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← Jury Awards Father $11M in Funeral Case

Jury Awards Father $11M in Funeral Case - Comments

macros_man's Avatar Comment 1 by macros_man

Rather than physically assaulting them, maybe we could just take shifts where we could perpetually follow all of them around and verbally assault them 24 hours a day.

I think that is the only way to break these people, and make them see the error of their ways, without overtly breaking the law.

Wed, 31 Oct 2007 23:19:00 UTC | #80126

Tim Marsh's Avatar Comment 2 by Tim Marsh

eric, I don't know you, obviously, but that was a horrible thing to say.

macros, not a great deal better.

For shame.

Wed, 31 Oct 2007 23:51:00 UTC | #80133

Jimill's Avatar Comment 3 by Jimill

Hopefully this verdict will successfully damage their monetary resources. To the point where they just give up!

Wed, 31 Oct 2007 23:54:00 UTC | #80135

JamesDB's Avatar Comment 4 by JamesDB

This is a good move on the part of the American legal system, these loons need to have some kind of punishment dropped on them for being so nuts. They definitely deserve to be knocked down a bunch of pegs so they no longer go out and bother grieving families. It would be nice to see some kind of laws passed that threaten them with jail time if they continue going out and running their unpleasant mouths.

Thu, 01 Nov 2007 00:01:00 UTC | #80136

Robert Maynard's Avatar Comment 5 by Robert Maynard

This is a good move on the part of the American legal system
Right, because freedom of expression is only important when it's protecting people we agree with! :D

Thu, 01 Nov 2007 00:06:00 UTC | #80138

thelivingbrian's Avatar Comment 6 by thelivingbrian

Certainly this will be overturned. Their speech may not be nice, but it is constitutionally protected.

Thu, 01 Nov 2007 00:15:00 UTC | #80141

Hugo's Avatar Comment 7 by Hugo

I hope it sticks freedom of speech should end where it infringes badly upon other peoples rights and I would hope a society gives its people the right to bury their dead in peace!
you can be removed from a concert if you disrupt it, the same should apply to funerals.

Thu, 01 Nov 2007 00:40:00 UTC | #80146

Jimill's Avatar Comment 8 by Jimill

thelivingbrian - "Certainly this will be overturned. Their speech may not be nice, but it is constitutionally protected."

By definition of the word, their actions are more along the lines of harassment than protest.

Harassment - to disturb persistently; torment, as with troubles or cares; bother continually; pester; persecute.

Protest - an expression or declaration of objection, disapproval, or dissent, often in opposition to something a person is powerless to prevent or avoid.

Protests are supposed to be aimed towards the ones who have to power to so something about it and not the victims and their families. Hopefully the verdict stands, and their ill actions are recognized for what they truly are.

Thu, 01 Nov 2007 01:15:00 UTC | #80158

Flagellant's Avatar Comment 9 by Flagellant

I heard about this decision on BBC Radio 4: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/7072404.stm My initial reaction was gleeful; I can't but hope that this case may moderate the behaviour of hate-preachers, even if it is overturned on appeal.

However, a more considered response is to think about the limits of free speech. I'm sure the US has discussed the concept of free speech ad nauseam but, if there is an implicit Constitutional permission for the Phelps family to behave as they did, isn't there something wrong?

The funerals were not completely private functions. It seems iniquitous that one could be successfully prosecuted for heckling the hate-filled Phelps family in church ('private') but that they could picket and shout at someone's funeral ('public'), with impunity. The piece suggests that some states have enacted laws to prevent demonstrations of this sort but that Maryland hasn't. Shouldn't Maryland have draft legislation ready for when the decision is overturned?

Mind you, I would love to see a case in which people like the Phelps family were challenged to prove the accuracy of statements like 'God hates fags' and that 'the war in Iraq is a punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality'.



Religion - an activity for consenting adults in private.

Thu, 01 Nov 2007 01:18:00 UTC | #80162

mattpenfold's Avatar Comment 10 by mattpenfold

"Certainly this will be overturned. Their speech may not be nice, but it is constitutionally protected."

Of course, it would not do to forget that the American people are their to serve the their constitution rather than the constitution being there to serve them.

Any constitution that allows the likes of Phelps to picket funerals like he has is seriously flawed. Common sense seems to be something those who think Phelps should be allowed to picket funerals are lacking. His deeds are odious, and whilst he should have the right to hold them, and even articulate them if anyone wants to listen, he should not have the right to do so in places were he will cause the distress he so clearly has done.

Thu, 01 Nov 2007 01:42:00 UTC | #80164

Bertybob's Avatar Comment 11 by Bertybob

With "rights" also come "responsibilities".

I have "free speech" in the UK, but that does not extend to being able to incite racial hatred or violence.

We also have a common law offence of "breach of the peace". If my conduct is likely to give rise to unrest or potential violence, then I can be arrested and prosecuted.

It is a fine line to walk, but I would hope that if this happened in the UK, the Police may have arrested the protestors and brought prosecutions for "breach of the peace".

Thu, 01 Nov 2007 01:43:00 UTC | #80166

Robert Maynard's Avatar Comment 13 by Robert Maynard

Hugo:

you can be removed from a concert if you disrupt it, the same should apply to funerals.
Right, except they were protesting in a public space, outside the cemetery. So ..we're supposed to remove them from the public space? What's your next move, Mussolini? :P

mattpenfold:
[presumably sarcastically] the American people are there to serve the constitution rather than the constitution being there to serve them.
Right, because the Phelps's speech doesn't deserve the protection of the constitution. It's not like they're Americans too or anything.

Thu, 01 Nov 2007 02:03:00 UTC | #80170

Tim Marsh's Avatar Comment 12 by Tim Marsh

Bertybob, I don't understand. The Phelps' are non-violent, and neither advocate nor request violence. The only violence that seems likely to emerge from their protests are from those offended by what they say, which needless to say, doesn't really count.

They certainly advocate intolerance towards homosexuals, but they also give very much a "it's too late now, you're doomed" impression, rather than suggesting "violent rejection of homosexuals would be a good idea because it would save you all". I'm not too clear on this, but it is my understanding the inciting of "hatred" is covered by free speech, but hatred that incites violence is not.

Thu, 01 Nov 2007 02:03:00 UTC | #80169

epeeist's Avatar Comment 14 by epeeist

Comment #84008 by Robert Maynard


Right, except they were protesting in a public space, outside the cemetery. So ..we're supposed to remove them from the public space? What's your next move, Mussolini? :P

This is a fairly tricky one to get right. To some extent I think this court case might be the closest.

By all means allow the freedom of speech but "the freedom to swing your fist stops at my nose", if this causes measurable distress then you pay for the distress you caused.

Thu, 01 Nov 2007 02:10:00 UTC | #80172

Tim Marsh's Avatar Comment 15 by Tim Marsh

But epeeist, surely you're not suggesting that an amount of distress has been measured (somehow) that is worth something in the area of 11 million dollars? That had the Phelps' not protested this funeral, the improvement in the father in question's current life or mental state would be worth US$11,000,000?

Either way, when speaking on matters of communication and expression, the consequentialist notion of "you did damage, pay for it" starts to weaken when the 'damages' are not, in fact, easily 'measured', and the resulting 'damages' are not so reliably contingent on the 'attack' in question as in the case of physical assault.
A good rule of thumb I have always employed is, it is unethical to knowingly hurt the feelings of others when there is nothing to be accomplished by doing so, but making it legally punishable to hurt someone's feelings is to move a little too close to a kind of 'emotional fascism'.

Thu, 01 Nov 2007 02:36:00 UTC | #80177

Robert Maynard's Avatar Comment 16 by Robert Maynard

More like 'crybaby fascism', am I right?

Thu, 01 Nov 2007 02:38:00 UTC | #80178

epeeist's Avatar Comment 17 by epeeist

Comment #84015 by Tim Marsh

But epeeist, surely you're not suggesting that an amount of distress has been measured (somehow) that is worth something in the area of 11 million dollars?

Personally I wouldn't, but there again I don't live in a country that is (quite) as litigious as the States.

And I also agree with you about measurement of distress and the difference between physical and emotional abuse (but not the word fascism) and the slippery slope this could go down.

All the same, I do think this family have suffered rather more than the woman who sued McDonald's for not telling her that the coffee she bought was hot.

Thu, 01 Nov 2007 02:52:00 UTC | #80180

Quetzalcoatl's Avatar Comment 18 by Quetzalcoatl

If the protesters were close enough that the mourners could hear them during the ceremony, then I would definitely want the Phelps and their unpleasant ilk to pay damages. They may have the right to protest, but the family and friends have the right not to have their attempt to say goodbye ruined by such morons.

Thu, 01 Nov 2007 02:59:00 UTC | #80183

Robert Maynard's Avatar Comment 19 by Robert Maynard

Is it really a good idea to side with ceremonial burial over freedom of speech, Quetz? I mean, if I had to choose...
And again, what measurement scheme are we taking to these 'damages', which arrives at $11000000?

I think Jimill's made the best argument so far - that WBC's activities are more geared towards harassment than protest, and are therefore not protected.
Particularly in that they have no apparent interest in working to change American policies, in the sense that the Dominionists do, for example.

Still, I think that deterring the expression of certain opinions with gigantic fines is not a wise approach to washing those opinions (or those expressions) out of a society.

Thu, 01 Nov 2007 03:03:00 UTC | #80185

mattpenfold's Avatar Comment 20 by mattpenfold

"Bertybob, I don't understand. The Phelps' are non-violent, and neither advocate nor request violence. The only violence that seems likely to emerge from their protests are from those offended by what they say, which needless to say, doesn't really count."

They are engage in an activity they know, or should be expected to know, will possibly incite others to be violent towards them. No doubt that is part of their rationale.

No one here has said Phelps should not be able to hold and articulate the views he holds but some, such as me, are saying he should not be free to do at a time and place when his doing so will cause the distress it clearly does. There is a right for people to expect others to behave with a certain degree of decorum in a public place and those who are unable to do so should not expect their behaviour to go unchallenged.

I understand this can be a fine distinction but much of Western Europe seems to have managed it. The right to free speech does NOT trump all other rights, and one of the rights it should not trump is the right to bury a loved one with dignity. If Phelps wants to protest let him protest outside a military base at the time the funeral is taking place. His right to free speech would still be protected, and the family would bury their loved in peace.

Thu, 01 Nov 2007 03:12:00 UTC | #80187

Quetzalcoatl's Avatar Comment 21 by Quetzalcoatl

True, and I don't particularly agree with the damages figure- it seems to be an American thing to make massive punitive damages claims.

As for the burial thing- this is purely my judgement, but it would depend on how close the Phelps were. If they were standing at the graveside screaming and shouting, nobody would argue against throwing them out. But if you're trying to say goodbye to someone you love, and you keep hearing people (even in the distance) screaming "your son's a fag!" "he's burning in Hell" or whatever, then this can cause considerable emotional distress. And I do think they should have to pay for that. But it's a tricky area.

Thu, 01 Nov 2007 03:17:00 UTC | #80189

Duff's Avatar Comment 22 by Duff

I'm certainly not advocating violence, but it is amazing to me that these people are not so beat up they can't get around anymore. They have been at this for years now and I'm astounded a grieving family member or friend hasn't visited upon them the "wrath of god" they so obviously believe in.

I'm afraid this is going to be overturned, but couldn't it be argued that they, like most true believers, are mentally incompetent and should be locked up to protect them from physical harm?

Thu, 01 Nov 2007 03:17:00 UTC | #80190

irate_atheist's Avatar Comment 23 by irate_atheist

It's a pity they can't be prosecuted under the remit of the California Clean Air Act.

Hey ho.

Thu, 01 Nov 2007 03:18:00 UTC | #80191

AdrianB's Avatar Comment 24 by AdrianB

As many have already said this is a tricky one.

The Phelps are lawyers, and I believe much of their money has come from winning court cases, probably after somebody has threatened them or tried to restrict their free speech. They are undoubtably nasty ****s, so they have many enemies, but the law protects them.

For this reason it would be nice to see the system they rely on to spout their wicked nonsense actually be their downfall in the end, but I am sure this will be overturned.

In fact as I write this, the more I hope it is overturned. Partly because the idea of free speech demands it, but mainly because the Phelps probably do as much for the cause of atheism as Richard Dawkins.

Thu, 01 Nov 2007 03:24:00 UTC | #80195

k1mgy's Avatar Comment 25 by k1mgy

A funeral is not a public event. It is performed on private property. Owners of the property have every right to restrict access and to restrict speech. "Freedom of Speech" is for the public square. If we were to have the stomach to visit the Westboro Baptist Church and protest during their ignorant and hateful meetings, they would have every right to throw us out and, if we refuse to leave, have us charged as trespassers.

"Following their religious beliefs" has a place in the public square (unfortunately) and within the confines of their homes and churches. They lose their rights when they impede or crash a private event. I would doubt any jury would find the defendants liable if the First Amendment were in question here. The decision would not stick in review, otherwise.

A civil lawsuit arises when the criminal justice system fails to deliver (OJ Simpson case, as example). Civil trials are significantly less stringent as to rules of evidence and burden of proof. Perhaps WBC were well advised and did not stray over the line into criminal conduct necessitating civil relief.

Their idiocy is ignorant and painful and to their victims obviously repugnant. Unfortunately they can spew this and all the other religious nonsense, evoke pain, and probably get away with it under protection of the same government and laws they hate.

Thu, 01 Nov 2007 04:56:00 UTC | #80219

Bonzai's Avatar Comment 26 by Bonzai

Is it a freedom of speech issue if someone pickets outside your house (public area technically) with loud speakers and disgusting signs screaming that you are a scumbag who will go to hell?

I think this is definitely harassment and probably violates other laws such as stalking and creating a public nuisance.

Thu, 01 Nov 2007 05:00:00 UTC | #80221

Bonzai's Avatar Comment 27 by Bonzai

BTW, freedom of expression ends when the expression targets specific individuals who are not "public figures" in any reasonable sense (or even public figures if it crosses a certain line)

Libel, for example, is not protected by the first amendment.

Thu, 01 Nov 2007 05:09:00 UTC | #80224

Theocrapcy's Avatar Comment 28 by Theocrapcy

Phelps is a closet homosexual.

Thu, 01 Nov 2007 05:13:00 UTC | #80225

windweaver's Avatar Comment 29 by windweaver

Much as I detest Phelps and his ilk I have to side with Voltaire on this issue:

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

Thu, 01 Nov 2007 05:19:00 UTC | #80227

Bonzai's Avatar Comment 30 by Bonzai

Windweaver,

No,criminal harassment is not covered under free speech.

Thu, 01 Nov 2007 05:22:00 UTC | #80228