The Supreme Court is currently considering the case of Albert Snyder, who won a multi-million dollar judgment against the radical Westboro Baptist Church after the church’s congregation picketed at the funeral of his son,  Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, who was killed in action in Iraq.

Even though Corporal Snyder was not gay, the church, which is led by a nutcase named Fred Phelps, held signs saying things like “God Hates Fags”,  “Thank God for Dead Soldiers”, and “Soldiers Die Because America Loves Fags.”

This is nothing new for Phelps and his church members, most of whom are members of his family. They love getting face time in front of network news cameras by such outrageous actions.

Besides gay people, Phelps also hates Sweden, Mormons, and just about anybody else except Fred Phelps himself, it seems. Oh wait, let me take  that back. In 2003, before the fall of Saddam Hussein, Phelps wrote the murderous dictator a letter praising him for the way he ran his country. What can you expect from a puke that couldn’t even make it as a lawyer – Phelps was disbarred in Kansas in1979. 

But Albert Snyder turned the tables and sued the church for mental anguish, winning a judgment of $10.9 million in damages. That amount was later cut in half, and then an appeals court judge overturned the original judgment all together, citing the church’s right to free speech. An appeal of that judge’s decision eventually brought the warring parties to the Supreme Court.

I respect the right to free speech, and I know that it is just as important as our other basic rights, such as freedom of the press, and the right to keep and bear arms. However, when a person or a group abuses a right and uses it as a tool to hurt others, they have stepped over the line. And Fred Phelps and his small band of lunatics are so far over the line that they can’t even see it in their rear view mirrors.

Some may disagree with me, claiming that if we deny any of us our basic rights, we take that first step down a slippery slope to where we may all lose. But just as we cannot shout “fire!” in a crowded theater, or carry a loaded pistol into a courtroom, sometimes we have to set aside our “rights’ for the good of all, if those rights are being abused.

I see far too many people standing on the Constitution and using it as an excuse for whatever kind of vomit they want to spew out, claiming it is their “right.” But what about my rights, and your rights, and the rights of a grieving family who wants to bury their child in peace? What about basic human decency?

Convicted felons lose some of their rights, because they have shown that they cannot be trusted with them. I think the Westboro Baptist Church congregation falls into the same category.

During my time in uniform, I spent a short period as a funeral escort. My job was to be the liaison between the Army and the family, and I attended too many funerals of fine young men who had died in service to their country. It was absolutely the worst duty I ever had, and after only a few weeks, I just could not do it any longer and begged to be transferred anywhere, doing anything else. I was just a kid myself, and emotionally and psychologically, I just could not handle it. I don’t know how anybody could.

I hate to think of what would have happened if the likes of Fred Phelps and his disgusting crew had shown up at one of my funerals. Because I think the undertaker may have had to put on an extra shift to clean up the mess.      

These maggots are not Christians, they are publicity seeking hate mongers. And I hope that there is a very special place in Hell for each and every one of them.

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24 Comments on Abuse Isn’t A Right

  1. Jan VandenBerge says:

    Freedom of speech should be allowed AS LONG AS it does NOT affect someone else’s freedom. In this case the freedom to bury a son without having to deal with someone’s warped opinion. There is a group that tries to block the family from having to see these loonies picketing fallen soldiers funerals.

  2. Cindy -- Wyoming says:

    Nick, you are right — this shouldn’t be allowed. However, I’d hate to be on the Supreme Court ruling on this. The wording of that ruling, which ever way it goes, is going to be scrutinized and interpreted correctly and incorrectly. It will have to be written very narrowly in order not to tread upon the freedom of speech of other organizations or individuals. Very tricky.

    I do agree with constitutionalists regarding freedom of speech 98% of the time. I truly believe that is what has kept the United States strong. When you push crazy ideas underground, people start to wonder what is so scary that the government doesn’t want it heard. Then the crazies start using that argument to push their ideas. When these nut cases are allowed to spew in public, folks stop to listen and, the majority, walk away shaking their heads and chuckling. This country’s power is letting everyone say what they want (except in a few cases as you stated). Then we, the public, can buy what is being sold or walk away.

  3. MichaelG says:

    I would think a cemetery would have the right to evict people if it was private property. I suppose if it’s owned by the city, then they would have to put up with the public, no matter how obnoxious.

    On the other hand, I’ve read that during political conventions, they push protesters into miserable little “free speech areas” far from the event, so that they don’t get in the way of the show. I’m not sure how cities are allowed to do this, but I’ve read it repeatedly.

    And I’ve read that some pretty obnoxious groups get parade permits, but that other groups are denied permits more or less arbitrarily. I think some groups have been billed for police protection.

    The point is there’s got to already be a lot of law in this area. Probably some of it conflicts. Perhaps the Supreme Court can make sense of it all, but I doubt it. Offense is in the eye of the beholder after all.

    If you make it illegal to put up obnoxious signs, you will ban some perfectly legitimate demonstrations. If you leave it to the discretion of cities or states, it will get political.

    I really think the country is strong enough to tolerate some of this kind of flakiness. Better to just ignore it.

  4. When I attended “charm School” (what a joke, in my case), we were taught that 35 percent of interpersonal communication is in the words. The other 65 percent is tone and body language. Similarly, 35 percent of protest is the words; the other 65 percent is venue and audience. The supreme court, and the law, should consider these later elements, as well as the words, in deciding what, when, and where to permit and to bar “free speech”.

    Having said that, and thus tossed my two cents into this arena, I will reference the closing statement of your post:

    “These maggots are not Christians, they are publicity seeking hate mongers.”

    By participating in this discussion on an open forum, are we are unintionally feeding Phelp’s need for publicity? Food for thought.

    In the meantime, don’t giver up the good fight.

  5. I cannot belive that some veterans organization hasen’t shown up with some mase and base ball bats. I am a vet and my son is navy god forbid anything happened to him and these scum bags showed up I would be in jail for avery long tome but the scum bags would go home in body bags what is this country comming to.

  6. Rex says:

    I agree that this is a very sensitive area. I agree with Nick. The Freedom Riders is a group of motorcycle riders that now accompany funeral processions of veterans to protect them from the idiots. I believe that here in MO they have made it illegal to demonstrate within a certain distance of the funeral and the procession. This is okay, but I am not sure I like it.

    If I am not allowed to carry Nazi junk in front of a Jewish home or Temple, how can Phelps be allowed to do this? If I can not burn a cross in my yard or hang a dummy that resembles a Negro, how can Phelps be allowed to do this?

    I think Phelps is like the guy in Florida that was going to burn the Koran a few weeks ago. He is just being a pain in the ass to garner attention. However, if his bunch of idiots would show up a funeral for one of my loved ones, it would be very ugly just like Francis said.

  7. Rex says:

    One more thing, I will defend to the death Phelp’s right to demonstrate at the appropriate place and that place being in front of a the Congress, the White House or any other government entity. But, stay away from a funeral for one of my loved ones or from anybody’s loved ones funeral.
    If I want you there, I will invite you.

    I have been amazed that none of these idiots have been shot at a Veterans funeral. The vet died defending this clowns right to do this. However, I know it is wrong for them to disrespect this procession. I just do not know what the perfect solution is.

  8. Connie Braidh says:

    What about the rights of the family to bury their soldier in peace? All the arguments about free speech have not been applied to the family. They have their rights as well as this Phelps group. If the family doesn’t want this kind of demonstration, they should be able to call the police and have the people removed for disturbing the peace and quiet of the funeral/burial. After all the family is paying for their right to a funeral/burial of their choice.

    I don’t really see that this is about free speech for Phelps and company. I see it as an issue of whether the family at a funeral/burial has the right to have the funeral/burial of their choice. It’s an incredibly hard moment to realize that your loved one is finally gone forever. It’s also about common courtesy and decency to leave a family alone while they bury their loved on. I guess we will always have nuts and fruits but we can defend and allow common courtesy to grieving families.

  9. Mike & Janna says:

    We have a granddaughter in the Air Force and absolutely, totally agree with everything you said today. Phelps and his cronies don’t even know what the word Christian means.

  10. Gary says:

    First, this all should be treated as a hate crime as any other outward display such as Rex had mentioned earlier. Like that, nut case in Florida all they are looking for is there fifteen minutes of fame. In addition, the press is more than willing to give it to them. If they did not they would just have to find some other way to spew there hatred for something that they feel compelled to vent.

  11. Steve says:

    “What about basic human decency?”
    I think that says it all.
    I cannot understand the hatred and intolerance. What a miserable way to live.
    You can’t fix stupid. But you should be able to isolate them.

  12. Ruth says:

    Living in the general area that Phelps protests in I’ve seen them a few times. Not once did I mind it when I saw them protesting in front of the KS capital building or on a street corner on the Plaza in Kansas City. I didn’t like it but they were not truly hurting anyone but were embarrassing to normal people. These were public places and their protests were not aimed at an individual. But they cross the line when they protest at ANY funeral whether it would be a soldier or a private citizen. They were following the rules and were outside the lawful perimeter. But no where in our constitution is it lawful to direct that type of ugliness at an individual. As a society it is important that we maintain some sensibility and decorum. Protest all you want at public gatherings but private and personal gatherings should be out of bounds.

  13. maybe some tar & feathers would be appropiate attire for our over Zealous church goers when they attend the funeral service in a dis-respectful manor.

  14. Dave B. says:

    This guys whole church is made up of family. Two of his kids no longer associate with him because he is always hating someone or something. In short, he’s just a nut case looking for fame. I was taught that your rights only extend to the point where they infringe on another’s rights. He definitely is infringing on the rights of the people who wish to have a funeral. Arrest them each time they go to a funeral and make the sentence last longer each time. I’m sure that will slow his enthusiasm down.

  15. Gina Ellis says:

    When I first read about this I actually felt ill…sick to my stomach. People like you and me and probably most of your readers simply have no conception of hurting someone else the way this moron hurt this family of a national hero…someone who gave up his life in protection and defense of the moron’s right to free speech. However, it’s like my momma always said, “Your rights end where the other guy’s nose begins.” Free speech is a wonderful, hard won right in the good ol’ U.S.A. and I defend it when it is done lawfully. The moron did real harm with his hate and bluster and, at the very least, should have been criminally charged with disturbing the peace and possibly a hate crime. He better be glad he didn’t pull that crap on my beat.

  16. Carey McConnell says:

    For once, I have nothing to add. You’ve said it all.

  17. Turbo says:

    Nick;
    On this and similar topics that I have read her I think that there should be another blog name called “good nick”
    Mark

  18. Elaine says:

    Right on Nick. these people stepped way over the line. My heart goes out to the parents of that young man who gave his life to protect them,not being able to grieve in peace. On judgment day these folks will get what they deserve a place in hell.

  19. JC says:

    Most people have a misunderstanding of the first amendment as it relates to free speech. The original intent was that you could speak out against the government without fear of being arrested. It DOES NOT require you to provide a venue for anyone to exercise their free speech. It DOES NOT require anyone to listen to anyone else’s free speach. Unfortunately, in this day and age, law enforcement is afraid to move a group such as this downtown behind some warehouse to exercise their free speach.

    JC

  20. Roger says:

    Maybe a question I have not hear asked. How can Phelps keep his tax exempt status while clearly advocating political positions?

  21. MGySgt USMC says:

    Like you said, one does not say “fire!” in a crowded theater, you can’t say “hijack” or “bomb” on an airplane or near an airport terminal and I bet if you or I said, “God bless a dead judge, or a congressman, or a President” we would got to jail. Saying, “God bless a dead soldier” at a funeral is the most despicable thing anyone can do and is a hate statement and should be treated as such. Lock them up. Period. I fought for free speech but I also fought for the right of those who gave their all for this country to be respected for their sacrifice. I won’t just stand by and watch some jerk destroy their honor. We’ve got to make a stand somewhere.

  22. Karen Bennett says:

    I think that most people, myself included, are offended by the actions of this so called religious group. One thing that is rarely mentioned is that Mr. Snyder was not aware of the protests until after the funeral when he saw it televised on the news. It is still disgusting and I don’t think that the hateful slurs this groups slings should be protected by freedom of speech. I feel that all of our freedoms require a sense of decorum and responsibility.

    Unfortunately in today’s climate of ‘me first’ and ‘it’s all about me’ and ‘I can do whatever I want’, common sense and decency have gone out the window and have been replaced by a white trash mentality.

    We must all hope that the 7 members of the Supreme Court will have the wisdom to make a decision that protects the right of free speech without allowing that freedom to stomp on the sensibilities of everyone else.

  23. Cheryl says:

    As a Marine Veteran, and wife of a Retired Marine who served two tours of duty in Viet Nam, as well as the kind of notification and funeral detail you did, Nick, I have to say this hits home for me as well. Many times Chuck told me how that duty was the worst he ever had to serve. This kind of behavior at the worst time in a parent’s and loved ones’ lives is absolutely indefensible. As you said, this is not free speech, it’s a hate crime, pure and simple. I hope the Supreme Court does the right thing.

    On a similar note, if you haven’t seen the HBO movie (now on DVD) “Taking Chance”, it’s a must see. Based on real-life events, Lt. Col. Michael Strobl, a Marine and volunteer military escort officer, accompanies the body of 19-year-old Marine Chance Phelps back to his hometown for burial. (Ironic that the Marine killed in combat is also named Phelps). Everyone in America should see this movie. I don’t know how anyone could do what Fred Phelps and his followers are doing after seeing it. The events portrayed in “Taking Chance” are the way the MAJORITY of Americans feel about and show their respect for sacrifice. It’s VERY moving and will make you sad and proud at the same time.

  24. Chris says:

    HOW DARE THEY!! Yep, I would have helped you run those people out of town. Like you said, what happened to “common human decency?” They make me sick.

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