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January 29, 2009

Phelps’ funeral protests

I do not understand how Mike Burlingame (1/19, Letters, “Protecting free speech”) can compare the marchers for women’s rights and the freedom marchers of the ’60s to Fred Phelps. Mr. Phelps and his band of followers are putting up terrible signs at the funerals of fallen heroes.

I would like the American Civil Liberties Union to explain how the band of followers can infringe on the rights of the families to bury their loved ones.

As a Christian and a Vietnam veteran, I find the ACLU and Phelps quite disgusting.

John A. Smith
Kansas City



You just can't fix "stupid".

But let's be real, the ACLU protects us all. We may not like an individual message, but we must have the right to speak our mind. Without the ACLU, we'd trample the Constitution in mob-rule.

We can't allow in individual incident to take our eye off the sparrow. The big picture is freedom. Stupid will always be with us - but we can lose our Constitution. Send a check to your ACLU every time they infuriate you. It could be your freedom lost under mob rule.


I've never personally witnessed Phelps picketing a funeral, however, several family members have mentioned that Phelps group have gotten WITHIN 50 feet or less of them at the burial site during the ceremony.
The articles didn't mention whether it was private or public - however, the Phelps clan was definitely IN the cemetery.



You're partially right. The supreme court upheld the 1985 ban against picketing a single residential property in the Brookfield, Wisconsin case, but in its opinion, stated that the picketing of a group of homes would be allowable.

Okay, so bad example, but let's change it to a block of houses. Now it works.

Ironically, in the Wisconsin case, the protestors were picketing an abortion doctor's house? I wonder how Dolce feels about this ban?

Pub 17

Not that it really matters in this context, but I thought that it was against the law everywhere to picket a private residence.



You're kidding, right? The only way Phelps could be within 50' of the ceremony would be if the plot was the last one in the cemetary, right next to the fence, and only then if the cemetary had unusually short setbacks.

This emotional-laden crap is getting old. PHELPS CANNOT PICKET ON PRIVATE PROPERTY, AND THE ST. JOE ORDINANCE HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS. IT BANS HIM FROM PICKETING ON PUBLIC PROPERTY. Since almost ALL cemetarys are private, your argument about "being 50' away or less" is crap, plain and simple. The St. Joe ordinance limits his ability to picket on public property, and it does this BECAUSE OF THE CONTENT OF HIS MESSAGE.

As to the abortion clinic example, we've gone over this before, but let's try one more time. The abortion protest ban is just as wrong as the Phelps ban (except for the fact that abortion protesters have already demonstrated a pension for violence at times, so far Phelps hasn't hurt anyone physically). As to the presidential event ban, that would fall into the same category as well unless a overiding security concern could be demonstrated.

As to the critique of my "picketing your house" example, a few things:

1. Notice I said the street, not private property. I guess I should have been more specific, let's say "sidewalk" instead.

2. Notice I said "holding a sign", not yelling. So much for that problem.

3. If you really think that unmanned signs mounted on property fall under the same regulations as a picket sign, a much closer look at the law would be in order.

You just don't seem to be able to get over your hatred of Phelps' message, and in your mind, that seems to justify any limitations necessary to negate it. I hate the message as much as you, I'm just not willing to give up freedoms to limit it.


I like DJH’s idea. I’ve always thought that someday the Phelps clan will picket the wrong funeral, and that will pretty much be the last we hear of them.


As an addendum to the comment that one could picket outside of one's house - freedom of speech is allowed but there are other laws that would be violated.

1) Can't picket on private property without permission of the owner - trespassing
2) Can't picket in the street - traffic violation
3) Have to be quiet when picketing - most cities' residential areas have some type of noise ordinance not allowing noise past 100 feet and especially during the night
4) Provided you were able to pass the above 3 - the picket signs would probably have to be similar to those promoting certain candidates/issues for elections. Anything much more than that could be considered a violation of cities ordinance in which the residence can not be an eyesore and also has to have a certain level of "upkeep".


Actually - there are laws in different areas that "limit" one's freedom of speech in similar situations. As I've mentioned before, protests can not be closer than 200 feet of an abortion clinic. Phelps wants to be 50 feet or less of the grieving family. Protests are banned 2 hours before and after a presidential event, etc. Phelps wants to be there DURING the funeral. One can protest - but at a distance and/or outside of a certain time of when it's an event. Phelps is pushing to be there during the funeral and basically right in their face. If protestors have to stay 200 feet or more away from an abortion clinic - why can't a grieving family have those same rights?


The easy solution to this is not to ban the speech but to decriminalize any reaction to the speech. This particular type of protest would probably stop after a few ex-marines kicked the crap out of them a couple of times.




Sorry, but the courts don't agree with your interpretation of harassment.

Generally, harassment is defined as "a course of conduct directed at a specific person that causes substantial emotional distress in such a person and SERVES NO LEGITIMATE PURPOSE". The courts have held that protest, as an action, is to be considered a legitimate purpose and that the intent to inflict distress must be demonstated outside of the act of protest for it to be considered harassment.

Basically, that means that I can stand on the street in front of your house with a sign that says "You Suck because....", and as long as their is no immediate threat to anyone's life or person and as long as my protest doesn't seek to incite violence (Such as a sign that says "Kill John with a kitchen knife on Tuesday because...), I'm within my rights of free speech and protest.

It seems that people can't see the forest for the trees. Take a step back, and remove yourself from the specifics of this situation. Do we really want to decide that it's okay to limit someone's speech or right of protest because we don't like the message or feel sorry for the protested.

As much as a find Phelps' tirades a disgusting waste of breathe, I'll stand behind his right to say them.


Anyone who would protest at a soldiers funeral is scum. I don't give a crap about free speech on this issue. These are bigoted false Christian hate ridden judgemental scum. A-holy rollers if you will.


Like it or not there are limits on free speech. Falsely yelling "FIRE" in a crowded theater is the classic example. Profanity on the airwaves is prohibited. Dolce's point is also well taken, there is a line between free speech and harrassment.

Those are all examples of speech being "qualified by content" Marctnts. "Free speech" is not, and should not be a blank check. The Phelps crew does not have the right to trash the services for Americans who have paid the ultimate price. Defending their actions under "free speech" is assinine.


I think people are confused about the difference between free speech and harrassment. Otherwise, harrassment would be considered legal.

When I lived in Germany many years ago, I was shopping in downtown Frankfurt one Saturday. I knew they were having an antiAmerican demonstration there, however, it started earlier than originally planned. It was a quiet march down the street with antiAmerican signs and ended up as a rally downtown. The focus was on stating their cause TO THE PUBLIC! That's free speech.

However, had they singled me out as I stood on the sidewalk and chanted and waved signs only to my friends and I and ignored the others - is that free speech or a form of Harrassment/disorderly conduct? Am I not allowed to be in public with a certain level of freedom and peace?

Sometimes there is a fine line between free speech and harrassment. It depends if you think free speech is an absolute and harrassment should be legal (just a form of free speech).


"Legality is not the issue, it is common decency. The Phelps behavior at a funeral cannot be defended by any standard, free speech included."

You just don't get it, do you? We ARE talking about an issue of legality. When we judge the merits of speech (and whether we will allow it) based upon its content, we set precedent by which we will judge other, less "offensive" speech.

And yes, the standard by which Phelps' disgusting actions CAN be defended are the standards of FREE speech, not "free as long as a majority of people find it okay" speech.


Legality is not the issue, it is common decency. The Phelps behavior at a funeral cannot be defended by any standard, free speech included.


A Supreme Court justice from the 19th century once said it's easy to protect speech you like, and hard to protect speech you detest. But ALL speech has to be protected or the right to free speech is lost.


"...can infringe on the rights of the families to bury their loved ones."

I'm fairly confident that the St. Joe ordinance, and others like it, don't keep military families from burying their loved ones.

One more time. When you qualify speech by it's content, your walking a dangerous line.


Oh goodie, another chance for me to say that Phelps and his followers are false christian hate filled fanatical whackaroons. They believe in their way and would attack and condemn those who don't.

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