Thursday, April 08, 2010

Why I'm Not a Lawyer

Because I know who my parents are, ha, ha.

But seriously, folks...

Every once in a while, something I write here gets people riled up enough to make comments that make me rethink my original position...or, at least, the passions that led to my original position.

A week or so ago, I wrote in this space (read it here) about a court decision I found utterly incomprehensible: the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in the case of Snyder v. Phelps. You can read the decision yourself at the link, but the Readers' Digest version is that the court rejected a suit filed by Albert Snyder, the father of a Marine killed in Iraq, against the Westboro Baptist Church for privacy invasion, intentional infliction of emotional distress and civil conspiracy, and ordered Mr Snyder to pay some $16,000 to the church to compensate it for costs incurred in fighting the suit. You may recall that the Westboro Baptist Church is notorious for its demonstrations at the funerals of military personnel, in which they praise the deaths and mutilations of these personnel as God's punishment of the United States for condoning what it believes is the sin of homosexuality.

I got several really excellent comments on that post, but two especially are worth your time to go back and read: one by my friend and part-time nemesis the Eminence Grise, and the other from my old high-school friend Ed, now a practicing attorney.

Ed's comment in particular made me go back and think about what I wrote, and why. His comment begins,

"Let me be the devil's advocate (and in the case of Phelps that's pretty close to the truth). Of course Phelps and his brood are vile and their speech is offensive beyond description. However, freedom of speech does not apply only to inoffensive speech; in fact, it is only offensive speech that needs protection, as no one would attack it if they were not offended. As I like to say, you don't need the First Amendment to protect your right to say 'Have a nice day.'"

He's right, of course. And he goes on to write a very good defense of the court's decision on the suit, if not on its awarding of the court costs to the defendants. Although I had read the decision (all 44 agonizingly legal pages of it) before writing my piece, I was writing from my passionate heart and not from my legalistic a result, I let my passions get away from me and got away from the real issue: that the First Amendment protects all speech, particularly the speech we may not want to hear. I still think that Phelps and his clan are despicable human beings with religious beliefs that are incomprehensible to normal people ... but Ed is right: their demonstration at the Snyder funeral was being conducted in full compliance with the law, and their speech is as constitutionally protected as is mine in this blog. The court decision offers a wonderful quote from an earlier decision that's worth re-quoting:

"Notwithstanding the distasteful and repugnant nature of the words being challenged in these proceedings, we are constrained to conclude that the Defendants’ signs and Epic are constitutionally protected. To paraphrase our distinguished colleague Judge Hall, judges defending the Constitution 'must sometimes share [their] foxhole with scoundrels of every sort, but to abandon the post because of the poor company is to sell freedom cheaply. It is a fair summary of history to say that the safeguards of liberty have often been forged in controversies involving not very nice people.'"

It's worth your time to read the full decision. It will make you think, and it will make you grateful for the Constitutionally-protected freedom of speech all of us - especially the most disgusting - enjoy.

Thanks, Ed. I don't think I could be a lawyer, but I'm glad you are, and I appreciated the comment.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


P.S. - remember the old quote from Hansell B. Duckett ... "What this country needs is more free speech worth listening to." True then, true now.



KKTSews said...

I have a vague recollection of a book made into a 1970's TV drama called "QB VII" (standing for Queen's Bench 7). It dramatized this point and the resulting decision that came down in favor of the ex-Nazi doctor who charged someone with libel...but the damages were 1 pence. I would have thought something along those lines of damages would be sensible here, too.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

AHHHHH! Head desk..that story always makes me so angry.

Mike said...

Sorry but I equate this to shouting "FIRE" in a theater. With the reaction these morons get somebody is going to get killed one day. Of course that's usually what it takes to change anything. Somebody has to die.

It would be different if the specific soldier did something worth protesting about. And it makes me wonder why there aren't protesters outside this church every Sunday disrupting THEIR service.

Anonymous said...

Because in some states, it is a crime to disrupt a religious service (A wise law, as you can imnagine the possibilities for sectarian violence). I presume the state poor Pvt Snyder was buried in isn't among them.

Eminence Grise