Join 3,382 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


God loves bankrupting bigoted idiots
October 31, 2007 4:58 PM   Subscribe

Everybody's favorite hate mongering church just got hit with an $11 million fine by a jury that found they had invaded a family's privacy and inflicted emotional distress when they picketed a Marine's funeral.

Previously 1 2 3
posted by brevator (113 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm still not convinced they aren't just an elaborate performance art project.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:03 PM on October 31, 2007


HOORAY!!!!

God loves fags!
posted by perilous at 5:08 PM on October 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


A living Marine should accidentally mow their protest down in a big tank.
posted by fire&wings at 5:10 PM on October 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


Coming Soon:

God Hates The Maryland Court System
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:21 PM on October 31, 2007 [8 favorites]


Nelson: Ha ha!
posted by ericb at 5:24 PM on October 31, 2007


just remember that if they can be sued successfully for their protests, other much less extreme people might be sued for theirs

do you want to see anti-war protesters sued by veterans for infliction of emotional distress?
posted by pyramid termite at 5:24 PM on October 31, 2007 [10 favorites]


Agreed, fire&wings. If no Marine and tank are available, then some ex-cons in a discarded police car might be able to do the trick.
posted by ibmcginty at 5:25 PM on October 31, 2007


just remember that if they can be sued successfully for their protests, other much less extreme people might be sued for theirs
do you want to see anti-war protesters sued by veterans for infliction of emotional distress?


Bingo. I don't like this much, no I don't. Being an asshole is assholish and reprehensible, but it's not against the law.
posted by languagehat at 5:27 PM on October 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


I see your point, pt, but this was based on invasion of privacy at a funeral. I don't think anti-war protesters do that.

Weird that Phelps's daughters both have hyphenated last names. I would have thought they'd reject that as anti-family feminazism. I guess the "Phelps" brand is just too good a thing to let go, even though it's the traditional thing to do for married heterosexual women.
posted by ibmcginty at 5:29 PM on October 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


Pyramid termite, excellent point, however I believe you fail to take into account that they're wrong and we're right.
posted by brevator at 5:30 PM on October 31, 2007 [7 favorites]


Fabulous!
posted by 23skidoo at 5:30 PM on October 31, 2007


...but this was based on invasion of privacy at a funeral.

I fear that 'invasion of privacy' is something that will crop up more and more, though, as an argument in court cases against free speech.

A case like this is a tough one, though. I basically come down on pt and languagehat's side in this, but I wonder if a line can't somehow be safely drawn at hate speech. I know, I know, slippery slope and all, but still...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:35 PM on October 31, 2007


"Attorneys for the church said in closing arguments Tuesday that the burial was a public event and that even abhorrent points of view are protected by the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech and religion."

Are they right that military funerals are public events?
posted by Richard Daly at 5:35 PM on October 31, 2007


God indeed hates fags
posted by growabrain at 5:35 PM on October 31, 2007


"Even the size of the award for compensating damages alone 'far exceeds the net worth of the defendants,' according to financial statements filed with the court, U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett noted."*

Brings to mind the lawsuit that brought down white supremacist group, Aryan Nations, and its leader, Richard Butler.

In September 2000, a jury awarded a $6.3 million verdict against the Aryan Nations and Butler, forcing them to turn over a 20-acre compound to plantiffs -- who, in turn, donated the land to a local college.
posted by ericb at 5:37 PM on October 31, 2007


posted by brevator Pyramid termite, excellent point, however I believe you fail to take into account that they're wrong and we're right.

Says you. This isn't about "right and wrong"; it's about the freedom to say whatever you want wherever you want to say it. As someone wise once said, "The First Amendment doesn't protect speech you like; the First Amendment protects speech you hate."
posted by fandango_matt at 5:39 PM on October 31, 2007 [3 favorites]


Holy crap- this is bad news for free speech. I hate these guys as much as everyone, but there's no way that their asinine protest inflicted $11 million worth of invasion of privacy and emotional distress. This judgment is a move to put them in hock for the rest of their lives and shut them up.

I mean, even if you think these guys crossed the line, it was like a $40,000 or $500K line, tops. Maybe if they pulled the corpse out and defiled it in front of the family $11 million would be reasonable. But for picketing and yelling?
posted by Challahtronix at 5:41 PM on October 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


Well, anyway, I don't think god hates Fugs.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:43 PM on October 31, 2007


These people are reprehensible and deserve it. But speech in a public arena deserves to be protected, barring the usual "fire in a theater" exceptions. I hope cooler prevail and these bigots win their appeal, for all our sake.
posted by JayG at 5:44 PM on October 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the civics lesson fandango_matt, but it was just a joke.
posted by brevator at 5:45 PM on October 31, 2007


*cooler heads prevail
posted by JayG at 5:47 PM on October 31, 2007


How was privacy invaded? Did they enter the funeral home?

Are funerals generally not open to the public in the first place? They're certainly publicly advertised.

How far away from the funeral home would they have to be in order for privacy not to be invaded? Would it be invaded if their protest was on an internet forum instead of a sidewalk?

Whose privacy was invaded? How closely do I have to be related to the deceased in order for my privacy to have been invaded?

Being an asshole is not equivalent to invading privacy. Even if, as in the case of Phelps and his ilk, you are an asshole of metaphysically transcendent proportion.

And if you don't stand up for the free speech of people that you disagree with, you don't stand up for free speech at all.
posted by Flunkie at 5:48 PM on October 31, 2007 [10 favorites]


"Well, anyway, I don't think god hates Fugs."

Obviously He hates pugs, or He wouldn't have smashed their faces with His boot.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:48 PM on October 31, 2007 [9 favorites]


I read somewhere that several of the top people in that group are actually lawyers. The thing I read speculated that their real goal with those demonstrations was to try to make someone angry enough to throw a punch at one or more members of the group, after which the group would bring civil suits.

In other words, they were really doing it in hopes of making a lot of money.

If that's true (and I don't have any idea whether it is) then today's result is extremely cool, and deeply ironic.

I do not find this judgment to represent a serious threat to free expression. (When it comes to that kind of thing, I'm a lot more worried about campus speech codes.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:55 PM on October 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


yeah, it really is a conundrum. On one hand they are pretty reprehensible, but it is this type of ruling that allows for "freedom of speech zones"
posted by edgeways at 5:56 PM on October 31, 2007


See, here's where I'm at a cross-roads. I'm all for free speech, but I'm also ardently anti-asshole at funerals. I live in fear that these people would show up at a funeral I was conducting, because--although I would be able to laugh them off, I'm absolutely certain that my other family members and my employees would have no problem trying to shut these people up physically. And then the lawsuits and whatnot.

My dad, for certain, would bitchslap anyone who held a poster in his face and screamed at him, calling him a fag or suggesting that all Americans were going to burn in hell for their sodomite ways. He wouldn't hesitate. Dad's just like that.
posted by ColdChef at 5:57 PM on October 31, 2007


I bet the jury in Baltimore had a fair mix of minorities, people who know first hand what racism and persecution is all about. This ain't Kansas. If they want a fight they got it. They should have stuck to their softy mid-west towns and stayed away from the Coasts.
posted by stbalbach at 5:59 PM on October 31, 2007


By the way, I strongly suggest reading "Addicted to Hate". It's an inside look at the Phelps clan, and if haven't read it but still thought that they're immensely fucked up assholes, you don't know the half of it.

I thought that they were immensely fucked up assholes. And yet I was still shocked, upon reading it, by exactly how immense their fucked-up-assholiness is.
posted by Flunkie at 5:59 PM on October 31, 2007 [4 favorites]


The God of the Bible wants all gays to be stoned to death. He didn't protect Phelps because He considers him to be a peace-loving hippy.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 6:00 PM on October 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


I'm all for free speech, but I'm also ardently anti-asshole at funerals.
You're not going to find a great many people outside of Phelps' clan who are not "anti-asshole at funerals". So that's not a very strong statement.

The fact that you're using it to qualify your earlier claim that you're "all for free speech" makes me think that, no offense, you're not.
posted by Flunkie at 6:02 PM on October 31, 2007


You're not going to find a great many people outside of Phelps' clan who are not "anti-asshole at funerals".

You couldn't be more wrong, unfortunately.
posted by ColdChef at 6:05 PM on October 31, 2007


We had a problem not unlike this in my state. Anti-abortion guy would parade up and down in front of clinic and taunt the ladies going in and out etc. Finally the courts gave a perimeter where they had to stay far enough away so as not to intrude etc but still allowing for free speech. It is the in-your-face thing that got moved some distance. A funeral is a private event. A wedding is a private event. That something takes place outdoors does not make it a public event. If all outdoor events are open to the public, then we ought to be allowed free and open access to ball games and concerts so we can voice our freed speech. If we take a hint from this then we can issue invites to funerals and toss anyone without an invite out of the area.
posted by Postroad at 6:09 PM on October 31, 2007


"It will take the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals a few minutes to reverse this silly thing," Phelps said.

I'm pretty sure he's right about this.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:11 PM on October 31, 2007


The First Amendment is only the beginning of the analysis, not the end of it.

Many freedoms are curtailed when their reckless or malicious exercise intrudes on someone else's well-being. We are free to come and go as we please, but we may not trespass. We are free to pursue such gainful employment as suits us, but we may not be professional assassins. We are free to raise our children as we see fit, but we may not sell them into slavery. There are many more examples.

The mere fact that the Phelps were engaged, at least partly, in a speech act will not alone immunize them from legal consequences.

We are free to communicate what we will, but we may not torture someone to make a point. With what can only be described as calculated malice, the Phelps attacked these people at their most vulnerable. They aren't be punished for their speech; they're being punished for engaging in outrageous conduct truly beyond the bounds of human decency. They are being punished for trying their very best to hurt someone.

Don't worry, your dredlocked protesters and smut magazines are safe.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 6:11 PM on October 31, 2007 [15 favorites]


A funeral is a private event.
I have never been invited to a funeral. I have never been checked for an invite at the door when I attended a funeral. And I certainly have never been checked for an invite when I was on the public sidewalk in front of a funeral home.
If all outdoor events are open to the public, then we ought to be allowed free and open access to ball games and concerts so we can voice our freed speech.
Wrigley Field is private property. The sidewalk in front of it is not.
posted by Flunkie at 6:14 PM on October 31, 2007


Maybe the Phelps clan would give this shit up if ten thousand cameras and bloggers didn't happily eat it up every time they do something.
posted by Legomancer at 6:15 PM on October 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


As far as I know, these revolting loony fuckheads protest mainly at interments rather than funerals, and I think (but I may be wrong) that this particular burial was at a federal cemetery, a public place. Interments are often private: the funeral service itself is held indoors at a funeral home and is open to anyone but the burial part is sometimes by invitation only for the immediate family or whoever. So that raises the interesting question of whether one can have an expectation of privacy on public land.

When the jerks protest at burials in private cemeteries, they stand outside the gates and just shriek their hateful heads off, don't they?

Anyhow, yelling cruel, vicious things at grieving families is detestable, but it shouldn't be actionable, so I do hope the ratbastards win their appeal. And a small, petty part of me hopes that right after that, each one of them is flattened by a piano inadvertently dropped from a great height. . . . ok, not a real piano, a cartoon piano.
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:16 PM on October 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


Btw, you esquireses out there, what standards does speech/behavior generally have to meet to qualify as harassment?
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:20 PM on October 31, 2007


I feel sure this will be overturned, but I felt the same way about Bong Hits 4 Jesus.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 6:21 PM on October 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm honestly surprised that everyone seems to be arguing a strictly property rights based approach to privacy.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 6:21 PM on October 31, 2007 [6 favorites]


Invititations will be sent to my private funeral.
posted by wv kay in ga at 6:25 PM on October 31, 2007


I'm honestly surprised that everyone seems to be arguing a strictly property rights based approach to privacy.
Again, whose privacy was invaded, how was it invaded, and how far away would the Phelps clan have to have been in order not to invade privacy by spewing their venom?
posted by Flunkie at 6:26 PM on October 31, 2007


I've been sort of hoping, since they started this nonsense of protesting at military funerals, that some grief-stricken Marine buddy of the deceased would lose his shit and punch them out. Whatever the charges against him, the jury would nullify.

As much as I want to go "woo hoo!", though, this is not a great decision. It might even be a bad one.

The Patriot Guard Riders is a motorcycle group (mostly vets, I think) that provides escorts for funeral processions targeted by Phelps folk.
posted by rtha at 6:26 PM on October 31, 2007


FoS only really works when people like Phelps are allowed to be their own worst enemy. The more people hear him speak his message and see his tactics, the less powerful he becomes.
posted by klarck at 6:29 PM on October 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


The Patriot Guard Riders is a motorcycle group (mostly vets, I think) that provides escorts for funeral processions targeted by Phelps folk.
I know that they do so for funerals of service men and women. I have wondered about whether they also do so for the other funerals that Phelps pickets?
posted by Flunkie at 6:31 PM on October 31, 2007


I'm honestly surprised that everyone seems to be arguing a strictly property rights based approach to privacy.

I don't know about everyone else, but I'm less arguing something than being perplexed about it. I mean if we're talking about the right to do what you're doing without interference, the right to be left alone, the right to inviolate personal space? -- well, ok, but why then is it legal for a cop to stand directly next to you in a restaurant and eavesdrop and record your conversation without a warrant? The rationale is that since you are voluntarily talking in a place where people might hear you and you hear them, you have no expectation of privacy. So what would be the version of that in the other direction -- fair expectation of privacy in terms not of what people may take from you but inflict upon you in public places?

Characterizing the alleged offense as harassment rather than invasion of privacy just seems more sensible to me, but that's pure layperson hoo-hah.
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:32 PM on October 31, 2007


Again, whose privacy was invaded, how was it invaded, and how far away would the Phelps clan have to have been in order not to invade privacy by spewing their venom?

I'm honestly not sure. I think the emotion distress claim was the stronger of the two, but I am surprised that people think it's dispositive that the funeral occurred on public ground.

To take a crack at it, though, the privacy of the people attending the funeral was invaded, particular those closest to the deceased. It was invaded by the Phelps' intrusive disruption into what is almost universally acknowledged as a most intensely vulnerable and personal of moments. The invasion was actionable because it served no purpose beyond emotionally injuring the attendees, to the anticipated profit of the Phelps.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 6:35 PM on October 31, 2007


The rationale is that since you are voluntarily talking in a place where people might hear you and you hear them, you have no expectation of privacy.

Well, I don't think we're talking about a "knowledge of facts" sort of privacy. The fact of the funeral was public knowledge, yes, but I think the invasion of privacy was in the intrusion and disruption of a highly personal ritual/ceremony/whatever.

For what it's worth, I think calling it "privacy" invasion is also a bit weird, but Maryland may have liberal pleading rules and the plaintiffs knew they had actionable facts, so why not throw out as many actions as you can and see if any stick.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 6:39 PM on October 31, 2007


AFAIK it wasn't just about the protests itself, the Phelpses also defamed the plaintiff's family by posting untrue things about them on godhatesfags.com.

Image here of the relevant paragraph from some court documents (unfortunately its not a text-PDF so I can't cut and paste).
posted by mrbill at 6:45 PM on October 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


I have wondered about whether they also do so for the other funerals that Phelps pickets?

From their website (terrible design! c'mon, guys!), it looks like just funerals of vets. Might not hurt to ask, though, or maybe to ask for advice about forming a similar group for funerals of non-veterans targeted by the Phelps clan. I get the feeling that Phelps has been pretty much concentrating on vets, these days, though.
posted by rtha at 6:46 PM on October 31, 2007


To take a crack at it, though, the privacy of the people attending the funeral was invaded, particular those closest to the deceased. It was invaded by the Phelps' intrusive disruption into what is almost universally acknowledged as a most intensely vulnerable and personal of moments. The invasion was actionable because it served no purpose beyond emotionally injuring the attendees, to the anticipated profit of the Phelps.
First of all, you're describing harassment, not invasion of privacy (as, I realize, you hinted in your first paragraph).

Second, Phelps would argue that it served a purpose, and (he would say) a very valuable one at that: To let America know that God hates America because God hates fags and America coddles them. This is not merely "he has the freedom to be a jerk" (although he does). Political and religious speech should be protected with complete sacrosanctity.

Third, I honestly don't know whether they actually do profit off of this crap, but even if they do, I'm unsure how that relates even remotely to the idea that privacy has been invaded.
posted by Flunkie at 6:49 PM on October 31, 2007


Well, you have a very narrow conception of privacy. I'm not sure it's accurate, since, for example, abortion rights are protected under the right to privacy. That doesn't fit very well into the "secret facts" rubric.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 6:51 PM on October 31, 2007


I get the feeling that Phelps has been pretty much concentrating on vets, these days, though.
Possibly, but definitely not solely. Here's an article about them protesting a memorial service for the people who died in the Minnesota bridge collapse.
posted by Flunkie at 6:53 PM on October 31, 2007


Also, the First Amendment bar is a bit easier to clear when the speech isn't being attacked for its content. If Phelps was yelling "god loves fags" into a funeral, he'd still quite likely have a problem.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 6:53 PM on October 31, 2007


Of course funerals are private events. Yeah, duh, no one checks your ticket at the door to the funeral because usually a bunch of lunatics don't show up trying to break in. But the funeral and internment are private events.

It gets more complicated if it's a military funeral in a military (and therefore mostly public) cemetery. I don't understand what happens there, but I'm just guessing that argument was well explored in the decision.

Free speech in the US has constraints. I don't think it's unreasonable to place a constraint on free speech at funerals.
posted by Nelson at 6:54 PM on October 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


mrbill's link says:
"On one of the websites, www.godhatesfags.com, the Defendents posted specific comments that Plaintiff and his wife "raised [Matthew] from the devil," "RIPPED that body apart and taught Matthew to defy his Creator, to divorce, and to commit adultery," "taught him how to support the largest pedophile machine in the history of the entire world, the Roman Catholic monstrosity," and "taught Matthew to be an idolator."
posted by brevator at 6:55 PM on October 31, 2007


A lot of people don't understand the constitutional difference between civil law and criminal law.

For instance, the Fifth Amendment says that no one can be forced to testify against himself in a criminal trial. A lot of people are not aware that this provision doesn't apply in civil trials, and that you can be forced to testify against yourself in a civil suit.

Likewise the First Amendment. "Congress shall make no law... infringing freedom of speech, or of the press..."

Yet defamation and libel law clearly infringes those things, in a sense. Or so it might seem. Yet long legal precedent has found that such civil actions are not intrinsically a violation of the First Amendment.

Libel law in the US is strongly circumscribed by First Amendment presumptions, but libel law as such is not unconstitutional. Nor is civil law regarding plagiarism. If you steal something I write, and publish it as your own, and I sue you, that does not infringe your rights under the First Amendment. Equally, if you defame me in print, and I prove it in court and gain a judgment against you, that doesn't infringe your First Amendment rights.

So it is in this case. Laws criminalizing the kind of behavior the Phelps clan have engaged in are troublesome. Civil actions against them are not IMHO. We need to be careful that these kinds of suits don't expand beyond all reason and shut down expression of unpopular opinions, but we don't have to react to that by going all the way the other direction end preventing such civil actions entirely.

There's a place for libel law; it serves a legitimate purpose, as long as enough controls are placed on it so that it doesn't shut down the "marketplace of ideas". Equally, I think there's a place for civil actions like this one. I don't see this as being a step on a slippery slope.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:59 PM on October 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


Perhaps the Phelps' free speech rights end where the mourner's free practice of religion rights begin, bolstered by privacy concerns?
posted by vrakatar at 7:02 PM on October 31, 2007


Mine as well have fined them 10 katrillionillionbillion dollars, because I doubt they'll be able to cough up anywhere near the amount fined.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:03 PM on October 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


Well, you have a very narrow conception of privacy.
Huh? How so? Because I don't think being a jerk to someone is the same thing as invading their privacy?
abortion rights are protected under the right to privacy
That prevents the government from disallowing abortions. It doesn't prevent people from picketing abortion clinics. Not even when they do so loudly and with extreme vitriol.

I am aware that there are laws in various states to prevent picketers from getting in the face of people who are walking into abortion clinics, but I'm unaware of any that prevent them from being nearby, visible, loud, and venomous, specifically and clearly towards the women who are going into the clinic. That hardly seems like a protection of "privacy".
posted by Flunkie at 7:04 PM on October 31, 2007


Possibly, but definitely not solely. Here's an article about them protesting a memorial service for the people who died in the Minnesota bridge collapse.

Christ, what an asshole. I don't even believe in hell, but that's where these jerks are going.
posted by rtha at 7:14 PM on October 31, 2007


Huh? How so? Because I don't think being a jerk to someone is the same thing as invading their privacy?

Obviously being a jerk isn't an invasion of privacy, per se. Nobody is saying it is. I don't really understand your remark.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 7:17 PM on October 31, 2007


Clearly, God hates Fred Phelps.

Well, actually, no. God probably loves even that loser, but boy will he have an interesting conversation come judgment day.....
posted by caddis at 7:25 PM on October 31, 2007


The next step, of course, is to ask if it's also an invasion of privacy and a source of emotional distress if someone drops in unannounced at a middle-class guy's workplace and stakes out his home because s/he doesn't believe his kids should have state-subsidized health insurance.
posted by brownpau at 7:35 PM on October 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


There's a place for libel law

yes, it's for discussions of cases where people were actually sued for libel - they weren't in this case, although i wonder if they should have been

---------

Don't worry, your dredlocked protesters and smut magazines are safe.

mpdsea, you've proven yourself more contrarian than conservative with your statements here - you, and steven c dan beste often stick up for the "conservative" side of things - but when you are willing to condone the heavy fining of speech because you think it is offensive and brutish, you have ceased to be real conservatives

but you and many of the other bushies never were - which is why i find this whole movement despicable - not because it's conservative - but because it's not
posted by pyramid termite at 7:39 PM on October 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


I don't know about that, but I plan to have my attorney, a notary public and a professional videographer present next July 4 when my various neighbors set off what honestly sounds like a series of full-on artillery barrages, scaring the piss out of at least one of my dogs, which upsets me greatly.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:40 PM on October 31, 2007


Pyramid Termite, I've never claimed to be conservative. I accept that label because others feel comfortable using it for me.

But I favor legal gay marriage, legal gay adoption, legalization of marijuana, and legalization of prostitution. Those are not exactly positions held by the stereotypical paleocon.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 7:50 PM on October 31, 2007


Oh. Sorry, brevator.
posted by fandango_matt at 7:53 PM on October 31, 2007


I've never claimed to be conservative. I accept that label because others feel comfortable using it for me.

ah, you're from the passive/aggressive school of conservatism then - i should have known
posted by pyramid termite at 7:53 PM on October 31, 2007


That will be an interesting meeting, when the ACLU calls Fred Phelps about helping him with his appeal.
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:54 PM on October 31, 2007 [5 favorites]


Who is funding the Westboro Baptist Church? How do these people get the money to run their organization?
posted by fandango_matt at 7:59 PM on October 31, 2007


but you and many of the other bushies never were - which is why i find this whole movement despicable - not because it's conservative - but because it's not

So you're criticizing me for not being a conservative, even though I have never claimed to be a conservative and don't promote conservative views basically ever?

That's a strange thing to complain about.

Anyway, I'm not a conservative.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 8:00 PM on October 31, 2007


BTW, brevator, your post title's "bigoted idiots" is a nice pairing of words, soundwise. Say it fast, over and over:

bigotedidiotsbigotedidiotsbigotedidiotsbigotedidiotsbigotedidiots!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:02 PM on October 31, 2007


Who is funding the Westboro Baptist Church? How do these people get the money to run their organization?

Apparently, by winning judgments against folks who wrongfully prevented them from protesting. Nice work if you can get it.
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:08 PM on October 31, 2007


You couldn't be more wrong, unfortunately.

ColdChef, could you elaborate on this? I've never heard of anybody but Phelps deploying this particular (loathsome) tactic, but obviously you would know if anyone does.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:12 PM on October 31, 2007


True enough, bad legal precedent, getting this sort of punishment for protesting. On the other hand Phelps and his posse are deranged assholes that probably have this sort of thing coming. They fucked with karma one too many times.
posted by dougzilla at 8:13 PM on October 31, 2007


Who is funding the Westboro Baptist Church? How do these people get the money to run their organization?

Ever seen Night of the Hunter?
posted by felix betachat at 8:14 PM on October 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


I imagine the bigger problem is not protesting but just general deplorable behavior, in which the living think they are proving something to the dead by continuing to be the assholes towards them that they were in life, or alternatively feel emboldened by death to be the assholes toward the dead that they always wanted to be.
posted by yhbc at 8:17 PM on October 31, 2007


On non-preview, my response was to Horace Rumpole's question to ColdChef.
posted by yhbc at 8:17 PM on October 31, 2007


"By the way, I strongly suggest reading "Addicted to Hate". It's an inside look at the Phelps clan, and if haven't read it but still thought that they're immensely fucked up assholes, you don't know the half of it."

I read some of it....let's just say it starts with the good Reverend stangling a kitten as a teenager....big fun....
posted by The Light Fantastic at 8:35 PM on October 31, 2007


Fuck Fred Phelps and his Westboro Church's 'God Hates Fags!'

God Hates Shrimp!
posted by ericb at 8:35 PM on October 31, 2007


I imagine the bigger problem is not protesting but just general deplorable behavior, in which the living think they are proving something to the dead by continuing to be the assholes towards them that they were in life, or alternatively feel emboldened by death to be the assholes toward the dead that they always wanted to be.

Exactly. There is unfortunately no shortage of people who believe that their sole purpose is to fuck with other people in their most vulnerable time and funerals are their opportunity to air grievances, both real and imaginary. Screaming is not unusual at funerals. Fist fights are rare but not unheard of.

I've even conducted a service where the daughter of the deceased decided that right in the middle of the service was the best time to tell everyone that her father had molested her. (And while I certainly sympathize with her pain... it seemed like an exercise in hurting her mother, rather than healing herself--but that's a guess).

Tragedy, grief, and an anti-social attitude are a volatile combination, and when you throw alcohol and other mood-elevators into the mix the results are usually Drama with a capital D.

Don't get me wrong: death does not turn an asshole into a saint, but literal grave-pissing doesn't help anyone. There are times for all things. I'd just prefer if people didn't feel the need to deck that sumbitch no-count cousin in my building.
posted by ColdChef at 8:41 PM on October 31, 2007


Lest we forget that Phelps and his clan are also against the Swedes.
"The suffering of 'filthy, faggot Swedes' in the South East Asia disaster [the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami] was punishment from God for Sweden’s tolerant attitude toward homosexuality."
And, against the Irish. Not to mention, the Jews.

An 'equal opportunity hate' group!
posted by ericb at 8:44 PM on October 31, 2007


(I will admit, though, there is a tiny little black part of my heart that loves Fred Phelps, because his vehement hatred of homosexuals could, quite possibly, make someone reconsider their anti-gay beliefs, lest they side with Crazy McSatan'sDick)
posted by ColdChef at 8:44 PM on October 31, 2007


ericb: God does not hate shrimp, he loves them, and so provided for a bit of protection.

There is a simple solution to the Phelps clan's financial troubles due to this settlement. They'll just have to sell some daughters to raise the cash.

I understand the difference between civil and criminal law. However, at what point can one claim that civil proceedings are being used to circumvent criminal court restrictions, and ultimately violate constitutional guarantees? Is there a background of case law which addresses this boundary?

I don't like these people, and would sing praises to the Lord if they were all struck dead in a lightening storm or meteor strike (on their church) or something. But I'm not entirely comfortable with this outcome, for reasons others have stated.
posted by Goofyy at 9:41 PM on October 31, 2007


Obviously being a jerk isn't an invasion of privacy, per se. Nobody is saying it is. I don't really understand your remark.
I think that picketing someone's funeral is (an extreme case of) being a jerk. Do you not?
posted by Flunkie at 10:04 PM on October 31, 2007


I think that picketing someone's funeral is (an extreme case of) being a jerk. Do you not?

I'm sorry, but you've completely lost me. Of course picketing someone's funeral is being a jerk. If it's an invasion of privacy, though, it's not merely because it's jerk-like.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 10:18 PM on October 31, 2007


I'm sorry, but you've completely lost me. Of course picketing someone's funeral is being a jerk. If it's an invasion of privacy, though, it's not merely because it's jerk-like.
Which, like the rest of what you've said, doesn't make it an invasion of privacy.
posted by Flunkie at 10:30 PM on October 31, 2007


This really isn't a blow against free speech. No law has been created, nor even a precedence towards making law. It was a civil case. The damages were proven, and the reward for those damages set.

If people at an anti-war rally upset veterans in such a way that they were making vicious hate-filled commentaries directly *to* the veterans, and it was such that it not merely upset the vets but damaged them psychologically, then *yes* they could have a case.

Liken it to physical violence. If they had physically hurt someone then could that person sue? Would that be a blow against free speech?

The Phelps have not had any of their rights removed by this case. They've been punished financially for hurting someone, abusing their rights, and interfering with the rights of others.

I for one hope (and believe) it will stick on appeal.
posted by vertigo25 at 10:59 PM on October 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


ha, ha ha ha. ha ha. hahahaha!

sure, i'm worried about the restriction of the right to protest, but I think this suit has been argued with "emotional damages" in mind which is hardly transferable to, say, WTO protests (these lefties are hurting my feelings, ban them!)

a truly american feat of justice. i look forward to a follow-up documentary as they all work menial jobs for the rest of their lives to pay it off. i'm sure that'll do wonders for their saviour complex.
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 4:01 AM on November 1, 2007


OK, you don't believe it was an invasion of privacy. I do, and the court did.

I've tried to explain to you why I think it is, but all you've said is "nuh uh." Do you care to tell me what privacy is to you?
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 5:58 AM on November 1, 2007


I've tried to explain to you why I think it is
No you didn't. You said you're "honestly not sure" why it's an invasion of privacy, and that the emotional distress claim was stronger, but that you'd "take a crack" at answering why it might be an invasion of privacy.

In that "crack" at a hypothetical that you didn't even purport to believe (until now), you answered with things like "it served no purpose beyond emotionally injuring the attendees", which:
  1. Is not true (from Phelps' point of view).
  2. Really sounds like you're describing "emotional distress", which, again, you had said was the stronger claim.
You went on to note that it was done "to the anticipated profit of the Phelps". Which, if even true, doesn't seem to have anything to do with "privacy".

When pressed on these points, you essentially didn't respond. Instead, you merely said that I have "a very narrow conception of privacy", and noted that abortion rights are covered under "privacy".

I responded that this means that the government isn't allowed to outlaw abortions because your medical decisions are your business, not the government's. It does not mean that you can walk into an abortion clinic without virulent assholes seeing who you are and shouting abhorrent things at you, which, unlike "your medical decisions are not the government's business", is actually akin to the situation that we're discussing.

When this was pointed out, you again, essentially, didn't respond, except to say multiple times that you have no idea what I'm talking about.

Finally, you come back this morning with the new revelation that you do think it was an invasion of privacy, and claim that all I've said in response is "nuh uh".

You ask what privacy is to me. I think that privacy is invaded when a peeping tom looks in someone's windows. When a parent reads a child's diary. When a cop pulls a guy over and, with the apparent mantle of both law and power, asks where he's coming from and where he's going to. When the Phelps (hypothetically) start entering funeral homes rather than standing on nearby public sidewalks. And lots of other situations.

But not shouting hurtful things. There are lots of phrases for that, some of which you've explicitly said better describe this situation, and "invasion of privacy" doesn't seem to be one of them.

Please don't expect another post from me on this matter.
posted by Flunkie at 6:30 AM on November 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


After reading "addicted to hate" I have to ask: why is Fred Phelps walking around a free man?
posted by sevenyearlurk at 6:39 AM on November 1, 2007


<nelson muntz>Ha ha!</nelson muntz>
posted by lodev at 6:40 AM on November 1, 2007


I hate when people who don't understand law or the constitution chime in with knee-jerklibertarian concerns in obvious contradiction with common sense. Too often, smart people take the few principles they've been able to cobble together and try to understand the whole world through that tiny lens.

From what I've read, this award will likely be reduced by the 4th Circuit in order to keep it from being financially catastrophic, but it won't be overturned. Emotional damage was done, it was done in a setting where the Snyder family had a reasonable expectation of privacy and decorum, and it was done with regard to the character and reputation of a private citizen, not a public figure.

Free speech is not a blank check. Read a 1st Amendment textbook sometime: you don't have to be a law student to borrow one from the library, you know?
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:41 AM on November 1, 2007 [3 favorites]


This really isn't a blow against free speech. No law has been created, nor even a precedence towards making law. It was a civil case. The damages were proven, and the reward for those damages set.

You must be kidding. "The damages were proven" = "the jury was convinced that these were such hateful assholes they should be punished severely"; if you think that kind of twisting of the law to punish unpopular opinions/behavior is only going to be turned against opinions you disagree with, you're a fool.

A Man for All Seasons is always in season:
And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!
posted by languagehat at 6:44 AM on November 1, 2007 [3 favorites]



For the justice aspect, this will be appealed and reserved if:
1 - it took place on public land
2 - military services are open to the public
3 - 11.5 million is too absurd of an amount for name calling. Was that much damage caused? I know it feels great to have this happen to such arseholes but think about it. This is setting a court ruling that others can use against other protesters. It starts with idiots like this and could end with a simple peaceful protest costing 11.5 million dollars. They should reverse this decision immediately. I do not like the fact that if I and a group of friends were to go somewhere and say something that would offend someone they can come back and sue me for a couple million. You might say that there is no difference. Your wrong. We all share the same freedoms in this country. If I can go around and say whatever I want then they should to, regardless if I agree with them or not. The only time you should not be able to say anything is when you protest and the party being protested against cannot get away from you. EG you are protesting outside their home. Then the protesters are invading privacy. Like stated above if the funeral was a private funeral on private property then I could see an invasion. Also the sum of all that money. Come on. That is ridiculously high. People in wrongful death suits don't get that much and someone died! It boils down to they didn't break any laws, they just acted like a bunch of arseholes. They didn't hurt anyone physically just emotionally. Waaa your feelings got hurt, it doesn't justify a 11.5 million dollar pay day. Next time one of my sports teams loose I'm going to sue the opposing team and the nfl for emotional distress! All this is is people thinking with their hearts and not their heads. Sorry but I got to say this gets reversed.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 6:47 AM on November 1, 2007


Or skip the library and use the internet:

New York Times v. Sullivan
Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:51 AM on November 1, 2007


Waaa your feelings got hurt, it doesn't justify a 11.5 million dollar pay day

Mastercheddaar, meet punitive damages.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:54 AM on November 1, 2007


if you think that kind of twisting of the law to punish unpopular opinions/behavior is only going to be turned against opinions you disagree with, you're a fool.

Seriously, LH: read Milkovich. You don't have to knock all the laws flat to make important and meaningful distinctions between private persons and public figures.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:56 AM on November 1, 2007


When did we stop having duels in this country? I think we'd all act a lot more civil toward each other if the consequences for being an asshole would be a draw at 10 paces instead of a date in court.
posted by any major dude at 7:15 AM on November 1, 2007


1...2...3...4...5...6...7...8...9 *blam!* 10!

What do you mean I shot early? I counted 10 paces. Oh...9 and a half you say? Hoo boy.
posted by Totally Zanzibarin' Ya at 7:42 AM on November 1, 2007


HOMOS ARE DESTROYING THE FIRST AMENDMENT
posted by quonsar at 7:49 AM on November 1, 2007


Like many people raised in the U.S. I learned the usual cliches in support of the far-reaching freedom of speech found here: "If anyone doesn't have freedom of speech, then no one has it." "Freedom of speech means freedom for speech you hate." etc.

As I grow older, I begin to question these platitudes: after all, Canada has an anti-hate-speech law, yet it has not descended into 1984-land where the only permitted speech is goodthink, as many advocates of extreme free speech would have you believe it would. And while it may be difficult to craft a law that would disallow hate speech while still allowing legitimate political discourse, "difficult" is not the same as "impossible."

Not only do I not agree with what Fred Phelps has to say, I (unlike Voltaire) will not even defend to the death his alleged right to say it.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:06 AM on November 1, 2007


i'd have a hard time convicting anybody of "accidentally" running over one of these schmucks if i were on the jury. if you don't behave yourself, you could die at a funeral.
posted by bruce at 10:18 AM on November 1, 2007


I bet the jury in Baltimore had a fair mix of minorities, people who know first hand what racism and persecution is all about. This ain't Kansas. If they want a fight they got it. They should have stuck to their softy mid-west towns and stayed away from the Coasts.
posted by stbalbach at 5:59 PM on October 31 [+] [!]


Oh man, now do it in the voice of Omar. Bwa ha ha ha ha...

Also, I think a lot of questions about the Phelps family in this thread can be answered by reading the previous posts linked above (as a former Kansan, I'm pretty sure everything's been covered on mefi before). I hate him and his family, but I feel a little weird about this judgement.
posted by sleepy pete at 2:04 PM on November 1, 2007


Canada has an anti-hate-speech law, yet it has not descended into 1984-land where the only permitted speech is goodthink, as many advocates of extreme free speech would have you believe it would.

but that's not the main evil i fear from anti-hate-speech laws - the main evil i fear is that by arresting people for saying things they become martyrs and by definition, political prisoners - they can claim to be victimized and oppressed by the government - and they may decide that if they can't speak without being imprisoned, they may as well do something

-------

Free speech is not a blank check. Read a 1st Amendment textbook sometime: you don't have to be a law student to borrow one from the library, you know?

so, how many 1st amendment textbooks did the jury read before they rendered that verdict?

we're just as qualified to discuss this case as THEY were
posted by pyramid termite at 2:26 PM on November 1, 2007


the main evil i fear is that by arresting people for saying things they become martyrs and by definition, political prisoners - they can claim to be victimized and oppressed by the government - and they may decide that if they can't speak without being imprisoned, they may as well do something

But even when we do have the extreme sort of free speech protection that we have in the U.S., people still claim to be victimized and oppressed by the government. Some of them still decide to act on their hatred beyond merely voicing it. Free speech even for hate speech does not absolutely prevent such things. Does it reduce them? I'm not sure. But even if it does, it seems that we must ask ourselves whether that is a greater or a lesser evil than the open preaching of hatred.

I'm willing to consider evidence that anti-hate-speech laws do more harm than good. I'm not willing, as I once was, to oppose anti-hate-speech laws based on an axiomatic belief in free speech.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:04 PM on November 1, 2007


But even if it does, it seems that we must ask ourselves whether that is a greater or a lesser evil than the open preaching of hatred.

i think it's a greater evil - it is likely that more people will be put through the court system and imprisoned for one thing

just what evil is created by the open preaching of hatred? - people are free to act or not act on such hatreds and hearing the hatred does not compel them - nor is it necessary that this preachment inspire them, or that it be public to do so

i think it's one of those "feel good" laws - people pass it to feel good about themselves and their society - a few people get litigated - and yet ...

acts of racial hatred up to murder have STILL occurred in canada since those laws were passed, haven't they?

i don't think you can argue that you're preventing the acts by preventing the words - so just what is the purpose here?
posted by pyramid termite at 3:29 PM on November 1, 2007


just what evil is created by the open preaching of hatred?

The psychological damage done to targets of the hatred. "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me" is a nice ideal to strive for, but it isn't true. And the psychological damage can in turn lead to physical harm--it seems the most likely explanation for the fact that the suicide rate among gay teens is much higher than among straight teens.

i don't think you can argue that you're preventing the acts by preventing the words

And in fact, I am not arguing that. At least, I'm not arguing that all acts of hatred would be prevented by prohibiting hateful speech. But "there are no acts of hatred ever, again" and "the level of hateful acts remain exactly the same as they are now" are not the only possible outcomes of prohibiting hateful speech. Requiring a background check to purchase a gun clearly doesn't prevent all gun violence, but that doesn't mean the checks are pointless.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 5:28 PM on November 1, 2007


But not shouting hurtful things. There are lots of phrases for that, some of which you've explicitly said better describe this situation, and "invasion of privacy" doesn't seem to be one of them.

It's hard to take anything you say seriously when you characterize what happened merely as "shouting hurtful things." If you change the facts, then yes, it starts to look less and less like an invasion of privacy.

If the defendants had just "shouted hurtful things," there would be no invasion of privacy claim. But that's not actually the entirety of what happened. The defendants also intruded upon and disrupted a most intimate and personal of gatherings. That's where privacy was invaded.

I freely admit that I read but disregarded most of what you wrote because as long as you insist on mischaracterizing the facts, any analysis is pointless.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 5:35 PM on November 1, 2007


q makes a great point, in his complacency destroying way
posted by caddis at 5:50 PM on November 1, 2007


I think this should be put in context...there's a difference between staging protests in front of a workplace/government office...and singling out citizens as a means to promote an agenda. If they were doing this in front of the whitehouse, I would still vehemently disagree with them...but I would also respect that they were in the clear for freedom of assembly.

When the intent is to simply cause shock, and completely infringe on another citizen's rights, well I think that is where the line is crossed when it comes to protests...and where the courts can legally penalize.

I just hope we get this one worked out before we begin space colonization.
posted by samsara at 8:34 AM on November 2, 2007


« Older Not enough random context-free images in your life...  |  "The spirit of June Carter ove... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments