Show of hands, who hasn't heard of the Westboro Church, Pastor Phelps and their despicable protests at the funerals of our fallen soldiers? OK, I see of couple of hands at the back of the room, so I will explain for the late-comers.
The members of Westboro Church [which used to be have Baptist in its title, 'til the rest of the Babtists made them take it out] show up at the funerals of Military Personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan with signs and a bullhorn. The signs have messages like: "Semper Fi Fags" and "IEDs are God's Weapons" ; you know, basic themes of Christianity.
You see these nutjobs are so hate-filled they think that God is punishing America because of its tolerance of homosexuals.
Well, this heinous lack of respect, not only for people who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of our country, but for their families and friends at a time of deepest grief has caused the passage in many States and Municipalities of new laws or ordinances concerning protests at funerals, interments, churches and cemeteries.
I have seen Harley Riders with vests proclaiming that they are Patriot Riders. I've been told these are Vets from other conflicts who now come to the memorial services of OEF/OIF vets and if the protesters get too close or too loud, they simply rev those wonderful motorcycle engines between the family and the protesters and drown the verbal filth out. If I have any Patriot Rider readers, I'd love to hear from you and get some first hand info.
I came across this story this morning. Although the membership of Westboro Church is almost completely made up of Attorneys [thereby cutting down on their legal fees when they sue for damages if an outraged funeral goer attacks them] one outraged Father has taken them on. They made the mistake of showing up at Albert Snyder's son's funeral service. They had their signs. Even though they were the legally proscribed distance from the entrance to St. John's Catholic Church, their hateful signs maligning not only the Marine Corps, his son but the Catholic Church, as well.
Pastor Phelps got snarky with the plaintiff's counsel, and the Judge called him on it. He told him to "Just answer the question,sir. Don't determine what relevant or not relevant."
In the past, the Church's members have always stood behind their 1st Amendment rights as protection for spewing their particular brand of filth. I find it ironic that this Marine, the one who's funeral they dishonored, and all the other Marines, and Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen who funerals they tried to disgrace, swore to protect, uphold and defend the very Constitution these vermin are hiding behind.
Did it take them [the protesters] insulting the mighty institution of the Catholic Church to get them involved behind the scenes? I don't know and I don't care. I'm just glad that, for whatever reasons someone is now challenging this groups right to 1st Amendment protection. As the Judge said:
U.S. District [Judge]Richard Bennett instructed jurors at the start of testimony Tuesday that the First Amendment protection of free speech has limits, including vulgar, offensive and shocking statements. Bennett said the jurors must decide "whether the defendant's actions would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, whether they were extreme and outrageous, and whether these actions were so offensive and shocking as to not be entitled to First Amendment protection."
From the moment I first heard about this group, I was outraged. First that they would disrupt a funeral! Then that they would intrude on a family's mourning. But those things are a matter of manners and social convention. Their signs, some carried by children, and their shouting on bullhorns are, in my mind, vulgar and offensive. I was shocked. Maybe I'm not a reasonable person all the time, but in this matter I believe I do have a reasonable standards.
If nothing else, the fact that this case made it to court signals a change. No matter the jury's decision in Maryland, I believe other cases will be brought in other states. I hope Texas is one of those states.