Are there limits to protest speech?

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Fred Phelps’ disciples from Westboro Baptist have announced their intention to picket Elizabeth Edwards’ funeral this weekend. (News story here). Edwards was certainly a public figure, and the courts have repeatedly ruled that public figures have little or no recourse to hateful speech since that sort of speech is protected under the First Amendment.


But Steve Shriffen writing at Religious Left Law suggests that there should be legal distinction drawn between speech made in the public arena and speech that is effectively a private attack:

“Suppose, however, that a member of the Edwards family sues for emotional distress. What result? The Westboro Baptist Church has already declared on its website that Edwards was an arrogant witch who is now burning in hell with her son Wade who was killed in an automobile accident when he was sixteen. Falwell makes it clear that the Westboro Church can indulge in vicious lunacy on its website (though the claim about the son might be a different story).

But the First Amendment does not confer the right to speak anywhere at any time. To suppose that the right to spout hate in the media implies a right to inflict emotional distress on grieving mourners at a funeral is to endorse a heartless and foolish privileging of speech over privacy and dignity. We can honor our profound national commitment to robust debate without permitting any such assaults on the emotionally vulnerable.”

We certainly forbid certain forms of speech – racist attacks, bullying, abuse and incitement to violence. Is it time to take a stand here?

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tgflux
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tgflux

I was away from this thread (when it went KaBOOM!) due to technical difficulties.

While much digital ink has been spillt, I just wanted to note, Fr Bill, that while you dissed me (with EXACTLY the sort of "binary thinking" you seem to see {cough project cough} in everyone else), you didn't answer my question: what do you have to offer partnered LGBT people? That makes you so different from Phelps? [Mere digital condemnation, instead of in-person screaming?]

A further on-topic thought (directed to any and all)---

Imagine a single word change, to the Phelps Standard Scenario: same screaming, same hatred, same targets . . . but instead of saying "God Hates...", they said "Allah Hates..."

Do you think they would have gotten to the Supreme Court w/ their case? O_o

JC Fisher

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Chad Willingham
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Chad Willingham

Frankly there is no option for me. Either Full inclusion of LGBT Episcopalians or I walk. As much as I love the Church....I am not going to wait until I am 80 to see equality. If people can't open their eyes to REASON and the God-Given knowledge of Science etc. and lets not forget the biblical scholarship blowing holes in the anti-gay position. Either it Changes or I feel like giving up on Christianity period. At least I know I can be accepted as equal and loved at the Synagogue. My family were Jews before I can be a Jew again...because evidently Christianity is just going to keep us second class and tell us we are not worthy. Maybe I am Ranting but I fail to see why Full Equality is even a question in the 21st Century with all that we know. Why be suprised Women haven't recieved full equality in all parts of the Anglican Communion. Why am I suprised that LGBT anglicans aren't equal. Who knows. Frankly does anybody actually care. I think most would rather we disappear so we wouldn't be such a burden. Evidently Canterbury feels that way.

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LA Episcopal priest
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LA Episcopal priest

Elizabeth,

No liberties intended.

Put in my place?

I hoped we were beyond that, but whatever you say.

William Ledbetter

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Elizabeth Kaeton
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Elizabeth Kaeton

Bill -

First - It's not "Liz". Never "Liz." Or, "Betty" Or "Beth" or "Libby". If you call me anything but "Elizabeth" my sainted mother will rise up from her grave and let you see the back of her hand. No joke. You have been duly warned.

I count Dylan as one of my friends. You don't have to sing her praises to me.

I do not consider you an enemy. I do not consider what I wrote to be a "put down". I understand, however, that being "put in one's place" can feel like that.

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LA Episcopal priest
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LA Episcopal priest

All,

To have a conversation everybody needs to grant the other(s) a presumption of goodwill and also have some respect for others or at least treat them with some courtesy. OK?

Liz, "I'm fascinated that you make "traditionalist and conservatives" the new martyrs of the church with Dylan as your new saint. She will get a serious chuckle out of that."

I guess that's good for a laugh, but its condescending and just plain rude. Dylan writes well about the Sunday lectionary and I used to consult her blog first when preparing a sermon. She is on the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church and therefore a leader of us all; she's a good person. I've admired her for a long time and then I see she's stepped across the aisle to speak up for a noted traditionalist, Dan Martins. Of course, I know she's a lesbian. So what? She's a good person. punto e basta. A saint? Who knows, but I hope that being magnanimous to folks that disagree with you is not so unusual or unexpected that it qualifies for sainthood. Its basic human decency or "niceness" that I think all of our mothers wanted us to practice back when we were kids.

FWIW, I love your family stories and you know something? It makes it really hard to think ill of someone when you see they have a human face, and a family, and that they love others and are loved. You are certainly more than a progressive political operative who can type a witty put down of the enemy (who is really not your enemy).

Ann, Paige, et al.,

I won't paste the whole piece I typed yesterday about how I'm really on your side and not Fred Phelps. It would be a waste of your time.

I hear you. I hear the pain of gays and lesbians who have been singled out for condemnation and abuse in the world and in the church. It pains me, too. Though I agree with you only partly on what the Episcopal Church's position should be, you are my sisters in Christ. I'm offended by your hyperbole-- again, just because someone disagrees with you that does not mean they are the same as Fred Phelps-- but I leave here wanting to think the best of you.

Liz said something important earlier and I agree with her completely: I really wish there were more gracious conversation in the Episcopal Church, if only because the debate is over. For my part I'll keep trying to be gracious.

God bless you all.

Bill Ledbetter

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