I'm not one to take sides with people I perceive to be religious bigots. But I hold to a higher standard that says that a threat to liberty anywhere is a threat to liberty everywhere. Because of this I have to come out against the recen judgement against the Westboro Baptist Church
Albert Snyder of York, Pennsylvania, sued the Westboro Baptist Church for unspecified damages after members demonstrated at the March 2006 funeral of his son, Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq.
The jury first awarded $2.9 million in compensatory damages. It returned later in the afternoon with its decision to award $6 million in punitive damages for invasion of privacy and $2 million for causing emotional distress.
Umm I am emotionally distressed at the site of door to door missionaries but I don't sue them because their activities, no matter how offensive to me personally is protected behavior. I was emotionally distressed to not once, but twice, offered a Gideon's Bible at my place of employment. But again such activities, no matter how tasteless it is to me, is protected behavior.
While we may not care for the following behavior:
Church members routinely picket funerals of military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, carrying signs such as "Thank God for dead soldiers" and "God hates fags."
A number of states have passed laws regarding funeral protests, and Congress has passed a law prohibiting such protests at federal cemeteries.
But the Maryland lawsuit is believed to be the first filed by the family of a fallen serviceman.
The church and three of its leaders -- the Rev. Fred Phelps and his two daughters, Shirley Phelps-Roper and Rebecca Phelps-Davis, 46 -- were found liable for invasion of privacy and intent to inflict emotional distress.
While we may be inclined to think so, portions of a funeral are not private at all. The procession to the burial grounds occurs on public streets. Anything done on a public street or viewable by the public is not private. Sorry. The outside of a private building, in full view of the public is also not "private." Oh yes, the property is private. You do need to have permission to enter the property but standing outside of private property on what is legally public property with a completely tasteless sign; Totally protected behavior.
Should the church in question appeal this to the supreme court expect them to win. I also think that the laws that were passed by various states and the Congress would also be found unconstitutional. Oh I understand why such laws were passed but they are so out of line in terms of private/public distinctions that they reek of unconstitutionality.
The larger issue here is that if this stands, then anybody can sue anyone else who is standing in a public space holding a sign with something that the object of the sign objects to.
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