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October 6th, 2010
05:41 PM ET

Bar people from protesting at funerals?

ALT TEXT

Protesters demonstrate outside the U.S. Supreme Court while justices hear oral arguments in the First Amendment case of Snyder v. Phelps. (PHOTO CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES)

FROM CNN's Jack Cafferty:

The Supreme Court is deciding a case involving the disgusting behavior of protesting at funerals.

The case focuses on a Baptist Church from Kansas whose anti-gay protests have targeted the funerals of soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The church claims the soldiers' deaths are God's revenge for the United States tolerating homosexuality. Members of this church have traveled around the country, showing up at funerals and shouting at grieving family members.

They also display signs with messages like, "Thank God for dead soldiers," "God blew up the troops" and "AIDS cures fags."

The Snyder family sued the church in 2007 after protests at their son's funeral. Their suit claims invasion of privacy and the intentional infliction of emotional distress. A jury awarded them more than $10 million, but that amount was cut in half by a judge and then overturned by an appeals court.

The judges said although the church's message was offensive, the speech was protected.

The soldier's father, Albert Snyder, said his son was not gay and the protesters shouldn't have been at his funeral, calling their actions "inhuman."

The attorneys general of 48 states and the District of Columbia, along with a bipartisan group of 40 senators, support the Snyders. So does common sense.

The church insists it has the right to protest at funerals. It is backed by First Amendment and media groups, which denounce the church's message but defend its free speech rights.

The Supreme Court's decision in this case isn't expected for months.

Here’s my question to you: Should people be barred from protesting at funerals?

Interested to know which ones made it on air?

David in Oregon writes:
Well, of course, Jack, it's free speech. But that doesn't mean they can run their stupid, cruel protest right there. Let's say: no closer than a hundred miles.

Patrick in Westminster, Maryland writes:
Absolutely, yes. Not only is Al Snyder a personal friend of mine but I knew Matt from birth and my wife taught Matt Confirmation at St John Catholic Church. The Snyders are very spiritual people. Unlike what they were confronted by. What Al and his family and friends experienced on the day of Matt's funeral was anti-American, anti-Church and by any measure, including the First Amendment, a violation of the Snyder's civil and moral rights.

Jeanne in Kansas writes:
I am born and raised in Kansas. That "church", only 30 miles away from me, frightens me more than any tornado ever could. You can see a tornado coming and you can go down into your basement and protect yourself. But, the Phelps family is a blight – like bindweed in a wheat field – you know that even if you pull it up by the roots, it will come back. And, you can spray poison on it and keep it under control this year, but next year, you have to spray again.

Annie writes:
I do believe people should be barred from protesting at funerals. Regardless if it is military or civilian, their families deserve to bury their loved ones in peace. The person that had a hand in my father's death died not long after. I would never have dreamed of violating his family's grieving by screaming obscenities or saying "Thank God he is dead." There is a time to voice your opinion and it is not at someone's funeral.

Gail in Plano, Texas writes:
Jack, There is a difference between free speech and hate speech. This is a perfect example of hate speech. And it is beyond comprehension that it has been allowed to continue destroying families at their loved one's funerals. Cowards hide behind the Constitution which they probably know nothing about. These people are very, very crazy. And very, very sick! I am totally ashamed.

Joe in Kent Island, Maryland writes:
I hate to say it, but as much as I hate the scum that protest at military funerals, the right to free speech has to stand unhindered.

Mick in Connecticut writes:
Why not handle it like they did all protests during the Bush years? Provide a designated free speech zone 5 miles away.


Filed under: Afghanistan • U.S. Army • War in Iraq
soundoff (181 Responses)
  1. Bob Gerhardt

    As a Canadian, I cannot comment on the legality of protests at funerals in the United States. However, I can comment on Mr. Phelps' and his "congregation's" mostly unsuccessful Canadian incursions, to protest at various functions, decrying Canada's legalized abortion and gay marriage. Their most galling attempt was two years ago, when they planned to protest at the funeral of a murder victim, whose horrific death shocked the country. When news of WBC's intentions spread, a Facebook group swelled with supporters to protect the family, and politicians, police and border security closed ranks to make it a non-event. You see, in Canada, we have free speech, but not the freedom to incite hatred. In my view, a funeral is a private event, and should remain that way.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:12 pm |
  2. Jeff

    The Supreme Court has previously held that members of the U.S. military can be denied some of their constitutional rights in deference to the interests of the military (and I understand and agree with that position). Consequently, I think it is only fair that when a member of the military has given the ultimate sacrifice for our country, we as citizens of this country should forgo our constitutional right to free speech in the very limited circumstance of the occasion of a funeral for that military member, so his or her family can pay proper tribute to their loved one, and privately mourn the loss of their loved one.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:12 pm |
  3. Lauren NYC

    Just like at abortion clinics, funerals should also be protected from such protests as they take away a person's human rights, which include dignity and the right to grieve in private

    October 6, 2010 at 6:12 pm |
  4. Jon

    I have known about this church for many years. My aunt even went to law school in Kansas with many of these 'followers' who are family members of this church leader and many are attorneys today. The worst part is they know exactly how to do things just an inch away from the law.

    What angers me isn't whether or not this should be barred. It makes me furious to see the implication that, since the 'good people' are becoming victims of this evil group, now it's news, now it's worth going after; since these were military 'heroes' and therefore normal people, since they have wives and kids, it's worth going after this church.

    Where were all of you when the families of gay men who died of AIDS-related complications over the last few decades had to deal with this group with no help, support or even empathy from anyone. If the only reason you're getting involved or interested is because 'now this church targets the troops' then don't bother.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:13 pm |
  5. Justin Hughes

    Jack, the thought of a grieving family being heckled while mourning the loss of a loved one who lost their lives defending the very right that allows this behavior makes me sick. This is absolute abuse of the first amendment and should be banned immediately. The first amendment was not written to spit in the face of the ones who sacrifice so much so we can enjoy the great freedoms of this country. We need a little common sense legislation here and it needs to happen now!!

    October 6, 2010 at 6:13 pm |
  6. Karl from SF, CA

    They shouldn’t have to be barred, but looking at this very non-Christian community it would be good if they could be kept away from the human race completely. Lack of media coverage might also helps but maybe not. God must cringe at what some people do in is name. I’d like to be a fly on the pearly gates when they get judged by God on their behavior. I’ll bet it won’t be pretty.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:13 pm |
  7. John

    As a son, father, and former soldier I can say without a doubt intruding on a grieving family burying a loved one is without a doubt wrong for any reason. I do not care what the church's opinion of our government or soldier happens to be, although regardless of your feelings toward the policies of the government everyone should support the soldiers themselves, there is a time and place for everything and funeral is not it. I doubt the Church would be happy if when they bury a family member a group of protesters picket their loved ones funeral accuse them of being Devil Worshippers or something else vile and untrue just like they do to our soldiers.

    They need to remember the Golden Rule "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you".

    John
    Dallas, Tx

    October 6, 2010 at 6:13 pm |
  8. Mike

    Let them protest but restrict where they can on display. Next to a sewer plant comes to mind for me.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:13 pm |
  9. Stewart in OR

    Cannot imagine how cruel hearted a person is to this to people on one of the worst moments of their lives. They have a right to express their opinions, but should not have the right to infringe on peoples private ceremonies if requested to leave.

    I'm a Christian, and I don't recall Jesus calling us to treat others inhumanely or with injustice. Can't name a moment he mocked or verbally tortured anyone in all I've read and heard about Him. If He returned today, would bet He would be disappointed that nothing has really changed, the world has just become a bigger circus.

    These people are way off base s Christians – as Jesus represents Love, Forgiveness, and Redemption. They need extra prayers.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:13 pm |
  10. Gary Canant

    Jack,
    I am a bugler and have played Taps at many military funerals. This is a sacred time for the family and should never be disturbed by the likes of the Phelps family. Words can spread hate, and I do not believe that the first ammendment protects hate and harrasment. It should be banned.
    Gary, Grover Beach California

    October 6, 2010 at 6:13 pm |
  11. Tricia

    While I can understand the Constitution protects freedom of speech and therefore the Supreme Court could certainly rule in favor with the church, I feel the way to side-step their ruling would be to enact local laws that place restrictions on the locations where people can assemble to protest. Unfortunately, in the end, it seems like this will be another case where the loudmouth minority will get their way in the courts while conscience, good sense, and respect for others will fall by the wayside.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:14 pm |
  12. Cliff Glass - Rego Park, New York

    Simple question, simple answer. Pass a federal law that no public demonstrations are permitted within one quarter mile of a cemetery or funeral home. This preserves 1st amendment rights and also masks the indecent and abhorrent behavior exhibited by these groups.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:14 pm |
  13. digusted

    Where is the line between freedom of speech and hate crime? They can express their belief but in your face method is provoking confrontation and they just better be glad its not my son's funeral as in my moment of grief I may do things I won't normally do like mow them down with a truck.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:14 pm |
  14. tim

    dont worry people. cause when the leadership of this laughable excuse for a church dies i say whoever lives near the funeral gather up and protest . yea loets all start protesting the funerals of these people and theyre lvoed ones. nothing teaches a lesson like turnabout. makes me mad that i spent 12 years active duty military to protect such selfish short sighted ignorant people. i would have given my life ot protect anyone in the united states. but i also would have put each and everyone one of them on their butts with a hard right hook.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:14 pm |
  15. Alex

    Are these people misguided and reprehensable? Does anyone with half a brain and a functioning heart want them to shut up? Thats a resounding yes to both questions, however our constituion says we have to let these bigots continue down their path to hell unobstructed, when life has ended for these people they'll understand the error of their ways, of that I have no doubt.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:15 pm |
  16. JBlossom

    Wouldn't their protests be more effective if they protested army bases or government offices rather than picking on easy targets like funerals?

    October 6, 2010 at 6:15 pm |
  17. Frank Blaine

    I think some of the protestors are reading the bible incompletely as God allowed wars and battles to happen for the good of his people. Also would these people become draft dodgers if there was a need for a draft? Probably. Thank God for our fighting men in all wars so we can speak English and be free. If we're not careful tthis country will go down the tubes in a ball of flames and we will be owned by others. No one should be protesting in this way at a funeral.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:15 pm |
  18. crgeary

    Yes. Funerals are private affairs. While I am a supporter of free speech, every possible law should be used against these people to keep them from denegrating the funerals of U.S. Soldiers or anyone else for that matter. The U.S. Government has a obligation to the soldiers and their families the shield them from these malicious excuses for humanity.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:15 pm |
  19. Tillie / Texas

    Yes. They are crazy people!

    October 6, 2010 at 6:15 pm |
  20. Howard in Alexandria, VA

    As repugnant and abhorrent as it is, it is free speech, Jack. But can't the various Federal and State governments prohibit such activity within a reasonable distance (say, 1 mile of the funeral site and its parade routes) for all military funerals?

    October 6, 2010 at 6:15 pm |
  21. anita fishburn

    ban protestors from funerals....and let's send dead flowers to fred phelps when that racist hater drops dead.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:15 pm |
  22. Ray

    Yes, they have the right to protest at funerals but what they are protesting must somehow be related to the funeral or the person who is being buried. The 1st Amendment is not a shield to just protest anything anywhere at any time. To protest you must be in context to what you are protesting in some way. This is nothing more than bigotry disguised as religion.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:15 pm |
  23. David Sisters OR

    Well of course Jack it's free speech. But that doesnt mean they can run their stupid , cruel protest right there. Let's say-no closer than a hundred miles.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:16 pm |
  24. Lydia in MInneapolis

    Hell, YES! People should be barred from protesting at funerals. THIS IS NOT A FREE SPEECH ISSUE. It's HARRASSMENT. Why haven't Phelps & his band of bullies been arrested for disturbing the peace? Be an anti-wwar protester at govt sites & you risk arrest for "disturbing the peace". There's a DOUBLE-STANDARD when hatful bigots get the protection of the First Amendment and political dissent is criminalized.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:16 pm |
  25. Ed

    YES. A funeral is a personal event meant for saying goodbye to a loved one. It is not a political event. It is NOT a free speech question. It is a question of respect and integrity.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:16 pm |
  26. Mark

    I believe they should be banned, but not by the Federal government. Most places have state or local ordinances that require motorists to pull over when a funeral procession passes or other signs of respect. They also have ordinances that govern assemblies, noise, and "attractive nuisances". That's the level this should be handled at. However, it's important for the Supreme Court to decide if such protests are protected or not under the First Amendment so that the local entities have a firm leg to stand on when crafting their laws and ordinances.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:16 pm |
  27. Chelsea, Minnesota

    YES YES YES JACK! I don't care what right the first amendment says, the funeral of a person should be respected. It's not even political... It is part of being human.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:16 pm |
  28. Carly S.

    Absolutely. It disgusts me that people are so intolerant and unaccepting of that which is "different." A funeral is a time to honor and celebrate a person's life–not to throw insulting, insensitive, hate filled views around. -Denver, CO

    October 6, 2010 at 6:16 pm |
  29. FreeSpeech

    C'mon Mr. Cafferty, you know this is the most slippery of slopes. Once speech is impeded, curtailed or outright banned at any event it opens the door to many, many other events. Distasteful? Rude? Ridiculous? All true, but we should avoid the ultimate consequences of any such banning actions.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:16 pm |
  30. Anthony from NJ

    These "protests" defintely need to be banned. Having free speech is what makes America great however, there are ramifications to some of the hurtfully, and down right inappropriate, words that can be spoken. What ever happened to the Golden Rule and all that jazz? The hypocracy from these protestors is unbelievable....

    October 6, 2010 at 6:16 pm |
  31. Jeff

    Although I believe the actions of the Baptist Church are deplorable, I dont think that the Supreme Court has the right to prevent them from making their statement. Only when the rights of the worst among us are protected can we feel secure that are our own rights are secure.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:16 pm |
  32. protestors

    These church people should be barred from protesting at private funerals.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:16 pm |
  33. Michael

    While most religious messages are offensive to someone, they are all equally protected. We should leave the matter of if they should be allowed to protest, and look to where they should be allowed to protest. A matter that should be handled by local governments.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:16 pm |
  34. Marcus in Greensboro, NC

    Yes, and if they show up at any of my family members' funerals we will make sure they will not attend ours. The Supreme Court should go with public opinion on this one.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:17 pm |
  35. robin mclean

    no one has the right to inflict suffering on others. not even "christians"

    October 6, 2010 at 6:17 pm |
  36. Don Wilson

    YES THEY CAN PROTEST AT FUNERALS !!! Hello, what are you thinking? We have a Constitution that protects 1st Amendment Rights. It is a slippery sloop to start modifying the law because it just does not feel right. You can only imagine where that can go!

    Screaming FIRE in a theater can cause death or Injury .. protesting Gays is not injurious.

    Think about what you are saying. In these times people love to change the laws IF the change suits them. That is not the way it was intended!

    With that said .. is is SICK to protest like that at a funeral. There are better places to do that. Maybe Obama can call them like the Koran burners and ask them not to do that!

    October 6, 2010 at 6:19 pm |
  37. Fran Omaha, Nebraska

    Jack i am a resonably law abiding and peaceful person of 90 years of age. If this group were to show up in Omaha protesting i can promise you that they would leave finding it very difficult to walk with their signs crammed up their collective asses. Not only should they be banned but they should be thrown out of the country. Not for protesting but for being ignorant. It is people like this that made abortion legal.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:19 pm |
  38. Tony

    If protests are banned at funerals where do we draw the line for the limiting for free speech. It may be in bad taste but the members of this church have the right to express their views. Dead American veterans sacrificed everything to protect that right. An unpleasant message is not illegal.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:19 pm |
  39. Gloria Goverman

    I believe strongly in free speech but funerals are really private events. Mourners should be able to have their privacy respected and protected. Let protesters bring their message to military recruitment centers but not to funerals.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:20 pm |
  40. Tony in Columbus

    Fortunately, they have the right to protest, but there are better places and times to protest than at the funeral. Unfortunately, like the Quran burning minister, they get air time for free by the media, so they will keep doing it.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:20 pm |
  41. Carol, Washington

    In general, emphatically YES, but look at another situation: should relatives of the victims of a serial killer be able to protest at the killer's funeral (assuming the killer's relatives would be so crass as to hold a public funeral)? Protesting might be their only chance to express their profound grief.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:20 pm |
  42. Steve G

    Jack,
    Yes they should. Location,location, location. If their issue is homosexuality, picket outside the rainbow coalition or some other gay rights group. It would make more sense. They are strictly looking for shock value because a dead soldier pulls at the nation's heartstrings.

    Steve,

    Hampton, Virginia

    October 6, 2010 at 6:20 pm |
  43. Ron

    Ron from CT
    OMG What the hang. i cant believe some people would be so evil and mean to go to someones funeral and belittle and heckle them. They Claim freedom of speech. well guess what those men and women there heckling are defending there right to do so. Why WHY would anyone want to do this i cant believe that there would be any human being out there that would support this. if this isnt domestic terroism than i dont know what is. this is the worst kind of terrorism the kind that hurts and lingers for the rest of the funeral goers lifes =(

    October 6, 2010 at 6:20 pm |
  44. Margaret O - Chicago

    These nut-jobs need to be stopped. Have they asked themselves: "What would Jesus do?"

    They are not any different than those who ran planes into the World Trade Center. Funeral protests should be considered domestic terrorism – not free speech.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:20 pm |
  45. Eric

    Its evident that these churches don't truly follow there bibles. Jesus said "you can tell these are my disciples for they have love for each other" and "judge not less thee be judged". I don't believe that people should be barred but people need to follow God. If everyone really wants change then follow Christ.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:20 pm |
  46. Peter

    The actions and words of the protestors are disgusting. They hate America and say the country is doomed, yet they quickly cowar behind the constitution upon confrontation. God Hates Hypocrites!

    Springfield, MA

    October 6, 2010 at 6:20 pm |
  47. Ed, Portland Oregon

    If there are restrictions on protests (free speech mind you) at various political rallies with 'protest zones', why can't there be a simple 'civility zone' around funerals?

    I've been to too many funerals lately and thankfully none of them have been plagued by the Westboros (I refuse to call such a group a 'church'), but if they had, I would've probably and gladly exchange years in jail to cause some serious damage to those attending.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:20 pm |
  48. jessica ortiz

    I think this is a horrible thing, and they should not call themselves Christians, this is a hate group. they need to respect the grieving families. they should not be allowed at funerals.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:20 pm |
  49. Dom Sandei

    The 1st amendment should only protect factual statements, not personal belief. You can't yell fire at a crowded theater and no one should be allowed to broadcast hate spewed comments at the expense of a greiving family.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:20 pm |
  50. Dawn from KC

    Yes, they should. Are they free to say whatever sick thing they want? Yes, b/c the very people they disrespect at military funerals died to give them that right, does that mean they should be able to say it wherever they want? No. What about the rights of families??

    If this form of hate speech is protected then we will never be able to do away with hate speech that is geared towards gays, blacks, people with disabilities, women, etc b/c those hate mongers can site the "free speech" protection.

    I can't walk into a crowded theater and yell fire. They shouldn't be able to tread on people's rights to grieve privately.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:20 pm |
  51. Shelly Crome

    As a resident of Kansas, I hear all about this "church's" inappropriate behavior at funerals on our local news and it is beyond embarrassing that they come from this otherwise beautiful state. I am SO proud that my father is a Legion Rider who has personally done what he could to block their ignorant messages from being heard by the mourning families. Such shameless people!

    October 6, 2010 at 6:20 pm |
  52. Jeremy D from Michigan

    Hello Jack,

    I almost always agree with your conclusions while watching the situation room, and have been lucky enough to have had my opinions read by you on three occasions. This is one that I disagree with you on. Although it is horrible, offensive, and downright evil of the supposed "church" to protest and insult the dead at their respective funerals, it is important to keep all speech free. The family's should be free to sue the offenders, and to speak back if they want to.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:20 pm |
  53. Susan B

    If you have to ever bury a Hero....contact your local Harley Davidson dealer,they will put you in touch with great bikers,alot veterans, who will block the protesters with their body and US Flags....God Blesses heros,the protesters are just US terrorists.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:20 pm |
  54. Annie, Atlanta

    I lost my husband two months ago, and cannot imagine dealing with this mob on top of already nearly unbearable pain, or where that pain level would be if it was one of my kids. My heart goes out to the families who have been subjected to this hate group, for that’s what they are, who in no way resemble humans, let alone “Christians.” This should be considered a hate crime.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:21 pm |
  55. Bob Jordan

    Since there is little difference between this digusting behavior and the anti abortion protesters, it is clearly legal, with some restrictions.

    While you may disagree with this right, it amazes me at how many of our good citizens are so quick to give up a basic right....ala the muslim temple in NYC, or someone elses freedom of speech. Think of all those who gave their lives to preserve these rights. What a wasted effort. it seems to have been.

    I'll bet popular vote would kill most of the Bill of Rights today.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:21 pm |
  56. kre8gate

    This shouldn't be so complicated. I am a huge believer in free speech, but it is easy to see that some use their free speech rights to oppress the rights of others or to simply commit acts of unspeakable indecency. We don't allow people to shout "fire" in crowded theaters or burn crosses on the lawns of minorities because these are acts of mayhem and violence. For the same basic reasons, we shouldn't allow people to shout hateful at the funerals of complete strangers.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:21 pm |
  57. Ron, WA

    I’m a serious 1st Amendment advocate but what these protestors are not going after public figures or going to public events rather they are taking their hate filled message to among the most solemnly private events in any family's life. There are plenty of public venues in which to spew their extremist rhetoric. Let our fallen soldiers Rest In Peace.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:21 pm |
  58. Jim Stuczynski

    What ever this church is, it is a cult because any Christian will tell you that Jesus' message does not include intentionally hurting other people and especially fellow Christians. Everyone should and does have the right to go to this church on Sundays and shout during their services – see how they like it...

    October 6, 2010 at 6:21 pm |
  59. BMaryland

    These people are despicable....beneath contempt. But we can't stop people from protesting, even if we abhor what they say. What we can do is create a distance between mourners and protesters. By the way, hard to swallow that this so-called "church" is tax exempt.....they should be paying their taxes. Ironic that the organization they seem focused on is the one that protects our freedoms, including the ability to spew such toxin.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:21 pm |
  60. Michelle B.

    Yes, there shouldn't be a protest at funerals, especially when it comes to the funerals for our troops. Funerals are there to help the families say farewell to their loved ones, not to hear the "church" say that the death was wanted by God.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:21 pm |
  61. Jeff Peters

    As a liberal, I don't like what these people stand for. At all. However, I completely defend their right to free speech so long as they don't enter on to private property uninvited to do it. It is a slippery slope, and we must be careful to respect and protect our rights, even if it may seem distasteful at times.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:21 pm |
  62. don mussman

    Yes they schould be barred from protesting at funerals, I think it is disgusting at the least.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:21 pm |
  63. Adam

    No, they should not be banned. The First Amendment of the United States is NOT there for the protection of popular speech - it is there for the protection of unpopular speech. Whether or not you agree with the language and conduct of this group is irrelevant - their behavior should be protected.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
  64. diana velardo

    These people have a right to their opinion as offensive as it is. The funeral is not a public forum, nor is it sponsored by the government, nor is the government trying to silence their speech. Funerals should be oFf limits. The family isn't making a political statement, they are burying their dead child.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
  65. Betty G-Washington State

    There is no public forum here. This funeral was a private family matter. These so called christians didn't even know the deceased. Would we tolerate such actions in say Arlington National Cemetery. Unfortunately we have disected the first amendment to the point where common decency has completely eluded us. They are lucky it was not my son's funeral, they would have no teeth left to speak with.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
  66. Sally Clayton

    I find it absolutely disgusting that a group would intrude on a family's grief, especially with the disgusting message these 'Christians' display. A funeral is no place to protest anything...it is a place to honor the deceased and mourn your loss. Shame on these people. They should remember Jesus main teachings, to love your fellow man and do unto others as you be done. They will be judged for these actions and found wanting.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
  67. Robert in NYC

    Jack, yes... this insanity should be illegal. It is disgusting. These evil people hide behind God. It's nothing more than the devil in disguise.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
  68. D Jensen

    Should protesters be banned from funerals? A resounding YES!

    First, a funeral is a grossly inappropriate time and place to air your religious or political views and force them on people who are grieving the loss of a loved one.

    Second, I highly doubt that Mr. Phelps or any of his spawn have personally spoken to God and know for sure He killed any soldiers in revenge for homosexuality. Revenge is the Devil's work, God will judge people on Himself, without this family's "help".

    D Jensen – Fort Lewis, WA

    October 6, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
  69. Sheryl

    Anyone can do anything in this country and hide behind the constitution. One must also ask: is it moral and compassionate? People who interrupt a funeral to protest should receive a firm knock on the head.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
  70. Mohammad

    Although freedom of speech is protected, there should be protections for family's who are engaging in the funeral percession. This is a very private and emotional event for those involved and although they are in a public venue. A work around would be for these funerals and their grounds be considered as private so that privacy protections are available and enforceable.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
  71. Marissa

    My husband is a law student and it really drives me crazy how lawyers can interpret the constitution to mean, or not mean for that matter, whatever they want it to. I personally like the constitution just how it is, but I'm pretty sure that any sane person would agree that the founding fathers did not have protesting at the funerals of the men and women who died to protect our country and Constitution in mind when they wrote it.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
  72. Jennifer

    Yes, bar protesters from funerals. They may have the right to free speech but the grieving families have the right to privacy and respect.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
  73. Hometown Postville

    Is nothing sacred anymore? Funerals should be the exception to the rule when it comes to First Amendment rights to protest, no matter what the issue. Imagine anti-gays picketing a homosexual Aids victim's funeral, picketers spewing hate at an illegal immigrant's funeral, or a murder victim's family showing up to heckle at the perpetrator's funeral? This is a form of harassment and demonstration of utmost disrespect, not to mention an example of the depths to which common morals have fallen. The family is suffering enough without the stress of fending off ignorant people who obviously are unable to channel their actions into something more positive. Even if a family is supportive of drawing attention to an issue by allowing picketing at the funeral, their decision may have been guided by vulnerability. In any case, exploiting a dead person for a cause is immoral and disgusting.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
  74. Mitch Dworkin - Dallas, Texas

    The answer to the question is "Yes" in my opinion. Being practical, the country will not be governable if this fringe group gets away with what they are doing, if kooks like Terry Jones can get the President to beg him not to burn Korans on national television, and when ideologues like Rep. Michele Bachmann call for a revolution on extreme right wing talk radio. I think that First Amendment "free speech" stops when what someone is doing or saying affects other people to the point where their actions are causing some kind of emotional harm, physical harm, or are a national security risk.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
  75. Pat Stressman

    I guess we've finally reached the place were everybody else has "rights" except, of course, those who have paid for those rights with their lives.

    So very sad.

    Pat
    SC

    October 6, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
  76. R.A.Lucas

    While defending free speech, I hope the Supreme Court would not allow someone to yell "fire" in a crowded theatre. Likewise they should not allow anyone to promulgate hate speech. This "church" clearly does not follow the biblical command to Love thy neighbor.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:23 pm |
  77. Marc - Monterey CA

    Well...ask yourself this Jack...if the signs were to read "Thank God for Dead (insert your favorite racial slur here)" and you were to stand outside a funeral for someone of that race, what do you think would happen?

    As a retired military service member, you bet, I fought to defend the right to free speech. However, this is hate speech. We just do not seem to recognize it or care as the focus (the DoD and its uniformed members) is something typically associated with those on the "right."

    Again, change the focus from "Dead Soldiers" to "Dead X, Y, or Zs" and we are not having this discussion.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:23 pm |
  78. James from Cookeville TN

    No. It is their Constitutional Right to protest. However, instead of banning the protest we should make the any crime committed against such "donkeys" at this or any other groups punishable by a maximum of 1 day in jail and a maximum of $1. Further the maximum lawsuit recovery to be a total of $1. This way you don't ban protected speech but you also add a layer of deterrence. I know I wouldn't protest at or near a funeral if I could be assulted or killed for a dollar and a day in jail!

    October 6, 2010 at 6:23 pm |
  79. Jason, koloa hi

    I think there can be a 1st amendment exception from freedom of speech in the case of showing respect for the dead. It's just a matter of common decency. Which obviously the ignorant disrespectful abomination of a group that thinks otherwise will never adhere to without being forced to. What a hideous disgrace those people are to humanity.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:23 pm |
  80. Steve, Clifton, Virginia

    I suspect that this particular church does not preach what God says about how we should treat one another in terms of love and forgiveness and treating your neighbor as you wish to be treated. It breaks my Heart as a Vietnam Veteran, that the message these folks are sending to the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan who are putting their lives on the line and dying to ensure that these folks can enjoy the privileges and benefits and freedoms of the First Amendment of our Constitution, that the country , or at least the parishioners attending this particular church, does not appreciate their tremendous sacrifices. I wish that this church preached love as opposed to hatred. I end with a question to these folks-"How would they like for terrorist to conduct protest at their loved one's funerals?"

    October 6, 2010 at 6:23 pm |
  81. Colin in Clearwater, Florida

    I have thought long and hard about this case.

    And as much as I hate to say it, I think the members of the 'church' have the right to say what they want-it seems to me to be constitutionally protected free speech.

    Now, if they say that a particular soldier is gay, they are open to a suit for libel or slander, and I would love to sit on that jury, but they appear to phrase their comments very carefully.

    Personally, I wish that (1) a Baptist group would sue them to protect the 'good' name of the baptist church, and (2), I wish that the press would quit covering these foul vermin, these loathsome excuses for people-maybe they would slither down into the sewer from which they came.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:23 pm |
  82. Kathy

    Absolutely, positively, YES. This is not about free speech, this is about having respect for those who are grieving. This tiny group of people calling themselves Christians are missing the message of Jesus Christ: "Love one another"... John 13:34-35.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:23 pm |
  83. Karen

    Can we shout "FIRE!" in a crowded building? No. Can someone spread lies about another person? In theory not legally. Speech whose sole purpose is to cause panic, pain, defame someone or put our country at risk should be banned. from public places.

    The men, women and their families have given the ultimate sacrifice for our country, the least we can do and is show respect for them and not allow others to desecrate their funeral.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:23 pm |
  84. Steve Edelstein

    The constitution guarantees free speech but but doesn't outlaw poor taste or stupidity (sometimes I wonder why it doesn't). So many today propose to throw the baby out with the bath water to achieve their narrow end. The first amendment is the cornerstone of our liberties and any limitation on it makes further limitations easier to achieve.

    Steve,
    Atlanta, Ga

    Ps: Say hello to Wolf and Lynn. I'm an old friend from Buffalo. Wolf was my camp counselor many decades ago.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:24 pm |
  85. Ashley

    Yes, yes, and yes. They should be barred from protesting at soldier's funerals. It's unabashed harrassment, and since it's directed at the families, the first amendment has absolutely nothing to do with this. They should go thump their bibles someplace else, not in the faces of the parent's and loved ones of fallen soldiers.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:24 pm |
  86. Rob S.

    These people are despicable but it is a slippery slope to start taking away First Amendment rights. Let them protest... but make it illegal to protest within a 10 mile radius of a funeral.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:24 pm |
  87. Al

    Free speech should be protected, even if we don't agree with what they are saying. This group's actions are tasteless and should not be encouraged but, we cannot afford to give up our liberties. Just like anti abortion groups can protest outside hospitals, this group of bigots should be allowed to spew their garbage outside graveyards. The way to stand against these guys lies with us, the community. We should make steps to hurt the church in other ways such as discouraging people from donating, asking that any governmental financial assistance be taken away or maybe passing legislature about disturbing the peace in the direct vicinity of a graveyard so that their protests will not soil the memory of our fallen heroes but we don't violate freedom of speech. Lets not forget, these are the very freedoms that our brave soldiers are dying to protect!

    October 6, 2010 at 6:24 pm |
  88. Sally Brown

    These protesters have also shown up at funerals in Upshur County, West Virginia after the Sago Mine disaster. Thank Heavens they did not show up after the Explosion at the Upper Branch Mine six months ago, it would not have been pretty.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:24 pm |
  89. Ron, WA

    I’m a serious 1st Amendment advocate but these protestors are not going after public figures or going to public events rather they are taking their hate filled message to among the most solemnly private events in any family's life. There are plenty of public venues in which to spew their extremist rhetoric. Let our fallen soldiers Rest In Peace.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:24 pm |
  90. Tripp

    This shouldn't even be a question.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:24 pm |
  91. Linda

    I hope all Christians will not be tarred with the same brush as the people from this so-called Christian church. They are far from the example Jesus would set with anyone who is grieving. How crass and selfish! The Christian God is a God grace – we cannot earn our way to heaven. Plus, judging others is not the job of human beings. Any human being who thinks he/she knows who will go to heaven is taking on God's responsibility and is far too arrogant. And, we are far too concerned with other people's sex lives in this country. The more we learn about the development of the brain, the more we understand that gay people are hard-wired that way. It is NOT a choice. And it's our business only to love them, not to judge them.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:24 pm |
  92. Jeremiah

    We have the right to freedom of religion. There for anyone should be allowed to display all religious beliefs and practices without any interruptions. Freedom of speech should be allowed still during funerals but cant be within so many miles of the burial site.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:24 pm |
  93. kathy from phx,az

    Yes most definately! What ever happened to common decency! I think it went out the window along with respect. I am so tired of hearing its my right to say what ever I want because of the 1st ammendment. I don't think our forefathers meant for freedom of speech to get out of hand like it has.. They aren't just turning over in their graves they are rolling at a high speed!!

    October 6, 2010 at 6:25 pm |
  94. Connie Barr

    The first amendment has been abused for a few years now. Not what the founding fathers had in mind.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:25 pm |
  95. Raji the Green Witch

    At least wait until after daddy Fred Phelp's funeral because I would love to join the 50,000 people in military uniform and the 100,000 vets who will be loudly protesting at his funeral and celebrating his demise.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:25 pm |
  96. Cajun Dude

    Disgusting is too nice a word for these animals. When any of them die, I hope their funeral is confronted by protesters who were the parents and supporters of soldiers whose funerals these fake Christians desecrated.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:25 pm |
  97. wendelyn

    Of course people shouldn't protest at funerals & the fact that we're even debating this issue shows how far we've fallen from understanding what it means to have consideration & compassion for others. If people really think we have too much government then maybe they should start to learn how to behave like human beings instead of selfish monsters.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:25 pm |
  98. Ashraf Zayed

    Intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) clearly applies in this case. In short, IIED is defined as an intentional act that was extreme and outrageous and while there are other elements and factors of IIED it is clear that the acts of the "church" were extreme and outrageous- no matter what the standard is. Last time I checked, the first amendment was not intended to protect absurd behavior.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:26 pm |
  99. judy Siegel

    Absolutely. Jesus commanded us to "love one another, that is how people would know we are disciples of HIS."John 13:35
    "Do not judge so you will not be judged." Matthew 7:1 God is the judge and they will stand before Him for their just deserve.
    We are created to glorify God..Isaiah 43:7 They do not.. God is love and they are hate.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:26 pm |
  100. Jason

    If these idiots have the "right" to our free speech ammendment....Perhaps someone should also exercise our "right to bear arms" ammendment on these people. I guess their "god" will be taking care of them soon enough.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:26 pm |
  101. James

    As a former service member, it's interesting to see the great, inherent irony of the first Amendment we have defended. One of the surest signs that freedom of speech is intact is when a protestor can burn the flag of his own nation without prosecution. Westboro Baptist "Church" doesn't see the irony behind protesting a nation then hiding behind the very principles it is founded upon. If they hate this country so much, we should all pitch in to buy one-way airline tickets to places more in keeping with their thought process, like Iran. At least there they can find a prime candidate for their "clergy of the insane" in Ahmedinijad. I'd like to see how their anti-government protest signs in Tehran work out for them.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:26 pm |
  102. David

    Just because one has the right of free speech doesn't mean that one should say anything that comes into their mind. The lack of decency and the remarks of this 'church' is what most would consider as obscene. Where is the protection of the funeral attendees for that?

    October 6, 2010 at 6:26 pm |
  103. Daniel

    Yes, these kind of protests at funerals are disrespectful, especially considering the service Synder and other soldiers have done for this country. I'm a baptist christian and I don't support the methods of Phelps and his church. Although I don't support homosexuals, I don't think it's right to go to a soldier's funeral and say "thank God for dead soldiers like you". Our soldiers put their lives on the line everyday and they should be given the respect they deserve. I think there are better ways for Fred Phelps and his church to get their message out.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:26 pm |
  104. Wendy Lithwin

    Maybe I'm wrong, but isn't a funeral a religious rite and practice? Who are these people to prevent people from practicing their religion. No question about it, everyone should be able to have some peace and understanding when mourning the death of a loved one. And our constitution does protect our right to freedom of religion too.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:26 pm |
  105. Josh

    Absolutely not! The protection of free speech under the Constitution does not pivot on how we feel about the speech. A lack of common sense and compassion with a surplus of arrogance does not change one's coverage under the Constitution. And 10 million dollars for emotional distress?!?!?! Insane! Hopefully the Supreme Court won't overturn the decision for it would set a precedent of protecting "the offended" over the freedom of speech. These people are nuttier than the homeless guy talking to himself on the corner. That guy gets ignored. This "church" should be ignored as well.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:26 pm |
  106. Jeanne Lee Cunningham

    am born and raised in Kansas. That "church", only 30 miles away from me, frightens me more than any tornado ever could. You can see a tornado coming and you can go down into your basement and protect yourself. But, the Phelps family is a blight – like bindweed in a wheat field – you know that even if you pull it up by the roots, it will come back. And, you can spray poison on it and keep it under control this year, but next year, you have to spray again.

    So, I think that creating a virtual fence with a law will help keep those who should least likely be expected to bear the burden of their vitriol, from having to bear it. But, the rest of us MUST fight it with truth and continually educating our children and neighbors to NOT be influenced by hate.

    That's the awful truth – here in Lawrence, KANSAS – and anywhere that Democracy continues to still be the best choice available.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:26 pm |
  107. Nate Burr

    The karma will be revealed at Fred Phelps' funeral (which could be any day here)–no protesters, no counter-protesters, no public condolences, just the small and lonely Westboro Baptist Church congregation. And, as their evil leader makes his first-class trip to Hell, maybe then the rest of them will be inclined to reconsider just who God "Hates."

    Nate
    Michigan

    October 6, 2010 at 6:26 pm |
  108. randy bushee

    I believe that if a church or any religous organization that doe's or says things from the pulpit in the name of God should lose their tax exempt status. Do we remember separation of church and state

    October 6, 2010 at 6:26 pm |
  109. John

    Those protesters should be asked: "How would you feel if such offensive and outrageous signs were displayed at a funeral of one of YOUR loved ones?"

    October 6, 2010 at 6:27 pm |
  110. jillib

    Yes, they should be banned on the basis of common decency – something the Fred Phelps "Christians" seem to be seriously lacking.

    They call themselves "Christians" – I call them pathetic.

    Jilli
    Houston, TX

    October 6, 2010 at 6:27 pm |
  111. Bill Herrold

    When Freedoms Collide:

    It seems to me that when one person's freedom of speech (that would be the idiots protesting the 21st century) conflicts with another's freedom of religion (the right to memorialize a family member who has fallen in defense of his or her country), we have to decide which right should prevail for the better interests of the whole country. In this case, I have to go with the freedom to exercise one's religion without having some ignorant bozos insulting them and disrespecting their grief.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:27 pm |
  112. Miriam

    BAN THEM! Grieving at a loved ones funeral is heart wrenching and terrible enough, then to have THESE hateful people show up is like pouring salt in an open wound. This is an invasion of privacy, who the hell has the right to show up to any private gathering ie..funeral, wedding, bar mitzvah, baptism...etc. and protest.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:28 pm |
  113. Elice DeJesus

    yes bar protester from funerals specially from military funerals because i consider it inhumane its enough for the family to have to deal with the lost of a loved one a HERO!!!!, and have to deal with other peoples belives or views it is not the familys fault!

    October 6, 2010 at 6:28 pm |
  114. Jeff Scheppers

    This "church" in Kansas is a perfect example of extremism and is in no way a legitimate representation of tolerance, which is part of the foundation of Christianity. However, the US constitution does not differentiate between idiotic and intelligent speech. So, every effort should be made to prosecute these ignorant gasbags for trespassing,
    illegal assembly or whatever applies.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:28 pm |
  115. Carrie /Alabama

    Letting people pursue their right is what these men and women are losing their life for , so they can do what they do .
    BUT that said ,it also shows what kind of people these hate mongers are. They think they have God on their side , which is sad , nothing about what they do or believe in is at all Godly. Judgemantal people are dealt with in the Bible as sinners also.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:28 pm |
  116. Sterling Brooks

    Jack:
    When I was 19, I joined the Army and volunteered for Vietnam while at Fort Bragg. (Still don't know why we were there, but I'd like to think it had something to do with at least, protecting Free Speech.)
    Fast Forward 40 years, and now that I'm 59, I'm fighting mad about these DEMONS in Kansas and I'd love to wear my old uniform, stand in a lie with other Vietnam Vets and prevent them form exercising the "right" to free speech.
    I'm FIGHTING MAD down here in Abilene, Texas

    October 6, 2010 at 6:29 pm |
  117. Rick B

    Yes Jack, these self-serving religous fanatics obviously don't have a clue what Jesus was all about. The only thing that they are showing is the hatred perpetrated by their Church. What is is that they are so afraid of?

    Gilbert, AZ

    October 6, 2010 at 6:29 pm |
  118. Dunga from Colorado

    Protesting at Funerals is the dumpiest thing that should be left for the dumps.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:29 pm |
  119. thesaj

    I am all for free speech. But what Mr. Phelps does is more of a form of assault.

    He is protesting private events, for what he views as a nation. And while I support free speech. I also support one's right to self-defense. Now while this is not a situation that justifies life threatening use. I believe any parents of the protested have the right to go pummel Mr. Phelps.

    Oh, by the way, I'd be considered a born-again evangelical Bible believing thumping Christian. But I believe Phelps's sins far outweigh any he thinks himself to be protesting.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:29 pm |
  120. Larry

    At most places in the U.S. you need a permit to publicly protest, and this definitely applies to protesting on private property or inside a government facility; such as a V.A. or National Cemetery. So in my opinion the question is not about free speech, rather it is about having permission to protest at a particular facility, and this is an issue which has not yet been raised in this case. Did the protesters have permission from the cemetery administrators to do what they did?

    October 6, 2010 at 6:29 pm |
  121. Layla

    Speaking as someone who has lost a family member to the war in Iraq I feel that protesting a funeral of a fallen soldier is torment on a family that is already going through hell. I remember praying that this cult did not show up for Mikey's funeral. Yes they have a first amendment right to free speech, and some cities have ordinances where permits must be gotten to protest or gather, but most soldiers are coming from tiny towns that do not have these laws and no need for them. Passing a law that requires protesters to stay a mile away from the funeral would keep free speech alive and these dirt bags away from families who have just lost everything they hold dear. These bums are one of the reason's the patriot guard was formed.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:29 pm |
  122. David Smilowitz

    No one should be allowed to harass a grieving family, or in any way disrupt funeral services. It goes beyond bad taste. Regardless of your politics, certain things should be off limits in the name of common decency. Society is spiraling downward. Things like compassion and respect are no longer admired. What happened to the "fruits of the spirit" mentioned in the bible.
    Dave
    Somerset, N.J.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:30 pm |
  123. Vidar

    Dear Jack, I know that you must understand that the protesters have a right to protest in America, why fight it? But, the protesters are also protesting against what God, the Creator, the God of our heritage, speaks against. people doing. But, certain deceivers, with their activist agenda, are attempting to drag all of America into the very actions that our Creator God, the God of our heritage, has protested against since thousands of years, in every nation on earth. Only in this land of liberty, the USA, could a people be so ignorant of THE LAW OF LIBERTY that is expounded in the Holy Bible.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:30 pm |
  124. Sierra Gongora

    "The church claims the soldiers' deaths are God's revenge for the United States tolerating homosexuality." What do those two things have to do with each other? "Thou Shalt not judge." It means nothing to you. So why do you call yourself a church when you can't even go by these simple things? You are more like a hate group rather than a church.

    I think they should be barred from protesting at funerals. Its pointless to protest against this in the first place. It's not going to change the fact that Americans do tolerate homosexuality. Actually it offends most true Americans and true Christians. No matter what you do it will stay the same. Free speech and harassment are two separate things.

    This is nothing more than a hate group harassing innocent people and using the government (which they are protesting against) as a shield.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:30 pm |
  125. paul

    Should bigots be barred from protesting at the funerals of patriots? Perhaps not by law, but by decency. It never ceases to amaze me the hate seething from the lips of so-called Christians. Have they no shame?

    Paul
    Arlington, MA

    October 6, 2010 at 6:30 pm |
  126. Marty M

    This group of Christians, are just plain nuts. I was born, raised and still an active Catholic, never in my live life have I ever heard such hurtful and distorted voices.
    The Family of this brave MAN, who was killed fighting for the USA, needs to know that 99.9% of our Country stands with then in their sorrow:(

    October 6, 2010 at 6:31 pm |
  127. Mark Fletcher

    I am a huge proponent of free speech and am strictly against censoring what anyone has to say in print, on the news, or online. With this said, the right to free speech does not guarantee the right to be anywhere at anytime in order to express one's opinion.

    A funeral is not necessarily a public event and there are people are who not welcome even if they never say a word. This is like saying if someone disagrees with me they have a first amendment right to barge into my living room in order to exercise their free speech.

    Free speech is the right to express my views in a public forum. It becomes harrassment when I insist on being in a physical proximity to confront someone.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:31 pm |
  128. Cindy

    Yes! It isn't protest when the rhetoric consists of nothing but Hate Speech. Freedom of Speech guarantees that we can disagree with the government or government official, it says nothing about it being okay to infringe upon the rights of individuals.

    But here's a thought... why wait for the government to take care of this. Instead, watch their website, find out where they are going to be, then organize a sheild for the procession. Hold up large white sheets of cardboard or posterboard and bring along a flatbed with amps and the music of choice of the mourners played loud enough to drown out the drivel. There is no reason those who oppose this kind of reprehensable behavior cannot block it peaceably

    October 6, 2010 at 6:31 pm |
  129. Bob in Pa

    Do we really need another law on the books?
    Our government has made life so complicated nowadays. Most laws are really just a matter of common decency or common sense. Have we finally lost both ?

    October 6, 2010 at 6:31 pm |
  130. Will A, Las Cruces, NM

    Ignorance and poor taste are not crimes, though they should be. So long as they are in a public space, not endangering others and not committing crimes, their speech should be protected. I find it despicable that someone would protest a funeral, especially one of someone who sacrificed so much for our country. Popular speech does not need the first amendment, unpopular speech does. Still, how many will want to hold up God Hates Bigots and Got Hates Stone Throwers signs at Phelps' funeral?

    October 6, 2010 at 6:32 pm |
  131. Fran, Michigan

    Yes, Yes, Yes!!! I can't believe people are so ignorant in the name of Religion and God. It seems to me if their First Amendment Rights would be violated barring them from protesting, then how about removing their church from tax-exempt status!! Any church or religion that continues to spout their political opinions should have a visit by our friendly IRS!!!!!

    October 6, 2010 at 6:32 pm |
  132. Greg

    I know there has to be some ways to stop these hate mongers from disrupting a funeral. Maybe disturbing the peace comes to mind. Why does this kind of people get more protection then their victims? What is wrong with this picture?
    Greg

    October 6, 2010 at 6:32 pm |
  133. Andrea

    The audacity this "church" has to show up at fallen soldiers funerals, who have given their life's for our country to protest, shows they lack fundamental values of a church. They should be ashamed of themselves and should not be allowed to infringe on the privacy of any other family grieving over the loss of their loved one.
    -Andrea, Orlando, FL

    October 6, 2010 at 6:33 pm |
  134. Fort Benning Soldier

    I was sadden and in disbelief to see that the family of a fellow service member who lost his life during Combat Operations was treated in such a way by protestors I believe funerals are hollow grounds and should be respected. I get the whole freedom of speech deal but people need to use some common sense and treat people like they would expect to be treated if they were attending a funeral of a loved one....and if they can not use common sense well maybe we need to come up with some rules and guide lines for protesting near funerals maybe like no protesting within 10 miles of a funeral

    October 6, 2010 at 6:33 pm |
  135. David P Vernon

    Tucson, AZ – Everybody go back to law school. The Constitution says "no law", not "no private lawsuit." The Constitution constrains the Government, NOT the People. Phelps has a legal right to speak and demonstrate, but only in public or on his own premises. Snyder has the right to sue Phelps for causing him, Snyder, harm by doing so along the funeral route. The courts have the power to award Snyder every dime Phelps has in compensation for that harm. The Constitution protects Phelps' speech from abrogation by the City, the County, the State, and the Feds, but not from Snyder, his victim. Phelps' freedom of speech does not extend to infringing on Snyder's freedom of religion and privacy. The appeal courts cannot overrule the trial court about whether Phelps did in fact harm Snyder, only whether the suit and the trial were carried out according to the rules. That is that.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:33 pm |
  136. Brian Paul

    They are no church at all! They are haters and and attention seekers. They will get theirs soon enough!

    October 6, 2010 at 6:33 pm |
  137. MSB

    Yes protesters should be barred at funerals. There is a difference between free speech and harassment. That difference has been recognized in the courts for a long time, but applied to other settings.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:33 pm |
  138. Mark Bellware

    Of course they should be allowed! Free speech would be acceptable to you Jack, if they were NOT a church, but individuals, protesting the war for being a fruitless waste of blood, and taxes. See. Both protests would say it is a war described as innocents dying for oil.
    Afganistan is ONLY still there because it is destined to be a military launching area in the event of the inevitable- when Iran attempts to take over the oil fields in Iraq.
    Then, our Long term bases (for generations our military has said) would justify ALL these military lives -and innocent civilians- being tallied endlessly. Yes. So it shall be. but NEVER just war, for a country known rocks and desolation.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:33 pm |
  139. Ethel

    It constantly appals me the depth people go to to be publicly disrespectful, hateful, and ignorant all in the name of their religion. Hate continues to be a popular sport in this country. I read it in letters to the editor in local papers, I hear it in campaign ads and I cry about it after suicides caused by bullies on school campuses. Behaviors advocating prejudice and hate should not be allowed on school campuses, in public political forums, and definitely within a half mile of anyone's funeral.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:34 pm |
  140. Dee D. Miro

    Yes, protesters should be barred from funerals. Some things in life are sacred. Should we allow protesters in our Churches, Mosques, Temples, etc.? It makes no sense to me. Free speech has its place but not when families and friends are burying their loved one. Especially a person who has just died in war fighting for our freedom and rights–what about their rights? If the Supreme Court upholds this decision then I say open the doors and let protesters into their Chamber. Let them have signs in the court room and protesters shouting angry and hateful message to them...or does that not apply?

    October 6, 2010 at 6:34 pm |
  141. misterheath

    This is really upsetting. Regardless if they are within their rights.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:34 pm |
  142. Jim Blevins

    Our right to free speech is probably the most important safeguard to our freedom. Even the most despicable of people must have the right to express their opinion. Reasonable restrictions that prevent their interference with the ceremony are most reasonable so long as they do have the opportunity to express their views.

    Jim, Craig, CO

    October 6, 2010 at 6:34 pm |
  143. Mary

    This group should be kicked out of the country. HOw dare they and who do they think they are. And to do this at someone's funeral??? Totally outrageous. There's a limit to freedom of speech and to the disrespect of those who die defending those rights.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:34 pm |
  144. Kevin McEnaney

    Protesting at anyone’s funeral is disgusting, extremely disturbing and a total invasion of privacy. Protesting at a funeral of a service man or woman who died serving our country is beyond belief. Anyone who would do such a vile thing is an animal, a brainless, insensitive, cruel, heartless dirt bag. Being able to do so as a right of free speech under the First Amendment would be a slap in the face to those who call this country home and would make me less proud to call myself an American.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:34 pm |
  145. Patrizia

    Freedom of speech is one thing, thug behavior is another. A funeral is a private cerimony, and their right of so called "free speech" finish where my right for privacy starts and vice versa.
    As far as I can remember the above was the basis upon which a society is built.
    To shout stupidities does not qualify as "speech".
    To willingly inflict pain does not qualify as "freedom".
    So, from now on, I will use my right to "free speech" and call this group with the only name I think apply to them: MORAL IDIOTS

    October 6, 2010 at 6:34 pm |
  146. Sam Beecorf

    It is said that one's rights end where those of another begin so First Amendment Rights being excercised should not preclude punishment when the excercise of such rights infringe on the right of that poor soldier's family to bury him in dignity without harrassment.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:35 pm |
  147. Mike in Houston

    Jack -

    These radical church members must be banned from disrupting anyone's funeral, especially a military person who served our great country. There are precedences for controlling "free speech" such as not being allowed to make threatening comments in an airport, being escorted out of a football game for abusive language, etc. Such precedence must to apply to a soldier's funeral !! Our society's common sense and respect for each other has gone down the toilet !!

    October 6, 2010 at 6:35 pm |
  148. janet

    Seems as though the picketing and language used by this congregation should be defined as "Hate" crimes and treated as such. They are domestic terrorists of the worst kind, standing behind a particular interpretation of the Freedom of Speech clause while they attack our military members and their families.

    JC
    Plantation, FL

    October 6, 2010 at 6:35 pm |
  149. Kathy

    absolutely bar them from protesting at funerals. That's just SICK that they do that.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:35 pm |
  150. Sean from Maine

    Haven't we learned anything in the past few years? The more somebody publicly bashes homosexuals, the more likely they are one. Ted Haggard, Larry Craig, and just recently, Ken Melhman. These idiots will vanish the second someone proves the head of their dumb little church is gay. It's all just over compensation by people who can't come to terms with their own sexuality. Morons.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:36 pm |
  151. Matt

    These people should be stopped immediately. Free Speech? Really? There are tons of examples of restricted speech in this country. This practice should be added to the restricted list. Our government needs to act on this and stop these people as quickly as possible.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:36 pm |
  152. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Since the dead can't speak for themselves, I'm speaking for them as we all should and the answer is H... yes, show some respect.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:36 pm |
  153. f.r.bruce

    These people has carried protesting to the behond . Honer our falling vets,and those familys . Can you protest to . God? Ex marine

    October 6, 2010 at 6:37 pm |
  154. KEN KRIEGER

    Free speech is one of our most important rights. As rude and mean as these people are, free speech more important. It allows us to speak to power. In Italy you can get six years for speech. I want people in every community to souround these people so the people attending the fureral can't see them. Also souround their church and protest and make their life miserable. Make them lepers. Ken Krieger Cape Coral, Florida

    October 6, 2010 at 6:37 pm |
  155. Ron Battema

    These people are playing with words. Do they have freedom of speech? There is no denying the fact. However, they are using their "freedom" to abuse and harm the privacy rights of the victims. The families also have freedom and a right to privacy. I do not believe that the manner in which this small group of bigots are using the constitution is in the spirit that the founding fathers intended. They are simply using it to promote their own bigotry at the expense of those who have given the all in the defense of this country. Rather than protesting at these funerals, they should be on their knees thanking God that these fallen heroes died to provide them with the freedom they are abusing.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:38 pm |
  156. Mike Held

    Hi Jack,

    I can not believe that our founding fathers had this in mind! What this "so called Church" is doing is harrasement, pure and simple. Funerals for loss of love ones is hard enough to bare without these hyenia's banting their dribble. We look to ban bullies verbal abuse in schools but not at funerals? This is not free speech but bullying.
    So why not change the law to make funerals private affairs not public events. My condolences to the Snyder family.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:39 pm |
  157. Edson Berglette

    With all do respect to the family, the protesters indeed had the right, it was morally wrong, but the first amendment does protect them. I am deeply dissapointed people would even consider judging this, throught the world Americans preech how we among all countries respect and value the rights of all people, and how the constitution is a rock of this country, yet we let our emotions cloud our judgements.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:39 pm |
  158. Eric from Encino

    Why is it that it always seems to be the religious "good" people of the world spreading hate. When is the last time you saw an atheist spread fear and hate on this type of scale?! Although, I believe in freedom of speech, these people are just disgusting and anyone with that much hate in their heart can't be worth much.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:40 pm |
  159. Eliezer Galang

    Sure this is a case of freedom of speech. But the United States have had a couple of cases involving freedom of speech. If anyone knows of Schneck vs. United States, "Clear and Present Danger" was established as part of our freedom of speech. We are in a time of war. Though this war has no direct correlation with this case, don't you think any marine hearing this story would be enraged? And isnt it very possible that anyone of these marines could break and bring harm to WBC members?

    October 6, 2010 at 6:40 pm |
  160. Judy Siegel

    Absolutely. These protestors state they are followers of God and they pretend to speak for Him, so I will allow God's word to speak for Him

    Jesus commanded us to love one another... "by this all will know you are my disciples, love one another" John 13:35
    Do not judge so you will not be judged Matthew 7:1
    We were created to glorify God. Isaiah 43:7
    They are not glorifying God... quite the opposite and that is why so many people see christians in such a bad, hypocritical light.
    Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
    1 John 4:8
    They will stand before the God and have to give an account of their action Romans 14:10-12

    October 6, 2010 at 6:41 pm |
  161. Rob from Maryland

    What they are doing is taking the the Lords name in vain, to the 10 th power. They have toooo much time on there hands.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:41 pm |
  162. Bret

    Tthey should be allowed to protest all they want but they should not be allowed any protection against violence.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:41 pm |
  163. Lynn Chilton

    There are limitations to Free Speech. For instance you can't yell "Fire" in a theater when there is no evidence of a fire. You should not be able to yell aprotest that God killed your son/daughter at a funeral because of homosexuality in America when ther is no evidence from God!

    October 6, 2010 at 6:41 pm |
  164. Jeff in California

    This must be treated as a free speech case, else we will be on that "slippery slope". I suggest that the Supreme Court support the right to protest but allow reasonable restrictions that would protect those rights yet give the families the right to grieve in peace also. Unfortunately, we must protect the church's right of free speech to protect our own.

    When Phelps dies, perhaps we could hold up signs saying similar despicable things about his passing. I wonder how his wife, children and friends would feel to hear that there are those that celebrate his death. Maybe they should look at their actions in that light; perhaps they still have enough Christianity in them to realize the hurt they are causing.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:41 pm |
  165. Alan

    What a slippery slope. On the one hand you want to protect everyone from such vile actions especially while grieving for a loved one. On the other want, how many of these obscene acts will we allow to chip away at our freedoms?

    I think the Canadian had it right. To protect our rights, perhaps we need to better act as a community and protect the grieving families, shield them from the ugliness of the human race at such a horrible time in their lives, show our support and compasion, let our goodness shine so that they do not hear or see this ugliness. Because I am afraid the remedy will not lie with the Supreme Court.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:41 pm |
  166. Robert B. Howig

    Shouldn't we be able to see some kind of nexus–some kind of logical connection–between a protest and what one is protesting? If I think cauliflower is too expensive, should I walk and carry signs in front of the local Ford assembly line? How could a bereaved family or a deceased soldier correct the wrong these Westboro folks claim to see being done?
    Our laws are written for sane, reasonable people. We live 30 miles from this church; our church was a Sunday-morning target of one of their protests some 4 years ago. We're still not sure what we did to offend them. Our constitution gives us freedom of speech, but not freedom of public insane speech that in its effect comes close to assault.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:42 pm |
  167. Jason Sessions

    Jason Sessions from Mount Vernon, Washington State

    As much as the actions of this church group disgusts me, the idea that people like them get to dictate the stance our country takes on issues of free speech is equally disturbing to me. Although it might frustrate us terribly to let protests like this happen, we cannot let such hate groups force us to lesson the core American values that the Synder families son died to protect.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:42 pm |
  168. A. R. Allred

    These protestors are not Christians. I would hope the right to privacy or some other legal protection will be ruled to apply to funerals for fallen soldiers. When a loved one dies the pain can be physically more painful than the worst of blows, anything that intentionally adds to a person's grief I think could be considered abuse or battery and should not be protected free speach.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:42 pm |
  169. Sandra Mallie-Athens Texas

    Oh My God, no wonder people are turning away from God. Please forgive the humans of this earth who believe they have rights to make judgements! Only God makes the judgement call. These people are tormenting the families of soldiers, who they think are gay? Even if they were gay, who do they think they are, to assume they are God!! Each person that joins this group of self rightous fools, will stand on their judgement day and suffer, they will not be praised or rewarded in Heaven! God is love, not hate!! And God is Our Father forever, not just when we seek him!

    October 6, 2010 at 6:42 pm |
  170. Ed W.

    Absolutely they should be barred from protesting at funerals.

    If my child were to enlist, and perish in a war...and then these cretins showed up I would shoot them.

    Plain and simple.

    Not one person in this country has a right to interupt a family mourning their own.

    The fact that these people have been allowed to do this at all is an absolute disgrace.

    Like my opinion or not, think it harsh if you want, it is what it is.

    And I won't be showing up to anyone's funeral to tell you that opinion.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:42 pm |
  171. Cary

    It's still illegal to yell "Fire" in a crowded movie theater. Restricting people from harassing behavior doesn't restrict theirs free speech rights since the issue was never about free speech it was about their rights to harass others. You can't threaten the President, isn't that free speech. Isn't slander free speech? The point is there has always been limits on free speech. Threats generally are excluded and certain locations are excluded. I doubt pedophiles would be allowed to hold similar gatherings outside a play ground. The purpose of these protests isn't about free speech it's about hate pure and simple. Why isn't this a hate crime? They have countless avenues for free speech but harassing funerals of fallen soldiers is not free speech and can not be allowed in a civilized society.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:43 pm |
  172. William

    it is reprehensible but as long as it not on cemetery property and they are not blocking access, it is legal.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:44 pm |
  173. David Powell

    Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Cult are a despicable and depraved perversion of Christianity and all that it stands for. But if Fred Phelps' speech can be censored, then so can mine. The First Amendment guarantees the freedom of speech. It does not guarantee the right to not be offended.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:44 pm |
  174. deb from Ohio

    What these people do is beyond offensive, by definition it is Obscene and let them face obscenity laws for criminal prosecution.
    I beblieve the appeals court erred in reversing the civil suit –
    yes, under the constitution you have freedom of speech, but that doesnt protect you from libel, invasion of privacy and infliction of emotional harm. You Can say whatever you like, however you may have to face civil and criminal charges for such.
    These people are morons

    October 6, 2010 at 6:45 pm |
  175. Robert L Fletcher, Amry,SSG, RET

    I can't tell you what do about the protester at millitay funeral. but When I got back from Viet Nam. My frenid and I was walking around our town in uniform. When three hippys came up to us and called all kinds name. My frined said let beat them up. I said we shouled be thaking them, because they are showing what a fantasric job that we have been doing defending there rights. What other country can you go up to a solder that defened you and tell him what you think of him, good or bad and still walk away. The hippys, hung there head down and walk away. So I fell that anytime some one use there freedom of speech, wether good or bed, they are onnoing the Military wether they know it or not. Thank God and our Millitay for the countution.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:47 pm |
  176. Roy B.

    Rights? Decency and respect transcend rights. These protesters may one day find out that no one will be there to protect them and their speech during a protest and that the freedom of others to assemble and tar and feather them will trump their rights.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:48 pm |
  177. John in KC

    I am a Patriot Guard rider and am trying to do what little I can to show honor to those who have given everything for my freedom. This band of loud-mouthed protesters is really showing America how low a human can become when they listen and follow a deranged idiot. America needs more people standing in the gap for those who stood for us.

    October 6, 2010 at 6:50 pm |
  178. Campbell

    Regardless of whether or not the 1st amendment technically allows it, the Founding Fathers never would have allowed a group like this to protest at military funerals. These men and women have given their lives in defense of our constitution and our way, and for these people to cruelly turn it against them like this is both repugnant and immoral. For claiming to be a Christian organization, they hardly seem to be upholding Christian values

    October 6, 2010 at 6:51 pm |
  179. Mike

    They are protected by the First Amendment. So are the rest of us. If they show up, good decent people should also show up with really really big signs to blot out this travesty in the name of Free Speech. Why is it that the only people actually trying to shield the grieving families from these haters are a bunch of noisy bikers called The Patriot Guard? Actions speak louder than words and good people need to start acting!

    October 6, 2010 at 6:52 pm |
  180. Nancy Cleveland

    Yes ... are they paying for the funerals??? Are they feeling the pains???

    October 6, 2010 at 6:52 pm |
  181. Mary Mitchell, Seattle

    If the group protesting at the soldier's funeral is so fond of the
    Constitution, why don't they consider what the founding fathers
    would say about their activities? Or, what would Jesus say?

    October 6, 2010 at 6:53 pm |