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Posted at 10:19 AM ET, 03/ 3/2011

Reaction to Westboro Baptist Church court decision

By Ed O'Keefe

Updated 3:03 p.m. ET
The Supreme Court's decision protecting a fringe church's anti-gay protests at military funerals is garnering a mostly negative reaction from veterans groups and other commentators.

Perhaps most notably, former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, who has reported extensively from battlefields and on military issues, called the decision "outrageous" on Thursday's Today Show.

"I think members of the community ought to show up at funerals to honor the families and honor the fallen and do so in greater numbers and, if you will, don't pick a fight, but be a bigger crowd and get between the mourners and those people who for reasons I will never understand are doing what they're doing," Brokaw said.

Jimmie L. Foster, national commander of the American Legion, said his group appreciates the "sanctity of freedom of speech," but is nonetheless "very disappointed that any American would believe it appropriate to express such sentiments as those expressed by the Westboro Baptist Church, especially at the funeral of an American hero who died defending the very freedoms this church abuses."

The Legion filed a brief in support of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder's family, who brought suit against the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. Church members frequently protest at military funerals, on college campuses and at other events.

Veterans of Foreign Wars National Commander Richard Eubank also expressed disappointment: "The Westboro Baptist Church may think they have won, but the VFW will continue to support community efforts to ensure no one hears their voice, because the right to free speech does not trump a family's right to mourn in private."

Margie Phelps, the daughter of Westboro's founder who argued the church's case before the court, said members plan to hold more protests. Other groups said they will continue to hold counter-protests.

The Legion Riders, a group of motorcycle riding Legion members, and the Patriot Guard Riders, said they will still attend military funerals to provide security and shield families from the Westboro protesters.

"It is free speech, but it is not common sense," said Gary Schrock, an Oneida, Ill. member of the Patriot Guard Riders. "I don't care if any Joe Blow in the country wants to come down here and protest.

"I'm a Vietnam vet, and I've been spit on, but if you want to go to protest at a funeral for a guy who fought for the right for you to be there, that [ticks] me off."

Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said the church has caused years of anguish and pain for military families. "Their message of hate is not one that any family mourning the death of a loved one should have to hear," he said.

"As veterans, we fought for the right to freedom of speech, but we need to strike a balance between the protection of free speech and the protection of grieving families. We are disappointed these hurtful and disgusting protests will continue."

AMVETS provided one of the more substantive responses, focusing on the arguments made for and against the church by the Supreme Court justices.

The group agrees with Justice Samuel Alito's dissenting opinion that Westboro members intentionally targeted the Snyder family, but "this infliction of distress is difficult to prove, especially when faced with the broader social issues the hateful clan purports to address."

"Chief Justice John Roberts' opinion was very narrow in scope, only addressing the particular tort and limits to free speech in Maryland at the time of Matthew's funeral, and in the opinion, Chief Justice Roberts pointed out that governments can still restrict the time, place, and manner of certain types of speech. AMVETS views this dictum as implicit support to laws enacted to prohibit the clan from protesting at military funerals. Unfortunately, Maryland had no such law at the time of Matthew's funeral, forcing the Supreme Court's hand in this particular case and rightfully angering the veterans' community."

LIVE CHAT: Anthony Karen, a photojournalist who has spent time photographing and interviewing members of the Westboro Baptist Church, will take your questions at 12:30 p.m. ET.

What do you think of the decision? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

By Ed O'Keefe  | March 3, 2011; 10:19 AM ET
Categories:  Military, Supreme Court  
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Too bad we don't still have the draft--I'd like to see all the younger members of this hate group go to the Middle East and face death like the soldiers they're mocking. The SCOTUS at this point in time is a joke and is not representative of the law or the spirit of the law.

Posted by: amac3 | March 3, 2011 12:25 PM | Report abuse

How are these people keeping their tax exemption?These people all seem to be from the same family which goes against tax law which requires nonfamily members to be part of the church for the exemption.Also,where does this chhurch get it's financing?Boycott anyone giving these inbreds money.

Posted by: mrcholly | March 3, 2011 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Barry Soetoro is his name
He of Kenyan fame
He came to America
To "God Damn America",
But he's playing a losing game.

He follows the Reverend Wright
A man who is full of spite.
Tho he strives with all his might
His experience is very lite

"They" have never been proud
Of the good old USA
And tho they say out loud
that they wish can be heard
An action speaks louder than a word.

But in November there will be a cry
Buriani, Obama--Goodbye!!
He will hop a train
That will use the fast lane
And we may never see him again.

He may surface one day
At the UN I dare say
Where Kenya he will represent
The country of his descent

Posted by: fregameeate | March 3, 2011 12:37 PM | Report abuse

Plain and simple this is not freedom of speech, this is a Hate Crime. HATE IS WRONG. HATE CRIMES ARE WRONG... call it what it is.

Posted by: janell2009 | March 3, 2011 12:41 PM | Report abuse

Mrcholly, you said it perfectly. And fregameeate, go sprew your self-righteous rhetoric somewhere else, like the Washington Times where they appreciate imps like you. You're no better than those morons at Westboro Baptist. Hell, you're probably the head deacon.

Posted by: ronaele70 | March 3, 2011 1:49 PM | Report abuse

I don't see what "Fregameeate's" hatred and race-driven drivel about President Obama has to do with this outrageous religious attacks against fallen American soldiers. It must be that Birther jerks will add their own Obama hatred to the Westboro Baptist Church's hatred. Maybe that is the common link between the church and Fragameate--right-wing hatred of something.

Posted by: orray | March 3, 2011 2:02 PM | Report abuse

I don't see what "Fregameeate's" hatred and race-driven drivel about President Obama has to do with these outrageous religious cult attacks against fallen American soldiers. It must be that Birther haters want to seize the opportunity to add their own Obama hatred to the Westboro Baptist Church's hatred. Maybe that is the common link between the church and Fragameate--bigoted right-wing hatred of something, the church's of gays and American soldiers, Fragameate's of Africans and the American president.

Posted by: orray | March 3, 2011 2:06 PM | Report abuse

While I agree that the freedom of expression is a fundamental right of every citizen,with very few restrictions, I think there is a very clear difference between the freedom/right of self expression and imposing your views on others when they are held 'captive' during a common religious (spiritual)observance.

Funerals are by tradition a private affair (family, friends and others by invitation only). Even when a public figure is laid to rest, it is sometimes a 'closed to the public' event. As it has often been said, funerals are for the living, not for the dead - they're no longer here.

Consequently, members of this church manage to accomplish three things. They get to justify themselves in their own eyes (pride and arrogance). They get to inflect additional pain on the mourners (sadistic nature), and they make a complete mockery of the very religion they profess to represent(hypocrisy).

Let local governments enact ordinances that restrict such intentional disruptions of a funeral. Allow cemeteries (local, state, federal)to be closed (restricted access) to the public during internment ceremonies, etc.

Allow every one to say whatever they have to say - but where I am not forced to listen to it. Freedom of speech does not abridge my freedom to silence or to listen to a different expression of speech. A person who disrupts a public speaking engagement can get arrested for such actions - why not at a funeral?

Posted by: AWBowman | March 3, 2011 2:20 PM | Report abuse

It is really sad that a church can only protest funerals because they feel they have the understanding that they are better than those that have died for our country. Any religious person knows we are all sinners so why doesn't the Westbora Baptist Church stay within their own property and deal with their own sinners. They are funerals of anykind, especially military alone.

Posted by: mozartstokes | March 3, 2011 2:27 PM | Report abuse

I am disgusted with this ruling. I support the first amendment completely, and I support expression of dissenting opionions. But this evil display of emotions against our Military who sacrifice so much to protect us from harm is beyond free speech. Here's what I don't get. I can't use racial slurs (not that I want to) but these yo-yo's can be so deeply hurtful to families of our fallen soldiers. Is it me?

I am also ashamed that these phony Christians get to portray a loving and merciful God as a homo-phobic.

When Jesus walked this earth, did he rail against sinners and gay people? Or was his mindset one of forgiveness and counsel to sin no more? Does the parable on the woman adulterer not pertain to these nuts? Let he without sin cast the first stone. "Woman, where have all of your accusers gone?"

So here's the 64 million dollar question. Has Jesus changed his approach to sin and only informed this group of Baptists?

President Obama - Stand Up for Our Military. Put a privacy law in place to protect demonstrators at all funerals in this nation. Keep them one mile from any Church during Services, and one mile away from cemeteries for two hours before and after funerals.

There just needs to be some level of privacy protection for our good citizens and especially our Military and Government Office olders.

Posted by: Beankountr | March 3, 2011 2:47 PM | Report abuse

@AWBowman: They did not disrupt the funeral; they "stayed well away". The court also rejected the captive audience claim. Both can be found on page 3 of the ruling.

Posted by: AuntLaurey | March 3, 2011 2:54 PM | Report abuse

The 4th Circuit decided that Westboro's offensive rhetoric was protected as "speech concerning national issues". Hmmm... So if I want to harass the 4th Circuit, I can demonstrate loudly and offensively at each of the judges' homes. That will be OK if my protest is about national issues, right? Good. And today the Supreme Court, wearing blinders, decided that the 1st Amendment protects spoken harassment. Wow! This is why vigorous Senate confirmation hearings are necessary for all judicial nominees. Too many nominees are not really challenged on their interpretation of our Constitution, or are confirmed no matter what. Only Alito had the common sense to recognize the difference between open public debate and an assault on the private activities of citizens.

Posted by: allamer1 | March 3, 2011 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Jehovah's Witnesses pursued court decisions to get in your face at the door steps,these same actions uphold rights of infamous hate church.
Danny Haszard
my page more on Jehovah's Witnesses harassment

Posted by: Rudy8 | March 3, 2011 3:19 PM | Report abuse

Why is this first amendment issue getting so much press attention? True, these horrible people have the right to their hateful speech. You would think that the Julian Heicklen case in Florida where a judge is suppressin­g the first amendment rights to what is clearly political speech might be of some interest to the main stream media. (http://www­.nytimes.c­om/2011/02­/26/nyregi­on/26jury.­html?_r=1&­partner=rs­s&emc=rss)
Apparently the hypocrisy of the main stream media knows no bounds.

Posted by: givensdan | March 3, 2011 3:19 PM | Report abuse

They may have won the battle, but I think the have conceded the war-- the more exposure this group of crackpots gets the more people can see their pathology.

Posted by: JdavidR | March 3, 2011 3:34 PM | Report abuse

I wish the media would stop giving these losers so much attention. I hope that when a Westboro church member kicks the bucket, people will picket that funeral. Go into the Rainbow.

Posted by: eunicedelrosario | March 3, 2011 4:05 PM | Report abuse

How sad that decision is! Hopefully members of the Supreme Court will never have to witness members of the Westboro Baptist Church in action at the funeral of one of their loved ones! Way to go guys -- What a way to honor those who have served our country by paying the highest price.

Posted by: louielouibecker | March 3, 2011 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Are they going to start protesting bureaucrats now?

Posted by: getjiggly1 | March 3, 2011 4:57 PM | Report abuse

Time for the media to give up their coverage of Westboro ~ or else.

Posted by: muawiyah | March 3, 2011 5:07 PM | Report abuse

Every town, every city, every county, every State needs to enact ordinances and legislation to ban those hate-filled idiots from protesting at any funeral.

Make sure the WBC goes broke trying to fight all the bans.

Posted by: momof20yo | March 3, 2011 6:07 PM | Report abuse

I think that we need a constitutional amendment that would allow the Federal government to regulate cults. These Westboro people should be jailed and/or sent for medical treatment. All this Supreme Court decision will do is to encourage every looney tune in search of publicity to spring up out of the woodwork, like the pastor in Florida who wanted to burn the Koran.

Posted by: armyofone | March 3, 2011 7:23 PM | Report abuse


Any time a new looneytune is found, every single newspaper in the country has to write hourly updates on what the person is doing, the media finds the person's house and stalks them 24 hrs a day. Blame the media,not just the Court.
Take a quick look at the Charlie Sheen 'story'. He's made a fool of himself, and instead of leaving him alone, the media simply 'must' give CS more opportunity to spew his ignorance----and Charlie Sheen hasn't run out of ignorant things to say yet.

Posted by: momof20yo | March 3, 2011 8:19 PM | Report abuse

God hates Fred Phelps and the TSA.

Posted by: bs2004 | March 3, 2011 9:13 PM | Report abuse

I'm a big advocate for peace, but never, ever, do I take for granted the men and women who risk or lose their lives for me and my family. This so-called "church" is disgusting. The only real reason I might hesitate to join a counter-protest is that I would (in one sense) give credence to these nutjobs and add to the animosity surrounding an unfortunate family's already-painful sacred rite.

Legion and Patriot Guard Riders, thank you for your work! You are the right people for this important job. Please know that you're supported by more of us than you may think. Bless you all.

Posted by: EdgewoodVA | March 3, 2011 10:22 PM | Report abuse

I am the Mother of an active duty Marine. See the reactions of other family members at Military Families Against the Westboro Baptist Church on facebook. (960 members so far in last 24 hours - spread the word) This site urges anyone who disagrees with Westboro to show up at their funerals and to attend all the military and other funerals where Westboro pickets in your area to help protect these grieving families

Posted by: jlmcdona | March 4, 2011 12:33 AM | Report abuse

How dare those legal and social commentators, who never miss an opportunity to praise the Jehovah's Witnesses for stretching the boundaries of the First Amendment, now condemn the Westboro Baptists, whose actions in our time are no more outrageous than were the actions of the Jehovah's Witnesses during World War 2.

During WW2, Jehovah's Witnesses specifically targeted the homes of parents and spouses of wounded and killed soldiers -- knocked on those doors -- and told wives, mothers, and fathers that their husbands and sons had died not only needlessly and pointlessly, but in support of a government which GOD considered His enemy and would soon destroy.

During WW2, Jehovah's Witnesses would show up at War Bond Rallies and spew the same garbage.

1940s Jehovah's Witnesses would park sound trucks across the street from public schools and during recess and blast the school campus with pre-recorded sermons decrying the Pledge of Allegiance. There were also instances of JWs going inside school buildings and passing out anti-Pledge literature to children in the hallways.

JWs also parked sound trucks outside of churches during ongoing services and blasted churches with pre-recorded sermons decrying church teachings.

JWs carried photographs with pre-recorded sermons door-to-door decrying patriotism, Christianity, etc. During WW2, a WW1 veteran and then Deputy Sheriff ran two JWs out of his gasoline station after they started playing such a recording. One of the JW "pioneers" pulled a pistol and murdered the Deputy.

Post WW2, the WatchTower Society made a point of renting for conventions those facilities which had been named or renamed in honor of the WW2 veterans (Memorial Coliseum, Veterans Stadium, etc. etc.) so as to poke their fingers in the eyes of returning veterans and the cause for which they had fought, been wounded, or died.

1940s Jehovah's Witnesses would specifically target urban Catholic neighborhoods with door-to-door sermons and literature which defamed the Pope and other Catholic hierarchy, Catholic theology, etc.

The JWs of WW2 were the Westboro Baptists of today.

Make up your minds, commentators.


Posted by: JJ2014 | March 4, 2011 12:34 AM | Report abuse

As Christians we are mandated to Love God and to Love Others. No where does it say that as Christians we are to be hurtful to others or cause them stress. We are to hold other Christians accountable for their actions with love, not condeming them. We are not to pass judgement but to care for those around us. This group of people are not Christians for they spread hate. Maybe they need to actually read the Bible for themselves instead of following some man who is out to make a name for himself instead of spreading the love of God around the world.

Posted by: ra1029b | March 4, 2011 7:37 AM | Report abuse

Wow, is this really happening? We are so concerned about freedom of speach, freedom to dispute things....that we are bashing the ones who ultimately are sacraficing their lives to give you this so called freedom of bashing the military - their funerals their rights and that of their families? Our court systems are going to uphold that it's their "right" to express themselves and cause more grief where a family is already grieving the death of one who gave those people their so called rights. And then to say it's a "God" thing...because God hates? It's churches like this that give Christianity a bad name. God does not condone Gay sexual experiences, but God would not condone your actions either. Jesus came and he was with the harlots of our great world and spent time with the low of the low giving love and teaching truth but not going out and causing such hurt and pain to others. He taught and let them have the choice to choose correctly...all sins are sin...not one is any worse than another in God's eyes and what this church is doing is a sin. I feel so sorry for those military families who have been plagued by this church's picketing in the name of our great "Lord" who is love and grace and mercy...He would never have condoned such actions from this church. And they really should seek His council and pray because it is because of these military men/women and their families that they are here in this country where they can state freedom of speach....yet they want to exploit the families of the dead and call this christianity...more reason for the masses not to come to Christ instead of doing what we're called to do and bring the broken into loving arms of Christ....

Posted by: wishful1 | March 4, 2011 10:21 AM | Report abuse

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