U.S. Supreme Court Takes On Westboro Baptist Church Hate Case

WBC_protestJess Bravin reviews the upcoming docket of the U.S. Supreme Court, starting with a case relating to the Westboro Baptist Church, infamous for its “God Hates” placards, for the Wall Street Journal:

Free speech stands front and center in the Supreme Court term beginning next week, in a pair of cases testing the First Amendment’s reach in the digital age.

On Oct. 6, the justices will weigh whether the First Amendment protects a Kansas church’s campaign to publicize its beliefs by picketing military funerals with vulgar placards and insulting fallen soldiers’ survivors in online screeds.

The father of a fallen Marine is seeking damages for emotional distress from the church, which believes that God is killing American soldiers to punish the U.S. for its tolerance of homosexuality.

A month later , the court is to consider whether states can bar minors from buying violent videogames, on the theory that these games cause damage to developing minds and this outweighs young people’s constitutional rights.

Both cases add digital twists to constitutional doctrine. The church’s Internet posting potentially exposes the entire world to its hurtful attack, while the videogame laws single out computer role-playing as uniquely dangerous to children while leaving violent music, films, comic books and other media unrestricted.

The Roberts Court’s record on free-speech cases makes it hard to predict the outcome. It voted 8-1 earlier this year to strike down a federal law that banned depictions of animal cruelty, finding the ban too broad. At the same time, it curtailed First Amendment rights for minors in 2007, ruling that school officials could suppress a student placard that referred to marijuana.

The court has put about 40 cases on its docket for the new term, which runs through June, and is expected to add a similar number in coming months…

[continues in the Wall Street Journal]

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  • Vox Penii

    People who glibly talk about “hate crimes” ignore both the past and the implications for the future in what they are advocating. It took centuries of struggle and people putting their lives on the line to get rid of the idea that a crime against “A” should be treated differently than the same crime committed against “B.”

    After much sacrifice and bloodshed, the principle finally prevailed that killing a peasant deserved the same punishment as killing a baron. Now the “hate crime” advocates want to undo all that and take us back to the days when punishment did not fit the crime, but varied with who the crime was committed against.

    Thomas Sowell

  • Cheshire

    I disagree with what you say, but i will defend, to the death, your right to say it.

    Making martyrs of them only gives them more power and conviction.

  • Cheshire

    I disagree with what you say, but i will defend, to the death, your right to say it.

    Making martyrs of them only gives them more power and conviction.

  • Anonymous

    These people are obviously sick, twisted examples of the worst religion has to offer.

    They do however have every right to think as they will. What they do against others is another thing.
    Picketing funerals? -stay on public property and the profanity of your message “God hates Fags” could be changed to language more appropriate to “God fearing” folks -like “The Lord Disapproves of your Homosexual Wickedness”, or how about on the more positive side: “Baelzabub Loves Homosexuals” or something….. Oh wait, way too much opportunity to mis-spell and look stoopid…..
    They gotta think about their public image. -Amen

  • GoodDoktorBad

    These people are obviously sick, twisted examples of the worst religion has to offer.

    They do however have every right to think as they will. What they do against others is another thing.
    Picketing funerals? -stay on public property and the profanity of your message “God hates Fags” could be changed to language more appropriate to “God fearing” folks -like “The Lord Disapproves of your Homosexual Wickedness”, or how about on the more positive side: “Baelzabub Loves Homosexuals” or something….. Oh wait, way too much opportunity to mis-spell and look stoopid…..
    They gotta think about their public image. -Amen

  • Anonymous

    Fair play. But doesn’t there come a point where someone else’s intrusion on YOUR rights becomes a problem? Aren’t YOU entitled to bury YOUR loved ones without some jackass shouting “FAGG*T” in YOUR face?

    Or maybe you’re cool with surrendering the most solemn moments of your life to some hateful thimblewit. If you say you’re not worthy of a minimum of respect, who am I to tell you otherwise?

  • A Bad Joke

    This is a bit of a boondoggle eh? On the one hand, this crap is out of line. On the other, if we say “No, this is illegal.” what do we do the next time reasonable people don’t like something? Today its this, tomorrow firemen will be burning books.

  • Hadrian999

    this is what thug relatives are for, some of my friends are part of a big Irish catholic family with a fair number of ex-cops firemen and factory rough necks……this would soooo not fly at one of their funerals

  • Anonymous

    Interesting point. Up until now I had only considered the manifest unnecessity for provoking public debate in a cemetary. Sure, it’s been centuries since Mitch McConnell’s seen his own reflection in a mirror, but I understand that crosses have very little effect on him, and there’s no bother at all for him to go to the Capitol Building in broad daylight.

    You reminded me of the long accepted “Can’t-yell-’Fire!’-in-a-crowded-theater” doctrine. So, questions of privacy, decorum and the freedom of expression for the mourners aside, these Westboro folks are just about demanding an *ss-beating.

  • Haystack

    People are worthy of respect, but not legally entitled to it.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    I’m always split when it comes to this stuff. Free speech and expression calls for total commitment…so to hold true to principle (a thing Fred Phelps has never heard of), I feel obliged to defend their right to protest when and wherever they can legally assemble.

    But I do support the right to press a suit against a person who makes a personal and hateful attack on you during a time of grief. If they protested in a more civil fashion, they wouldn’t be at risk of suits like these, and the right to redress grievance is a right to be respected just as much as free speech.

    I hope the court treads a fine line on this and distinguishes carefully between permitting freedom of expression and the right to press suit when harmed by the deliberate actions of others. In essence–”It’s never illegal to protest…but you are liable for the actions you undertake…so at least be marginally respectful.”

    I obviously hope for too much…since the court is presently topheavy with neo-con revisionists with a full time agenda built around eroding individual rights and promoting corporate freedom. I somehow suspect that 5 justices will find a way to fuck both parties, diminishing the freedom of expression while simultaneously diminishing the right to sue.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    I’m always split when it comes to this stuff. Free speech and expression calls for total commitment…so to hold true to principle (a thing Fred Phelps has never heard of), I feel obliged to defend their right to protest when and wherever they can legally assemble.

    But I do support the right to press a suit against a person who makes a personal and hateful attack on you during a time of grief. If they protested in a more civil fashion, they wouldn’t be at risk of suits like these, and the right to redress grievance is a right to be respected just as much as free speech.

    I hope the court treads a fine line on this and distinguishes carefully between permitting freedom of expression and the right to press suit when harmed by the deliberate actions of others. In essence–”It’s never illegal to protest…but you are liable for the actions you undertake…so at least be marginally respectful.”

    I obviously hope for too much…since the court is presently topheavy with neo-con revisionists with a full time agenda built around eroding individual rights and promoting corporate freedom. I somehow suspect that 5 justices will find a way to fuck both parties, diminishing the freedom of expression while simultaneously diminishing the right to sue.

  • Liam_McGonagle

    Fair play. But doesn’t there come a point where someone else’s intrusion on YOUR rights becomes a problem? Aren’t YOU entitled to bury YOUR loved ones without some jackass shouting “FAGG*T” in YOUR face?

    Or maybe you’re cool with surrendering the most solemn moments of your life to some hateful thimblewit. If you say you’re not worthy of a minimum of respect, who am I to tell you otherwise?

  • A Bad Joke

    This is a bit of a boondoggle eh? On the one hand, this crap is out of line. On the other, if we say “No, this is illegal.” what do we do the next time reasonable people don’t like something? Today its this, tomorrow firemen will be burning books.

  • Haystack

    People are worthy of respect, but not legally entitled to it.

  • Hadrian999

    this is what thug relatives are for, some of my friends are part of a big Irish catholic family with a fair number of ex-cops firemen and factory rough necks……this would soooo not fly at one of their funerals

  • Liam_McGonagle

    Interesting point. Up until now I had only considered the manifest unnecessity for provoking public debate in a cemetary. Sure, it’s been centuries since Mitch McConnell’s seen his own reflection in a mirror, but I understand that crosses have very little effect on him, and there’s no bother at all for him to go to the Capitol Building in broad daylight.

    You reminded me of the long accepted “Can’t-yell-’Fire!’-in-a-crowded-theater” doctrine. So, questions of privacy, decorum and the freedom of expression for the mourners aside, these Westboro folks are just about demanding an *ss-beating.

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