Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Chance To Poke Rev. Fred Phelps in the Eye

A Chance To Poke Rev. Fred Phelps in the Eye

You may recall that the Rev. Fred Phelps, who runs the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, decided that showing up to picket the funerals of gay people wasn't sufficiently annoying, so he started picketing the funerals of soldiers. His claim is that 9/11 is God's punishment of America for allowing homosexuality.

A number of states has passed laws setting limits on how close such protesters can get to a funeral. I don't have a problem with such laws at all. The father of Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder filed a civil suit against Phelps and his band of crazies for emotional suffering caused by their incredibly offensive signs. At trial, Mr. Snyder won his claim for damages--but predictably enough, the U.S. Court of Appeals decided that this was protected freedom of speech--and stuck Mr. Snyder with a more than $5000 bill for legal fees.

I find this argument utterly specious. As I have repeatedly discussed, the nearly anything goes notion of "freedom of speech" that the ACLU has largely managed to get the courts to buy into is not originalist. It is a curious mixture of the post-Sedition Act broad view of freedom of speech that was not generally held in 1791, with liberalism's current enthusiasm for the notion that almost anything is okay: virtual child pornography, for example. (But, at times, not political speech, if said by a business--one category of speech that in 1791 would have been generally recognized as protected.)

You can help Mr. Snyder by making a contribution here. I've already made a modest contribution. If 20% of my regular readers kick in $10, we'll be well on our way to wiping out this debt. I'm not sure what to do about the bigger problem of the Supreme Court's often bizarre misreading of history.

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