-2 in favor of Phelps, and it was 8-1 in Phelps’ favor. Again, I think it was the right decision constitutionally; indeed, if it had gone the other way, one could reasonably complain about the Court making law. Do not, though, confuse my First Amendment backing for the SOBs with any kind of theological support.

In fact, that handful of inbreed charlatans, like the Florida pastor/rube last year who threatened to burn the Koran, represent such a small segment of theological thought that it’s painful to come to their defense in any way. Nuance sucks.

Yet, I’m reminded of a just as repugnant SCOTUS case, involving a band of Nazi sympathizers wanting to march in Skokie, Illinois. The Supreme Court refused to review the lower court ruling allowing the assembly; ultimately, the march did take place, albeit not in Skokie.

So where should government draw the line regarding free expression? I’m particularly interested in the opinions of those living outside of the United States, and thus without First Amendment traditions.
And sometimes, I’m a lousy prognosticator. My NCAA men’s basketball picks were SO awful that I haven’t even checked them since the first weekend. I had Pitt, who lost in the second round, in the finals, which should give you some idea.

Snyder v. Phelps QUESTIONS

The Westboro Baptist Church is a fundamentalist Christian church that contends that God kills soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan as punishment for America’s tolerance of homosexuality and for the presence of gays in the U.S. military. When Fred Phelps and his band came to Albany, NY a couple years ago, protesting across from the high school, for reasons that were unclear to me, I gladly joined the counterdemonstration. “Despicable” is possibly the kindest word I could use for him.

“Albert Snyder’s son, Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, was a U.S. Marine who was killed on March 3, 2006, during active service in Iraq. His body was returned to the United States, and his family held a funeral for him on March 10, 2006, in Westminster, Maryland.

“Westboro Baptist Church pastor and founder Fred Phelps and members of his congregation picketed Matthew’s funeral, holding signs expressing anti-gay, anti-American, and anti-Catholic slogans…”

Fred Phelps

Synder sued Phelps and his church in 2006, and won in 2007, but, on September 24, 2008, “The Fourth Circuit issued an opinion reversing the judgment of the district court and vacating the jury award. The appellate court found the Phelps’ speech (both website and picketing) protected by the First Amendment.”

Now the case is in the US Supreme Court. The question is: Does the First Amendment protect protesters at a funeral from liability for intentionally inflicting emotional distress on the family of the deceased?

So my questions are these:
1. How should the high court rule?
2. How WILL the high court rule?

Frankly, my answer is that the Court may decide this case on very narrow grounds, ducking the greater issue. Making the case for emotional distress – which no doubt Mr. Snyder experienced – did not happen because he saw the protest at the funeral. Phelps was required to stay a distance away, and he complied. The funeral route was altered to avoid the Westboro folks. Mr. Snyder saw the reports of the protest on television only after the fact.

Perhaps it’ll be 4-4 on the broad issue, and that the deciding vote, ruling on the narrow specifics of this case, will end up being a Phelps victory. I’m a big First Amendment fan, but I won’t be celebrating, though I’m afraid it may be the right thing Constitutionally. In fact, this TIME magazine article makes me think it’ll be more like 8-1 or 7-2 in favor of Phelps.

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