Arguing for the government: Whitney Villarreal
The Phelps group has been picketing military funerals across the country, saying American troop deaths are God’s punishment for America’s embrace of homosexuality.
There is an appropriate time and place for demonstrations and soldier’s funerals are not one of them. The government should intervene to stop Fred Phelps and others from picketing around American soldier’s funerals.
This is not an argument on whether or not government should interfere with an American citizen’s fundamental right of free speech, but rather an argument about a person’s right to be able to hold a private ceremony without harassment or disrespect from picketers such as Phelps and his followers.
Phelps and other members of the Westboro Baptist Church have been taking advantage of military funerals to spread their anger against America’s tolerance for homosexuality and abortion with signs containing messages such as “God hates fags.”
As reported by the New York Times, “At the March 2006 funeral for Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder, a marine who was killed in Iraq, protesters from the church picketed the service with signs that read ‘Thank God for Dead Soldiers, ‘You’re Going to Hell’ and ‘God Hates the USA.’” No family should have to deal with this type of disrespect. Families should be allowed to mourn in peace and without interruption.
As Snyder’s father said, “I had one chance to bury my son and it was taken from me.”
The exploitation of these mourning families at their private funerals is nothing short of malice. Snyder is currently suing Phelps for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, intrusion, and publication of private facts.
The Supreme Court should allow the government to outlaw protests around funerals because we need to make sure people like Phelps do not disturb citizens in mourning during a funeral service.
This type of consideration should be made available for mourning families.
We need to keep in mind that the right for a family to mourn in peace is just as important as a person’s right to protest. Picketing at any funeral is wrong regardless of the content, and no one wants to experience the type of harassment and disrespect some of these families have had to deal with.
This is not an infringement of free speech because we are not preventing Phelps from expressing himself. We are dealing with the appropriate time and place for these types of demonstrations.
We need to respect the privacy of the grieving Americans and this privacy is worth protecting.
Whitney Villarreal is a COMS 225 – Argumentation student
Arguing for the opposition: Christine Benjamin
Fred Phelps and his family of angry picketers are a very easy group to hate. They protest outside funerals of soldiers, claiming they are the reason this country is so tolerable towards homosexuality, abortion, and many others things. I would love to see these people arrested and prosecuted by any means necessary. However, their protests are protected under the First Amendment and Supreme Court precedent.
We can talk about the most obvious one first: freedom of speech. The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Phelps and his family may be offensive but what they are doing is not hate speech. Hate speech is defined by Brandenburg v. Ohio as speech that creates imminent danger of violent action. They are not violent, they do not intimidate, and they do not disrupt funerals.
The Snyder family did not actually see picket signs or hear the protesting from the funeral site. He did not know about it until he saw it on the news days later. Likewise, Phelps and his family obeyed the law, especially the laws presented in Virginia v. Black which states highly offensive speech is legal unless it is accompanied with violence, imminent danger of violent action, or intent to intimidate.
They are a peaceful assembly of protesters, who do not disrupt anyone. And without violence, they are protected under the First Amendment.
Phelps’ group stays within public grounds, and keeps within a buffer zone. They do not protest directly on private property and they always stay within a legal of distance away from the funerals and funeral goers. So, although it may seem like they are breaking all the rights we have, they are actually pretty sneaky in making sure they’re doing everything legally.
Yes, the Phelps family is irritating and needs to learn how to respect others. However, they aren’t doing anything illegal. Morally wrong, sure. As long as they aren’t being violent or disruptive, they can protest their hateful little hearts out.