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Thanking God for Free Speech and Dead Soldiers

In re Snyder v. Phelps, the Supreme Court ruled in Phelps' favor. He's the founder and pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church, coming to us, I believe, out of Topeka, Kansas. He and his rowdy band can contine to hurl epithets and wave offensive signs (e.g., "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," "God hates fags") at soldiers' funerals. Local ordinances can keep them a certain distance from the scene, but they can't be made to shut up. Mr. Snyder was initially awarded several millions in damages for "invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress," (sounds like a tort claim that could only be upheld, I presume, by denying WBC's right to free speech) but that was overturned by the next court up and every court thereafter.

The case was argued before the Supreme Court on Phelps' behalf, successfully, by his daughter Margie, a member of the flock and an attorney. She thinks such things as that the explosion of the space shuttle Colombia and the mass murder of Americans on 9-11 were God's will. Whatever that means. One gets the sense she means "God's punishment." She also said of little 9 year old Christina Taylor Green, one of those murdered during the Tuscon shooting that wounded Congresswoman Giffords, that the child was better off dead, and her church wanted to picket that funeral too. (I don't know what stopped them.) Oh, and President Obama is going to hell, and is "most likely" the Beast spoken of in Revelation. Asked if she saw any difference between a fallen American soldier and the Al-Qaeda terrorist who kills innocents, she said that yes she did: the soldier is worse.

She may be right that America is rapidly spiraling down a hellhole, but for some reason this doesn't make me rejoice in the deaths of soldiers and 9 year old girls. Maybe I just don't read the Bible right, or adequately understand the beauty of free speech no matter how foul its form.

Margie Phelps' interview with Chris Wallace:

Comments (45)

The Westboro Baptist "Church" is proof of how tolerant and non-violent American Christians really are. I think for all conservative Christians, their behavior is actually subtly worse than even an abortionist's because these cultists work directly against the ministry of the church and the Holy Spirit to seek the rejection of the Gospel by their extreme, blasphemous example. They are truly anti-Christ in the most spiritual way.

Contrary Michael Bauman, these are heretics who I do think truly merit prosecution and execution for heresy in a just and Christian society (which we sadly lack).

What I found most objectionable about Margaret Phelps' theology was not her vociferous denunciation of American soldiers, but her statement: "The default assumption for every human being is that they are going to Hell." Everything else she said pales into insignificance besides that. It's quite different from saying (as Christians have always said) that we can only be saved through Jesus Christ. God has His own ways of reaching and saving people, and I'm sure He hasn't told us most of them. The default assumption I make for every human being is that they will eventually go to Heaven; I just don't know how, that's all. Some are damned, of course, and we should always work out our own salvation in fear and trembling, as St. Paul says, but when others die, we should trust in the mercy and goodness of God.

Come on, Mike T. Do you seriously believe that Margaret Phelps deserves to be executed? Put yourself in her shoes. She is a woman living in a society she perceives as literally insane, and her own reading of the Old Testament tells her that a chosen nation (such as Israel) which falls away from God is doomed. There are numerous passages in the Old Testament which appear to say that God sometimes punishes the innocent along with the guilty, and there are also passages which describe the sins of Israel as being worse than those of its pagan neighbors. It is in that context that her offensive comments about American soldiers ought to be viewed. Had you told most Americans living during the time of the Civil War about what the country would be like today, they might well have espoused similar sentiments to hers, and seen the subsequent calamities befalling America as a judgment. As I said, the most hateful thing about Margaret Phelps' views is her hellfire theology, but there are millions of Calvinists and other Christians in America today who mistakenly believe in the total depravity of man. Nevertheless, Margaret Phelps has intentionally harmed no-one. She is wrong, but she is sincerely wrong. Let her live, I say.

Fox News had no business interviewing these people. That just empowers them. Attention is what they're after.

Saved video of Westboro Baptist's appearances and transcripts of the Court's opinion should prove helpful to those tasked with performing an autopsy of our civilization's corpse. Our media are unwittingly performing a service for future generations by recording the cultural rot they help produce.


As I said, "if we were a Christian society." I think that point is crystal clear. It would entail a government founded and operated according to Christianity, which would mean that she is entitled to a chance to repent of that behavior.

Her behavior is thoroughly anti-Christ. Wildly anti-Christ. What she and her church do is target others specifically to inflict emotional suffering in the name of Jesus Christ. That is not a rebuke, it is a vicious taunt. There is nothing edifying about their statements, nothing that points people to Christ, nothing that connects their behavior to any correcting behavior compatible with tradition or scripture.

I was speaking hypothetically, as I don't trust this government to give her justice. However, my point, which I stand by, is that a Christian state could justly sentence her for either heresy or blasphemy.


The Bible says "whoever causes these little ones to sin, it would be better that he attach a millstone to his neck and throw it off a cliff into the sea." Suppose she went around telling orphans that their parents died because God hates sluts, and the result was that she traumatized dozens or hundreds of children into hating God.

Her behavior is really not that far from that. We can disagree on the hypothetical scenario (which'll likely never happen until the second coming), but let's at least understand how warped and evil they are behaving in the naming of Jesus. The Westboro Baptist Church is Satanic.

I doubt they actually believe what they claim.

It's just a way to get money by offending people and suing when they respond like humans.

Let's strengthen "Fighting words" laws, as some folks have suggested.....

Our media are unwittingly performing a service for future generations by recording the cultural rot they help produce.

That history will be lost in the fire-bombing and pulse wars (electromagenetic pulses fry hardware) during WW III.

The Chicken

P. S. Tomorrow will be my last day reading/posting to blogs until after Lent.

The Chicken

"That history will be lost in the fire-bombing and pulse wars..."

No, the Vatican archives will preserve much thanks to the Holy See's Providential relocation to Nigeria.

As for a harsh Lenten discipline, try reading the thread on" Sunday Question: To Proceed with Gentlemanly Courtesy...", over and over again. Sure to shave off several light years on your stay in purgatory.

Am I the only one who thinks its odd that the Rev Fred sends his daugter out to do battle for him and his church? Why aren't any of the men in that organization wiling to face the media?

Vincent, I do not condone the actions of Westboro Church but the woman was absolutly spot on when she said that the default condition is that all of humanity is going to hell.

Jesus died for your sins and He rose from the dead. This is the gospel message and Jesus came to this earth to redeem the ungodly unto himself and give those who believe in him a place in heaven. That gospel message is just one side of the coin. The other side of the coin is that all humanity is going to hell.

Vincent, there is only one way to heaven and that is through Jesus Christ. I pray that you take this message from the scriptures to heart.


Meanwhile a story most media probably won't focus on: Theodore Shulman (son of feminist gasbag Alix Shulman) getting nabbed by the FBI for making death threats against Fr. Pavone, Dr. Nadal, Jill Stanek and others. http://www.jillstanek.com/2011/02/details-on-pro-abortion-terrorist-arrested-by-fbi/

Mike T.

Thank you for your posts. The Bible does indeed say that "whoever causes these little ones to sin, it would be better that he attach a millstone to his neck and throw it off a cliff into the sea." But the word "causes," in this context, means "intentionally causes." My overwhelming impression from watching the video is that Margie Phelps is deluded, but sincerely deluded. I doubt very much whether she enjoys taunting people at funerals; it is her warped religious views that impel her to do so. Hence I do not consider her actions "vicious."

Your claim that she "traumatized dozens or hundreds of children into hating God" may well be true, but that was not her intent.

Let me add that I have no wish to defend her father, who was disbarred in 1979 for perjury. And I wholeheartedly support President Bush's signing the Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act into law in May 2006. But if you were to ask me what unhinged Fred Phelps, I would cite his Calvinism: Phelps views Arminianism as a "worse blasphemy and heresy than that heard in all filthy Saturday night fag bars in the aggregate in the world" and has stated that "what this country needs is 50 Jonathan Edwardses turned loose in it." He believes that "God Almighty makes some willing and he leads others into sin." See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Phelps#Religious_beliefs . Now THAT is blasphemy.

In more civilized times, guys like Phelps & his crew were no big deal.

A little tar, a few feathers, and a rail on which to ride them out of town = problem solved.

Can't do that anymore, though. Wouldn't be prudent.

In at least two places in Scripture it specifically says that God tempts no one to sin. Phelps is plain wrong, but how can one convince someone that a private interpretation is wrong? Does he accept that reason has a place in theology? By the way. exactly what is his purpose in disrupting the funeral? Phelps does not know the deceased and would have no knowledge of, say, a deathbed conversion or even that the person may have lived a chaste life despite his attractions. His actions are condemned by Christ, himself. Judgment for the dead is reserved to Christ and Phelps is too ignorant of the essential facts of the dead person to tell God what to think nor counsel those who remain. Free speech? Sin is free to speak these days, to, it seems. Would that it would be that a man knew when to shut up.

The Chicken

What Fred Phelps is doing is un-Christian. Until the Stup-preme Court went against hundreds of years of legal tradition, it would have been illegal as well. Donald McCleary over at American Catholic explains "the fighting words" doctrine in the Synder VS Phelps post. Oh, Mr Burton, it might not be prudent to ride Fred&Co. out of town on a rail, bt dang, it would be fun! ROTFL!

Phelps knows nothing about any of the soldiers whose funerals he desecrates. It has nothing whatsoever to do with them personally; I'm sure he doesn't know any more than I do if any of them were homosexual. He doesn't care in the least whether they were believers or not; as far as I can tell, only the members of his own "church" are "saved" anyway. Phelps simply hates homosexuals and believes that death in war is a judgment on our acceptance of homosexuality in the military (DADT) and the culture generally. He therefore celebrates all individual dead soldiers because they represent to him God's judgment.

I thank God for the biker veterans. biker Christians, and all others who try to keep up with where he and his heretical band will be appearing and keep them at a distance. No family should have to deal with vitriol and blasphemy while laying a loved one to rest.

The likes of Westebro baptist ecchelesial communitiy drive so many away from Jesus and his Holy Roman Church; I speak from Experience.

There is a popular canard to the effect that the Catholic Church kept the Bible locked away from the laity for centuries out of fear of what they might do if they read it for themselves. That was not in fact the case, but if it were, well... I find myself objecting to the idea less and less. What would Mr. Fred Phelps be today without the Bible in his hand? In a better world he wouldn't even be able to read. In a better world he would be a peasant doing honest work in an honest field, the full scope of his wretchedness lost beneath an inability to express it. Worse men than he may have been saved by their own impotent stupidity, and we in turn have likely been saved from them.

Nick Milne, The Daily Kraken, March 9, 2009

I'm fascinated by this group's ability to cram more than one ad hominem into three word sentences: "God hates fags." One against God (who cannot hate) and one against homosexuals.

Mike T - a Christian state could justly sentence her for either heresy or blasphemy.

Just don't let'em burn her, Mike.

Beth Impson's right on. Their big bugaboo is homosexuality. Our country is reinventing moral norms to accommodate it, so everyone who dies is guilty, even 9 year old girls.

The only thing I can say for Margie is that she won the argument before the Court, though it seems they were predisposed to a particular outcome, except for Alito. I was wondering if anyone knew whether this was the correct outcome.

"What would Mr. Fred Phelps be today without the Bible in his hand? In a better world he wouldn't even be able to read."

The Bible is not the voice of God, but of the man who encounters Him. When Christ died He left behind disciples not documents. Phelps little sect found the paperwork, but have yet to make His acquaintance.

Your claim that she "traumatized dozens or hundreds of children into hating God" may well be true, but that was not her intent.

I'm a former Calvinist, so I appreciate the damage Calvinism can do. I think you are placing too much importance on her intent. Yes, she's deluded, but then many people are deluded. Delusion doesn't negate the real harm she has done to the church's reputation or the lives she's touched.

The irony...burying the dead is a corporal wark of mercy and praying for the living and the dead is a spiritual work of mercy. Blessed are the merciful, for mercy shall be theirs; blessed are those who mourn. They shall be comforted. I wonder if Mr. Phelps realizes that he is ignoring the Lord's counsels.

Phelps is right that war is a punishment for sin, but St. Paul tells us to overcome evil with good and to love our enemies, not to mock them. Where is his prayer? Where is his fasting? Where is his own example of a love that convinces a man to die so that another might live? Greater love than this hath no man: that he lay down his life for a friend. Perhaps he should meditate on this. It is so easy to condemn an evil, but so hard to offer one's own life in its place. He should be glad that Christ took the hard way and did not condemn us, but, then, he had no choice for he knew how to love. Life is a risk and only love bids us to take it. Someday, Phelps will know suffering, and we must be ready on that day to die for him, for it will take that little death to hold his hand, to say a prayer not in gladness for his comeuppence, but in genuine care. On that day, in that hour, he will learn the cost of mercy, if we only love enough. I am convinved, more and more as I see the life before me, that the failure of love is not his, but it is mine, it is ours. We moan and we complain about his hatred, but we fill up his awful vacuum with more hatred. Let us resolve that the more he hates the more we will love and the more he disrupts the more we will strive for the perfect order of peace.

With that, I take my leave to begin my own needful reform during Lent. Have a happy Mardi Gras, then dig in for the long haul. If the Lord wills, I shall return after Easter, but if not, I have been reminded, tonight, that I have a gift that I can give whether I can return or not. It is a simple gift, in two parts of a whole, really, and the best thing that I can give to anyone - I will keep you all in my prayers... and when I cannot pray, I will keep you in the love of my heart in whatever pain I must bear for Him whom I love so much, but betray so badly and in so many ways. May we all, someday, be holy as He is holy. Until then, I remain,

The Chicken

Bill, I haven't read up on the legal case. At the risk of getting into trouble, I'll say that I'm nervous about expanding the definition of "fighting words." Such an expansion could come back to haunt us big-time. When, "Against two hostile powers we stand," etc., (from our page's self-definition) gets defined as "fighting words" (along with, no less, a picture of Charles the Hammer in full fighting mode at the top), we will have a problem.

If people could legally refuse to sell Phelps & co. food, I'd be all on board with that. As usual, our society has left us too few legal avenues for ostracism.

Lydia -
I think it's pretty clear that the page's self-definition is not intended to pick a fight/incite violent reaction from folks.

Re: the default assumption for every human being as discussed by Vincent and Kenyon above.

As I understand this matter it greatly depends upon whether we are considering human beings as created, fallen, or redeemed.

Mankind was created in the image of God and therefore nobody was created to go to Hell. Some extreme versions of Calvinism, such as, I believe, the Westboro Baptist Church that is the subject of the post which initiated this thread think otherwise but they are heretical exceptions.

The Fall, and Original Sin, marred the image of God in man, and the default assumption for Fallen Man is that he is going to Hell. We see this, for example, in John 3:18 "he that believeth not is condemned already" and the various verses which speak of the believer as having been translated from a state of spiritual death to a state of everlasting life (cf. John 5:24)

The default assumption for Redeemed Man is that he will go to heaven. Christ purchased the redemption of the fallen world through His death on the cross, and only stubborn, persistent, rejection of Him in unbelief, can now condemn a man.

Alito's dissent, which I've just been reading, is very useful. My impression from his dissent is that the "intentional infliction of emotional distress" tort has been around for a long time in law (common law?) and has always been permitted to be used as a grounds for a civil suit, as it was used here. Also, it apparently can be satisfied by the use of verbal means; in fact, it sounds like that would be the main means by which this would be done. My _guess_ is that the IIED tort would be somewhat related to sending a private individual insulting anonymous letters--something like direct private harassment of an individual. (I shd. add that I just learned that the WBC's signs also included an obscene picture, which should be outlawed directly on grounds of pornography anyway.)

So any characterization (and I believe I have seen at least one) of Alito as _expanding_ the meaning of "fighting words" is confusing and misleading. I would be inclined instead to say that he is making use of the category of direct verbal harassment and insult of a specific individual--as if someone were leaving repeated personal hate messages on someone's phone answering machine, for example. Even if they contained no threats, it is only reasonable that there should be recourse in law.

The whole "fighting words" thing may confuse the issue, especially in the present climate. Why? Because some police departments (think Dearborn) and liberal groups are inclined to arrest people who do otherwise normal, peaceful, good, and legitimately legal things in contexts where violent other people are likely to attack them. "You can't try to evangelize Muslims; they might attack you." So stopping speech on the grounds that someone _else_ might react violently gives me the heebie-jeebies.

I find that thinking of this in terms of personal harassment and the IIED tort makes more sense to me and, it seems, would be very narrow in scope (as in fact they _have_ been, because this type of tort is not new). In fact, I found particularly helpful Alito's summary of the majority's reasons for not considering the IIED tort to apply to WBC. One of them, for example, was that WBC said horribly, personally insulting things about the dead soldier and his parents only to draw attention to WBC's larger political/social agenda! Now, that's really feeble. (And I'm sorry to say unworthy of so brilliant a legal mind as Scalia.) If the personally insulting and harassing things you are saying about a private individual would _ordinarily_ be grounds for suit as an IIED tort, how do they cease to be such grounds because the people in question said them to get attention rather than as an expression of an actual personal grudge! That's ridiculous.

That's why I mentioned in the post that it sounded like a tort claim being heard by the Court as a 1st amendment infringement claim. I don't see why the tort couldn't have been upheld while the WBC retained its right to protest. E.g., "You can picket the funerals, but there might be a price to pay. Now fork over the 5 million in damages." I think the Jews in Skokie ought to be able to sue the Nazis on the same grounds.

Where did you find Alito's dissent? He might be the brightest bulb now, but he's so quiet we'll have to wait and see.

Do they radically separate themselves from society like the Amish? If not, then they're members of a society that is quite comfortable with sodomy. Why don't they turn their venom on themselves?

It looks to me as though there's serious question now whether the Supremes are treating that type of tort claim as always unconstitutional. Wild, huh? But that's how it _would_ work: That is to say, the only reason that the Supremes even came into the matter at all was because _some_ penalty in law (just the ability to recover civil damages) was being brought against WBC, and WBC was claiming that it was unconstitutional for there to be such a penalty.


I saw one commentator say that he thought Scalia went with the majority because of the necessity to use the content of the signs to determine whether they violated the tort. But that's crazy. If one sign a group was waving said, "Save the baby whales" and another contained a credible threat against a specific individual, _of course_ you would have to use content to determine which sign was constitutionally protected speech and which wasn't!

Gerry Neal at 9:51

Gerry, you are missing the gospel by a couple of million miles. Your "stubborn, persistent rejection of Christ in unbelief", will surely land you in hell. However, are you saying that those who those are not stubborn, and not persistently rejecting Christ in unbelief are going to heaven? I think not. One must CHOOSE Christ as lord and saviour to be with our lord in eternity. It is a matter of faith and a decision must be made.

The road to hell is broad, and millions are now in hell because they led a good non stubborn, not persistently rejecting Christ life. There is stil only one way to attain heaven and that is to acknowledge our sin and ask Christ to come into our life and then live for Him.


As an aside, the bible was translated into English and printed at great peril to the lives of the saints who accomplished this task. The bible was then smuggled into England for the common people to have. The Catholic church was one of the most powerful entities in the middle ages and knowledge is power so a few people were fried as they were caught disseminating the word to the masses.

Your "stubborn, persistent rejection of Christ in unbelief", will surely land you in hell.

No, I'm pretty sure it'll be his drinking beer, listening to rock and dancing that gets him there.


You appear to have read my post as saying that a person does not have to turn to Christ in faith in order to be saved. I did not say that, and would not say that, because I do not believe that. The Scripture is clear that one must believe in Christ to have everlasting life, that that is the only way.

People start out as unbelievers and we must be converted to faith through the hearing of the Gospel. Our fallenness resists believing the Gospel and many people have to hear it countless times before the Holy Spirit awakens them and they believe in their hearts and confess Christ as Savior and Lord. Initial unbelief leaves a person in their fallen estate, but it is not enough to finally condemn a person if they eventually turn to Christ. If they do not do so, and never repent and turn to Christ, what are they doing but stubbornly, persistently, rejecting Christ in unbelief?

My point in my last post, was that Christ's death made a difference, not just for individual persons, but mankind collectively, and for the world as a whole. It is God's love for "the world", the kosmos, that He displayed in the giving of His Only-Begotten Son. St. Paul, in his second epistle to the Church in Corinth, verse 19 of chapter 5, tells us that God "was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself". This is why the Christian message is called "the Gospel", i.e., the eu - angelion, the Good News. It is the message that God Himself has accomplished the redemption and reconciliation of the world to Himself in the death and resurrection of His Son, and invites us all to participate in that glorious salvation through faith.

Man's destiny, when viewed through the lens of the Law and man's fallenness, looks bleak. When viewed through the lens of Christ's Gospel, it must be viewed with hope, or we have missed the spirit of the Gospel.

The Catholic church was one of the most powerful entities in the middle ages and knowledge is power so a few people were fried as they were caught disseminating the word to the masses.

I used to believe this until I began questioning "conventional knowledge" (public school indoctrination). If the Catholic Church was so powerful back then, how did King Henry VIII successfully break away from Rome? How was the King of Spain able to blackmail the Pope into letting him run an inquisition under the direct and full control of the Spanish crown (not the Church)?

Then it dawned on me. There is nothing new under the sun. The Catholic Church never wielded vast power outside of the papal states without the support of the secular authorities. It was no more powerful back then against the state than the pagan religion of Rome was against the Senate or Emperor or the pagan religion of Egypt against the Pharaoh.


This is OT, but I just wanted you to know that I stopped by your blog I liked your work very much. Glad you stopped by here and keep up the good work.

Back on topic,

Given the idea that Phelps and gang aren't really engaging in speech protected by the First Amendment (at least I think that is the idea Alito is getting at) then I tend to agree with Steve Burton's comment from yesterday. Here is Jonah Goldberg on the same subject:


I used to believe this until I began questioning "conventional knowledge" (public school indoctrination). If the Catholic Church was so powerful back then, how did King Henry VIII successfully break away from Rome? How was the King of Spain able to blackmail the Pope into letting him run an inquisition under the direct and full control of the Spanish crown (not the Church)?

Mike: Amen to the "public school indoctrination", though in regards to history in all fairness I think much of it is just trying to fit complex things into sound bites that is then easily distorted for any number of reasons, though some are clearly attempts at indoctrination. But the effect is pernicious and just the same. Illich was right.

But as regards the "suppressing of scripture" that Protestants tend to emphasize, I've come to see that some of the problem is how the the Bible is viewed monolithically by Protestants. Historically this wasn't so. The main text that the laymen was supposed to know for over a millenia was the Psalms, and this had long been translated into the vernacular so they could. The first book printed in the American colonies was the Bay Psalter, which was merely continuing a long tradition of seeing the Psalms as the primary text for laymen.

I agree with Lydia that it may be the wrong approach to expand the meaning of "fighting words". That seems like a drastic step.

It also seems to me right that the Court got it right that the state should not be used to impose a criminal penalty for this (crass, evil-minded) use of the right to free speech. Just because it is evil doesn't mean that the state is the right instrument to institute a penalty.

If the historical meaning and structure of tort law is applicable here, well and good. But my preference would be to 'fight fire with fire' : that is, to use non-criminal-law social methods to socially punish these people. Make them pariahs in their own towns. Make it so that people turn away from them, so that businesses close shop when they come to the door, so that civil institutions declare them persona-non-grata, etc. In the old days a tar-and-feather party might have been used, but that kind of social disgrace is no longer allowed. But other kinds of social disgrace can be applied, and should be, since their behavior is so disgraceful.

the state should not be used to impose a criminal penalty for this (crass, evil-minded) use of the right to free speech.

I thought it was a civil case. Couldn't a civil penalty be imposed?

Heaven is supposed to be a great place, especially if you are predestined for it, but spending an eternity with those people? I couldn't stand it for ten minutes. I tried to listen for some glimmer of empathy or charity and all I heard was fingernails across a chalkboard.

Hi everyone,

I've been reading about a famous case which is much neglected in modern discussions of free speech: Chaplisky vs. New Hampshire. See here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaplinsky_v._New_Hampshire .

I actually think that the Supreme Court made the right decision back in that 1942 case. Applying it to the Phelpses, I'd say that holding up a signs which says "God hates ____s" should be legally protected free speech, whatever the ____ may be, but that personal abuse directed at a dead soldier should not be legally protected.

If I really wanted to get up the Phelpses' noses, I'd hold up a counter-sign: "God loves Arminians." That would leave them foaming at the mouth.

Re the bizarre ongoing discussion as to who is saved and who isn't: we do not know the exact moment of death, and there is nothing to prevent Christ from reaching a soul before the silver cord is severed (Ecclesiastes 12:6). Unbelief, and even at times apostasy, may be the result of circumstances beyond the individual's control - not having heard the message (think: American Indians) or not having been prepared for the savage onslaughts against faith which often confront believers attending college. We know that God wants all men to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4), so while we cannot know everything He does to reach souls, we do know that He does something. I suggest we leave it at that.

If the historical meaning and structure of tort law is applicable here, well and good.

Tony, based on Alito's dissent (which I recommend), I think it definitely is and that the SCOTUS was not expanding restrictions on speech but rather rejecting a settled restriction on speech that had been around for a long time. My initial reaction was similar to yours (see my comment above about not selling them food), but Alito's dissent has clarified things.

I think that as often happens simply knowing the bare outlines through news reports can be misleading even on the bare outlines. For example it isn't merely their protesting _at funerals_ that was supposed to be litigable under this tort, and it isn't their holding up their most famous signs about God's supposedly hating ____s. Rather, it was their specific, harassing, abusive messages directed personally at the dead soldier (about whom they didn't know anything) and his family. Evidently the lawyer for Snyder even said to Scalia that some of the signs might have been protected speech while others were litigable as a tort. That seems quite legitimate to me.


I thought it was a civil case. Couldn't a civil penalty be imposed?

As I understand constitutional law, that's a distinction without a difference. If the courts impose a civil penalty for what is actually constitutionally protected speech, then that is regarded as an abridgement of constitutional rights. For example, suppose that some Muslim sued W4 civilly for "pain and suffering" for our criticisms of Islam at this site. If that suit were heard, the jury awarded civil, penalties, and the court enforced those penalties, then we could challenge that on appeal on First Amendment grounds. In theory, this makes sense. Civil penalties can be very heavy, and the First Amendment could become a dead letter if, for example, every liberal politician criticized by Rush Limbaugh could sue him civilly and recover damages with the help of clever lawyers and manipulable juries. So we don't want First Amendment protections to be irrelevant to civil suits.

But having read Alito's opinion, I'm strongly inclined to think that the specific attacks on the family, in particular, were legitimately tortious and hence not speech protected by the First Amendment. (For purposes of the discussion I'm just waiving the whole incorporation issue.)

Actually, what we really need is a robust provocation defense like most common law jurisdictions. In most of the Angloshere, a murder 1 charge can be dropped to manslaughter if you can show that the victim's actions unreasonably provoked the the perpetrator to homicidal rage.

**If the victim's actions were so unreasonable as to provoke them to that violence, sorry for the ambiguity.

Some interesting additional thoughts on the case from Hadley Arkes here:


As I understand constitutional law, that's a distinction without a difference.

That's what I figured.

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