The Washington Post reports on Fred Phelp's day in court scheduled for next week. The Westboro Baptist Church will argue before the Supreme Court that they have a first amendment (free-speech) right to disrupt the first amendment (free exercise of religion) rights of families at the funerals of soldiers who have been killed in action.
The biggest disappointment for the Phelps family? That they were named by film-maker as "the most hated family in America." They wish they were the most hated family in all the world.
Robert Barnes writes:
The family's inflammatory picketing - "Thank God for dead soldiers" is a favorite sign - has prompted more than 40 state legislatures and Congress to pass laws. Next week, the Supreme Court takes up the battle over how the Phelpses spread their message: that the nation's tolerance of homosexuality has drawn God's condemnation.
It creates an only-in-America quandary: whether the freedom of speech is so powerfully woven in the nation's fabric that it protects one family's right to vile and hurtful protest at the very moment of another family's most profound grief.
Albert Snyder, whose son Matthew's 2006 funeral in a little town in northern Maryland is at the center of the case, says that right cannot possibly exist.
"It is an insult to every American who has died for the freedom of speech," Snyder said in a recent interview. "No one in the history of the nation has ever protested like this. Don't tell me that my son died for that."
Snyder's was one of about 200 families who say the funerals of their loved ones were disrupted by Westboro's protests. A Baltimore jury ruled that Westboro had to pay Snyder $10 million for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The case has attracted some strange bedfellows. Groups that abhor Westboro's message and the way they shout it out are siding with them before the Supreme Court.
the Phelpses are supported by a broad coalition of media organizations and First Amendment scholars. They say ruling against the church would undermine the core protections of the First Amendment and open speakers to liability when the listener disagrees with the message.
The same groups are quick to disassociate themselves from the "vile" and "repulsive" words of Westboro."
"This case tests the mettle of even the most ardent free speech advocates because the underlying speech is so repugnant," the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press said in its brief.
Roy T. Englert Jr., a frequent Supreme Court practitioner not involved in the case, said there are really only two possibilities for the court.
"Either the court is going to make some new First Amendment law that says funerals are different, which certainly would be a popular position," Englert said. "Or the court is going to say, 'Let's take the most obnoxious speech in America today, and let's reaffirm that even obnoxious speech is protected.'