Free Speech or Harassment?

By Lubin, Andrew | USA TODAY, January 2011 | Go to article overview

Free Speech or Harassment?


Lubin, Andrew, USA TODAY


"IF THE WESTBORO BAPTIST Church had simply picketed LCPL Snyder's funeral, this would perhaps be a First Amendment issue," explains Craig Trebilcock, one of the two attorneys representing plaintiff Albert Snyder. "Instead, they subjected the Snyder family to a reign of harassment prior to their son's funeral to two weeks afterwards--which changed the case from a Federal freedom of speech issue to one of harassment and conspiracy, which is instead a civil issue."

The case of Snyder v. Phelps was heard Oct. 6, 2010, by the Supreme Court. Sean Summer represented Albert Snyder, father of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder, while attorney Margie Phelps, daughter of defendant Frederick Phelps, spoke on behalf of Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church. This is a contentious and increasingly emotion-driven case with almost weekly exposure. From picketing the funerals of Marines and soldiers killed in combat, the church sent pickets in December to Elizabeth Edwards' funeral. In no case do they have any connections to any of the people whose funerals they attend, but rather use the opportunity to promote their virulent anti-homosexual message.

The facts in Snyder v. Phelps are simple: LCPL Snyder, 20, died in March 2006 in a noncombat incident in Iraq's Anbar Province. During his funeral, held on private ground in Westminster, Md., members of the Westborn Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., picketed Snyder's funeral with signs, banners, and invective--calling him a homosexual and claiming his death was God's way of punishing the U.S. for condoning homosexuality.

In 2007, Snyder sued Westboro Baptist Church and its leaders contending they invaded his privacy and intentionally inflicted emotional distress. A jury awarded him $2,900,000 in compensatory damages and $8,000,000 in punitive damages in October 2007, forcing the Westborn Church into filing for bankruptcy.

However, in September 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, in Richmond, Va., overturned the lower court's verdict, with existing law allowing $16,510.80 in court costs to Phelps as the successful litigant. Two of the three judges found in favor of Westboro on the grounds that Westboro's message was "sheer hyperbole" and therefore entitled to extra First Amendment protection due to the outrageousness of the message. Ironically, for ultra-conservative Westboro Baptist Church, the judges cited Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell (1988), in which the Supreme Court's unanimous 8-0 decision held the First Amendment's free-speech guarantee prohibits awarding damages to public figures to compensate for emotional distress intentionally inflicted upon them. Hustler's parody of Jerry Falwell was deemed to be within the law because the Court found that reasonable people would not have interpreted the parody as factual, thus reversing a prior jury award to Falwell of $200,000.

While various legal specialists say the case is a test of the limits of free speech, an equal amount disagree. Similar demonstrations by Westboro Baptist Church members have prompted several states to establish limits on funeral protests and the attorneys general of 48 states filed a signed amicus brief in support of Snyder. "People want to make this out as free speech," Trebilcock notes, "but actually it's about harassment and who is or is not a public figure.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Free Speech or Harassment?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.