(From AOL News) Arizona lawmakers today passed emergency legislation to bar Westboro Baptist Church members from picketing the funerals of the Tucson shooting victims, and outraged residents vowed to protect mourners from any protesters.
The measure, passed unanimously by the House and Senate, would prohibit protests within 300 feet of funeral sites. The bill now goes to Gov. Jan Brewer, who is expected to sign it this evening.
The Westboro Baptist Church has offended common decency at the funeral of a fallen American soldier, Lance Corp. Lance Snyder. Their actions are abhorrent and are a reflection of society that is losing its way. Fred Phelps and his band of brain-washed fanatics (mostly his family members) have made a mockery of the death of a young American who was defending our country on the field of battle.
Now the US Supreme Court will struggle with a dicey case that must consider the founding fathers intent when they wrote the 1st amendment. Their decision will be difficult. At stake is the fundamental right to free speech and what constitutes free speech versus reasonable societal behavior. If they rule that Westboro and their kooks have the right to inflict emotional damage to an individual family during the most heart-rending time of their lives, the door will swing wide open for protests of almost any nature, anywhere, any time. If they rule against Westboro, the door will swing wide open for numberous other suits challenging the ruling. Either way, it is going to be a mess!!!!
Everyone that has commented on this case agrees that the actions of Phelps group were inappropriate and grievous. No other group has come the their defense…..because there is no defense for their actions. However, several motorcycle clubs have come forward to protest the actions of Westboro. Good for them!
Just in case you are not familiar with Phelps, he is an anti-homosexual propagandist who has a website entitled “godhatesfags” and believes that since America does not condemn homosexuality, he uses any opportunity to promote his message of hate.
At the heart of the matter is whether or not Westboro targeted the Snyder family to exploit the goals of their group for gain. Westboro notified the media and the police of their plans. Consequently, riot police were dispatched in case there was violence. Westboro inflicted emotional stress promoting their agenda through exploitation of a solemn private event. They used the funeral of a soldier to express their hateful message. They created a circus atmosphere as a family tried to lay their son to rest.
The Snyders’ sued in lower courts and won an adjusted award against Westboro for $5 million. That verdict was overturned at the circuit court level setting up the appeal to the Supreme Court.
If this was a tort case ( an argument that Westboro has inflicted “intentional emotional distress” on the Snyders), the verdict would probably stand. But, this is not a tort case…it is a “free speech” issue. Hence, the Court must be faithful to the 1st amendment.
I suspect that all of the justices hold the actions of Westboro in the highest contempt. But, they will have a difficult time reversing the lower court. As offensive as this case is, the right to free speech is a fundamental right under the US Constitution.
I suspect the Court will attempt to create a “very narrow” window for a compromise position for this case and find for the Snyders….but, that is the best finding available! Another possibility is for the Court to refer the case back to the circuit for review. The justices’ decision will come during the first half of 2011!