News / USA

Supreme Court Considers Major Free Speech Case

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church picket in front of the Supreme Court in Washington,  06 Oct 2010
Members of the Westboro Baptist Church picket in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, 06 Oct 2010

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard oral arguments in a case that touches on a central dilemma of American democracy; is it ever justified to place limits on freedom of speech?  The case involves members of a small church from Kansas who stage anti-gay protests at the funerals of U.S. soldiers and Marines killed in the line of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.  

At issue is the right of members of the small Westboro Baptist church in Topeka, Kansas, to stage protests at military funerals.

Their message is simple, but highly offensive to many Americans, especially the families of service members who have died in the line of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Margie Phelps argued the church's case before the Supreme Court.  She is the daughter of the church leader, Reverend Fred Phelps.  Their view is that God wants U.S. soldiers to die in battle because Americans have become too tolerant of homosexuality.



Margie Phelps spoke to reporters outside the Supreme Court following the oral arguments.

"God is cursing America," said Phelps. "It is a curse for your young men and women to be coming home in body bags, and if you want that to stop, stop sinning."

The church has about 70 members and is mostly made up of blood relatives.  Church members carry signs at the funeral protests with messages that include "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and "God Hates the USA".  Court documents say the group has protested at some 200 military funerals.

Margie Phelps says the activities are protected by the freedom of speech guarantees enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

"The rule of law is that the mere fact that you take offense at words or call yourself having your feelings hurt over words is not enough to shut up the speech," she said.

Pressed by reporters outside the court to address the hurt feelings of the families at the funerals, Margie Phelps and her sister, Shirley Phelps-Roper, broke into song.

On the other side of the case is Albert Snyder whose son Matt was a Marine killed in Iraq in 2006.  Snyder says church protesters disrupted his son's funeral in Maryland and denied his family the chance to bury his son in peace.

"Our son, a hero, dead, only to be compounded by the family being targeted and subject to personal attacks, venomous hate and injustice at Matt's funeral," said Snyder. "It is something no family should have to live through."

Snyder sued the Westboro church for intentional infliction of emotional distress and was awarded $11 million in damages, an amount later reduced to $5 million.  But an appeals court overturned that judgment, ruling the church protests were permissible under the free speech provisions of the Constitution.

Al Snyder told reporters outside the Supreme Court that church members had no right to interrupt a private funeral with their protest.

"All we wanted to do was bury Matt with dignity and respect," he said. "There is a civilized way to express an opinion in America, but it does not involve intentionally inflicting emotional distress on others and intentionally harming a private citizen at a private funeral.  It is not the constitutional right."

Snyder is supported by officials in 48 states and a bipartisan group of more than 40 U.S. senators.

But the Westboro church is supported by numerous media organizations and free speech advocates who fear a ruling in the case could set a precedent for restrictions on freedom of expression.  A decision in the case is not expected for several months.

You May Like

Scotland Vote Raises Questions of International Law

Experts say self-determination, as defined and protected by international law, confined narrowly to independence movements in process of de-colonization More

Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Annual Military Exercise Takes on New Meaning for Ukraine Troops

Troops from 15 nations participating in annual event, 'Rapid Trident' in western Ukraine More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid