What was once a nation of free people has become a nation of people free to torment, terrorize and harass with no threat of legal consequence. The Supreme Court decision in Snyder v. Phelps not only allows the deranged Westboro Baptist “Church” to applaud the deaths of the very people who gave their lives protecting their rights, it also gives a green light to every school bully, sexual harasser and verbal stalker across the country.
A background for those of you who have been living under a rock. Westboro Baptist believes that our soldiers dying overseas is God’s punishment for the United States accepting homosexuality. They spread their vile message by picketing at funerals for our fallen heroes; carrying signs that read “Thank God for IEDs” and “God hates America” and chanting atrocities such as “Semper fi. Semper fag. Coming home in body bags.” The group insisted on picketing at the funeral of Matthew Snyder, a Marine killed in Afghanistan in 2006, and his father took great offense to their hate speech. Mr. Snyder filed a lawsuit against the so called church for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress (the basis of most Intentional Tort cases) among other civil matters. He felt the “church” knew their actions and words would cause great pain to Snyder and his family and they acted with reckless disregard. The District Court of Maryland agreed with Snyder, stating the First Amendment right to Free Speech has its limitations when the speech is vulgar, false and/or offensive to a reasonable person. The Lower Court awarded Mr. Snyder what ended up amounting to 5 million dollars. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the decision explaining that Westboros message is nothing more than “rhetorical hyperbole” and not a statement of actual fact (though if asked, Westboro will claim it as actual fact). Mr. Snyder was ordered to pay the cult’s court/attorney fees, which Fox News Anchor, Bill O’Reilly graciously offered to pay. Mr. Snyder appealed to the United States Supreme Court and their case was argued in October 2010.
In a stomach churning 8-1 decision, The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Westboro. Chief Justice John Roberts writing for the majority said “What Westboro said, in the whole context of how and where it chose to say it, is entitled to ‘special protection’ under the First Amendment and that protection cannot be overcome by a jury finding that the picketing was outrageous…Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and – as it did here – inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker.“
Associate Justice Samuel Alito was the lone dissenter. In his dissention, Alito wrote, “Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case. Mr. Snyder wanted what is surely the right of any parent who experiences such an incalculable loss: to bury his son in peace. But respondents, members of the Westboro Baptist Church, deprived him of that elementary right.” Alito believes there is an easy place to the draw the line where free speech ends and offensive, defamatory speech begins; and the line was this case. In last year’s United States v. Stevens, where the court struck down a federal law banning videos that depict cruelty to animals as too broad a restriction of speech, Alito was also the lone dissenter. He compared such videos to constitutionally unprotected child pornography. It speaks volumes to one’s character when one will allow videos that show people being mean to innocent animals.
What the media and too many others are missing is the case has nothing to do with picketing or protesting at a funeral. The civil lawsuit was filed for intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy. The Supreme Court has historically held that we are constitutionally guaranteed to be left alone in places where we have “a reasonable expectation of privacy.” Those places include our own homes, public restrooms, and, in the opinion of all reasonable people, our children’s funeral. Intentional infliction of emotional distress is considered an intentional tort rather than a negligent tort. The Supreme Court has also historically held that defamatory speech is not protected when the petitioner shows the defendant acted with specific intent to perform the act which caused the plaintiff’s injuries. In other words, the defendant had substantial certainty that his actions would cause injury to the plaintiff and the plaintiff must prove intent, an act, cause, and harmful or offensive contact.
To expect a grieving father to NOT be distressed over someone thanking God that his child is dead is beyond foolish and bordering on insanity. And now, with Chief Justice Roberts’s decision written as it is, anyone who verbally harasses (including sexual harassment), terrorizes or bullies cannot legally be punished.
Saying that speech is powerful and can inflict great pain is affirming that anyone can say, write, and publish, text or blog hurtful, defamatory statements about anyone and walk away because the law cannot punish the speaker for another’s emotional reaction; in other words “sticks and stones…” Chief Justice Roberts has negated decades of cases on harassment, libel, slander and intentional infliction of emotional distress. In order to preserve individual well-being and overall social welfare, society generally wishes to deter its members from intentionally attacking each other, physically or verbally. However, because this concept is not considered law, the ability to legally punish others for causing us emotional pain is now a thing of the past. No longer will victims of sexual or other forms of harassment be permitted legal satisfaction against their attacker. After all, it’s only speech. Speech can inflict pain and discomfort and if you’re on the receiving end, too bad for you.
Since January 2010, at least six teenagers have committed suicide, blaming their emotional distress on bullying. These children will never see justice. The bullies who have been charged in connection with the suicides can now cite Snyder v. Phelps and Chief Justice Roberts own words: “Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action…and we cannot react by punishing the speaker.” The highest court in our country, the court tasked FOR LIFE to interpret law and the Constitution, has made us all vulnerable to harassment, terrorizing and bullying. A Supreme Court Justice is appointed for life, or until retirement, to protect the liberties our forefathers gave their lives to achieve. Liberties for which Matthew Snyder gave his life. A life given to protect the liberties of the people who, at his funeral, praised God that Matthew Snyder was dead. People who can continue to spread hate, filth, disrespect, defamation and pain, thanks to 8 people on a bench. This is not the purpose of our First Amendment right to Free Speech. It is meant to protect citizens from prosecution for speaking out against the government. It is NOT to protect the insensitive, inconsiderate and insane who spew vicious machinations like lava from a volcano.
 Snyder v. Phelps 533 F.Supp.2d 567 (2008)
 09-751 Snyder v. Phelps, et al.
 Id. at 1
 08-769 United States v. Stevens 2010
 Garratt v. Dailey, 46 Wash. 2d 197, 279 P.2d 1091, 1955