Thursday, November 1, 2007

11-1-07: Westboro Baptists Lose Case

Despite the fact that I’m overall against America’s lawsuit-happy culture, sometimes the suits are completely necessary, and sometimes they even work out for the good guys:,0,418843.story?coll=bal_sports_highschool_baltimore_util

There are several issues surrounding this case, but the most prominent is whether or not the First Amendment protects the crazy parishioners of the Westboro Baptist Church from protesting military funerals. In most cases, it does, but not all the time. In this case, the jury ruled for the plaintiff, a Mr. Albert Snyder of Pennsylvania. Snyder’s son, a Marine, was killed in Iraq while serving his country. At his funeral, no doubt an extremely sad time for the Snyder family, the Westboro Baptist Church staged a protest, spewing their obtuse, hateful beliefs that God hates America for tolerating homosexuality, and that dead soldiers are his way of showing that. Though I think these people are psychotic (most of the church are family members of Fred Phelps), they do have a right to their beliefs. What they don’t have the right to do is harass a grieving family, which they’ve done time and again.

The damages came out to about $11 million, which is far greater than the net worth of the defendants. The amount of money, although great, is negligible. The fact is that the good people, the Snyder family, won the case. That’s reassuring.

What frustrates me is how so many people cry out against cases like this as violations of the First Amendment. What they don’t realize is that the First Amendment is not black and white. It has quite a bit of gray area that prevents people from abusing others by deliberately causing harm or restricting the rights of others. This gray area is where the Snyder v. Westboro case fits in. The people of the jury found that the rights protected by the First Amendment did not apply to the protestors, and God bless the jury for being sensible people. People like the Phelps family are nothing more than attention-mongers who are so extreme in their views that you have to wonder if they even know that the soldiers fighting for their country also protect them.

Let’s put this scenario into play. Let’s say that the Phelps family moves their church to somewhere like Costa Rica, but they maintain their citizenship. Let’s say 200 of their followers go with them. Then, after a few years, a conflict breaks out in Costa Rica that significantly threatens their safety and the safety of other Americans living in the country. The President orders the Marines in to extract U.S. citizens in despair. Let’s assume the Phelps family’s church would be burned to the ground by angry Costa Ricans (who aren’t necessarily mad at them, just mad at Americans in general). Would the Phelps family accept the help of the Marines? What if one died in the process of saving them? This is an extreme case, but it would be an interesting scenario.

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